Book Reviews

RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage reviews books, reports, new periodicals, databases, websites, blogs, and other electronic resources, as well as exhibition, book, and auction catalogs pertaining directly and indirectly to the fields of rare book librarianship, manuscripts curatorship, archives management, and special collections administration. Publishers, librarians, and archivists are asked to send appropriate publications for review or notice to the Reviews Editor.

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A Companion to the History of the Book, 2nd edition. Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose, eds. Hoboken, NJ: Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2020. Hardcover, xxiii, 924p. $390 (ISBN: 978-1-119-01817-9). Also available as an e-book: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/book/10.1002/9781119018193.

When he declared, “the physical book really has had a 500-year run” in a 2009 interview,1 Jeff Bezos might well be forgiven for thinking that the book began with Gutenberg. Histories of the book have tended to give the impression that it emerged with movable type and existed largely, if not exclusively, in Mainz, New York, London, Paris, Venice, and environs. The first edition to A Companion to the History of the Book, first published in 2007, was a welcome, albeit modest, corrective to this narrow focus. While the bulk of its attention was on print in Western Europe and the United States, it incorporated chapters on manuscripts, books in Asia and Latin America, and the Hebraic and Islamic traditions, broadening the scope of book history both chronologically and geographically.

The second edition of A Companion to the History of the Book, edited by Simon Eliot (Professor Emeritus of the History of the Book at the School of the University of London’s School for Advanced Study) and Jonathan Rose (Professor of History at Drew University), builds extensively on the first edition. Expanded from one volume to two, the second edition is composed of 56 chapters written by some 59 scholars and experts in the many and various fields related to books and their history. Substantially reorganized, many of the previous chapters have been revised and others rewritten entirely. The Companion is now divided into six parts: “Methods, Materials, and Readers,” “The Manuscript Book in Europe and the Middle East,” “The Book in the Wider World,” “The Printed Book Predominant,” “Extending Print,” and “Consequences,” with a final coda dedicated to the question of the book’s future.

Part one, though a bit of a thematic hodgepodge, provides a useful introduction to some of the methods used to study book history, the methods and materials used to create books, and the study of literacy and readers. Its chapters on palaeography and codicology; paper; typography and typographers; and paperwork are especially welcome additions to the second edition. The rewritten chapters on bibliography and textual scholarship, which replace T. H. Howard-Hill and David Gretham’s accessible introductions, are not. They are likely to be of interest to specialists, however.

The second part includes chapters on clay tablets in the Middle East, papyrus rolls in Egypt and the Greco-Roman world, and European manuscripts before 1500. These chapters, although not substantially altered from the first edition, remain useful introductions to the book before the fifteenth century. “The Book in the Wider World” is dedicated to the history of book everywhere that is not Western Europe or the United States. It includes chapters on China; Japan, Korea, and Vietnam; South Asia; Latin America; Africa; Canada and Australasia; as well as books in Slavic languages, Hebraic alphabets, and Arabic script. Concise and engaging, these chapters offer a useful entry point to important and often overlooked traditions.

Part 4, by far the longest, comprises 16 chapters on the book after Gutenberg in Britain, Europe (specifically Western Europe), and the United States. Although each chapter stands alone, there is a good deal of overlap here. There are, for example, half a dozen short, mostly similar histories of copyright scattered throughout this section, and this is over and above the chapter on copyright in the last part. “Extending Print” considers books beyond print with chapters on periodicals, ephemera, nontextual uses of the book, the book as art, new technologies, science publishing, maps, and music. Some of these chapters are new to the second edition, while “The Book as Art” and “The New Textual Technologies” were entirely rewritten. “Consequences” is likely the Companion’s most thought-provoking section, dealing as it does with book history’s wider impacts and implications. Its chapters address copyright and literary property, the common writer, the profession of authorship, lexicography and the invention of language, obscenity and censorship, book collecting, and libraries and the invention of information.

In its second edition, the Companion does not entirely meet its aims to be global, comprehensive, and manageable. It devotes the same amount of space to the nearly 3,000-year history of the book in China, for example, as it does to the British book market between 1600 and 1800. There are 26 chapters dedicated to print or printing in the West, but only 13 on manuscripts and books everywhere else (and everywhere else includes Eastern Europe and Australia). Like many such collections, it is occasionally uneven and lacking in cohesiveness. This edition of the Companion also suffers somewhat in comparison to similar endeavors that have been published more recently: Cambridge’s Companion to the History of the Book and Broadview’s Introduction to the History of the Book, for example, are more concise and cohesive, while Oxford’s Companion to the Book and Global History of the Book remains more comprehensive and manageable. A Companion to the History of the Book is, nevertheless, a valuable reference work. It makes evident, even if it does not fully elucidate, the extent to which books and their history are entangled in and dependent on contemporary literature, language, politics, and economics, as well as the enormous range of subjects and disciplines that book history encompasses. Everything from technology and law to bibliography, textual criticism, palaeography, linguistics, art, and economics inform and are informed by the book’s history, and A Companion to the History of the Book encompasses them all.—Jessie Sherwood, University of California School of Law

1. Daniel Lyons, “Why Bezos Was Surprised by the Kindle’s Success,” Newsweek, December 20, 2009, https://www.newsweek.com/why-bezos-was-surprised-kindles-success-75509.

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