Seven Fascinating Images That Illuminate the History of the Book and Printing


This week, Norton released The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time from author Keith Houston. Stunningly bound itself, The Book explores the physical history of an intellectual pursuit, from the first written iterations of the Bible up through illuminated manuscripts, early book-binding, the printing press and beyond. Divided into sections about paper, type, book binding, and connecting technology to content, The Book writes the book on writing the book.

From parchment and papyrus to paper, from calligraphy to typesetting, enjoy some of the most striking images from Houston’s work, showing how the physical presentation of a large grouping of words has evolved over time.

(All images are public domain unless otherwise credited.)

Jost Amman’s 1568 woodcut depicting a papermaker at work.

A leather or parchment scroll containing part of the book of Deuteronomy with the Ten Commandments — one of the earliest ever found.

A parchment page of illuminated manuscript from the end of the eleventh century, showing colorful embellisments and “proto-gothic” letters written in iron gall ink. Credit: British Library of illuminated manuscripts.

A 1940 linotype machine from the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. Before computers, Linotype printing was standard for most magazines and especially newspapers.

A page from the legendary Book of Kells. Credit: The Board of Trinity College, Dublin.

Another illuminated manuscript from the 13th century, depicting a thirsty monk having a tipple. Credit: British Library of Illuminated Manuscripts.

An Ethiopian book from the 16th century. The binding is called “coptic stitching.” Credit: The Walters Art Museum.

Excerpted from The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston. Copyright © 2016 by Keith Houston. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.