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i s   i t   a   b o o k ?

Suggestions for the further Pleasure of the reader.



Book Arts



Concrete Poetry






History of Books & Bookmaking
writing and writing systems, reading, bookbinding & form, printing

For layout, book design, and type design as they relate to reading, see the section on Typography. For something about what's next, see Future of Books.

Readers wishing for a discussion of the topics detailed below should consult Barbara's essay on the History of books. A few very fascinated readers may also wish to turn to our section on the Future of books, by Emily-Jane and Karen.


  • Arvin, Leila. Scribes, script and books : the book arts from antiquity to the Renaissance. Chicago : American Library Association, 1991. *
  • Brown, Michelle P. The British Library guide to writing and scripts : history and techniques. London ; Toronto : British Library ; University of Toronto Press, 1998.
  • Chartier, Roger. The order of books. Stanford, CA : Stanford University Press, 1994.
  • Coe, Michael D. Breaking the Maya code, revised edition. New York : Thames & Hudson, 1999.
  • Coulmas, Florian. The Blackwell encyclopedia of writing systems. Oxford : Cambridge, MA : Blackwell Publishers, 1999.
  • Coulmas, Florian. The writing systems of the world. Oxford ; Cambridge, MA : Blackwell, 1991.
  • Dahl, Svend. History of the book. Metechun, NJ : Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1968.
  • Daniels, Peter T., and William Bright. The world's writing systems. New York : Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Diringer, David. The alphabet. New York : Funk and Wagnalls, 1948, revised edition published 1968.
  • Drucker, Johanna. The alphabetic labyrinth : letters in the history and imagination. New York : Thames and Hudson, 1995, 1999.
  • Firmage, Richard A. The alphabet abecedarium : some notes on letters. Boston ; London : D.A. Godine ; Bloomsbury, 1993, 2000.
  • Gaur, Albertine. A history of writing. London ; New York : British Library ; Cross River Press, 1992.
    also published in Spanish as Historia de la escritura (Madrid : Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipéfrez : Pirámide, 1990), and in Japanese as Moji no rekishi (Tokyo : Hara Shobo, 1987). *
    A clear, richly illustrated account of the roots and application of writing systems.
  • Gaur, Albertine. Literacy and the politics of writing. Oxford ; Bristol UK ; Portland OR : Intellect, 2000. *
    Gaur discusses the primary purposes of writing, the impact of writing on literacy, and considers the two concepts within the infrastructure of societies. Clearly written, this book provides a great deal of information on ancient systems of writing, including their use as systems for storing and communicating pictures, numbers and numerical concepts. See particularly chapter 11, "What is a book?."
  • Goudy, Frederic W. The alphabet and Elements of lettering. New York : Dover, 1963.
  • A history of reading in the West, edited by Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier. Oxford : Polity Press, 1999.
  • Lundmark, Torbjörn. Quirky qwerty : the story of the keyboard @ your fingertips. Sydney, NSW : UNSW Press, 2002.
  • Man, John. Alpha beta : how 26 letters shaped the Western world. New York ; London : John Wiley & Sons ; Headline, 2000, 2001.
    Includes a detailed bibliography and appendices with a genealogical chart of alphabets and charts of the letters of some major alphabets with their commonly accepted transliterations.
  • Manguel, Alberto. A history of reading. New York : Viking, 1996.
  • Martin, Henri Jean. The history and power of writing. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1994.
  • Nakanishi, Akira. Writing systems of the world : alphabets, syllabaries, pictograms. Rutland, VT; Tokyo : C.E. Tuttle Co., 1980, 1990.
  • Nesbitt, Alexander. The history and technique of lettering. New York : Dover, 1957, 1998.
    Also published under the title Lettering : the history and technique of lettering as design. New York : Prentice-Hall, 1950.
  • The origins of writing, edited by Wayne Senner. Missoula, MT ; London : University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
  • Ouaknin, Marc-Alain. Mysteries of the alphabet : the origins of writing. New York : Abbeville Press, 1999.
  • Parkinson, R.B., et al. Cracking codes : the Rosetta stone and decipherment. Berkeley ; London : University of California Press, British Museum Press, 1999.
  • Pope, Maurice. The story of decipherment : from Egyptian hieroglyphs to Maya script, revised edition. New York : Thames & Hudson, 1999.
  • Posner, Ernst. Archives in the ancient world. Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1972.
  • Robinson, Andrew. Lost languages : the enigma of the world's great undeciphered scripts. New York : McGraw-Hill, 2002.
  • Robinson, Andrew. The story of writing. London ; New York : Thames & Hudson, 1995, 1999.
  • Sassoon, Rosemary, and Albertine Gaur. Signs, symbols and icons : pre-history to the computer age. Exeter : Intellect, 1997.
  • Steinberg, S.H. Five hundred years of printing. London : The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 1996.
  • Tsien, Tsuen-Hsuin. Written on bamboo and silk : the beginnings of Chinese books and inscriptions. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, 1962.


*  Asterisks mark items Emily-Jane considers to be especially interesting, useful, or well-written.

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