The Book in Society
An Introduction to Print Culture
  • Publication Date: November 22, 2013
  • ISBN: 9781554810741 / 1554810744
  • 388 pages; 6" x 9"

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The Book in Society

An Introduction to Print Culture

  • Publication Date: November 22, 2013
  • ISBN: 9781554810741 / 1554810744
  • 388 pages; 6" x 9"

The Book in Society: An Introduction to Print Culture examines the origins and development of one of the most important inventions in human history. Books can inform, entertain, inspire, irritate, liberate, or challenge readers, and their forms can be tangible and traditional, like a printed, casebound volume, or virtual and transitory, like a screen-page of a cell-phone novel.

Written in clear, non-specialist prose, The Book in Society first provides an overview of the rise of the book and of the modern publishing and bookselling industries. It explores the evolution of written texts from early forms to contemporary formats, the interrelationship between literacy and technology, and the prospects for the book in the twenty-first century. The second half of the book is based on historian Robert Darnton’s concept of a book publishing “communication circuit.” It examines how books migrate from the minds of authors to the minds of readers, exploring such topics as the rise of the modern notion of the author, the role of states and others in promoting or restricting the circulation of books, various modes of reproducing and circulating texts, and how readers’ responses help shape the form and content of the books available to them.

Feature boxes highlighting key texts, individuals, and developments in the history of the book, carefully selected illustrations, and a glossary all help bring the history of the book to life.


“This textbook is the essential pedagogical tool that book historians have always needed. It covers all important developments in book culture in every part of the world and throughout history, from cuneiform to Kindle. For undergraduates with no prior knowledge of the subject, it explains everything with striking clarity and intelligence. It has no peer, and it can serve as the foundation of any introductory course in book studies.” — Jonathan Rose, Drew University

“This is indeed a book that ‘offers its readers a chance to step outside themselves.’ A comprehensive overview of the evolution of print culture, the text can be read from cover to cover or dipped into at leisure. Each section is clearly labelled, including sub-headings within each chapter. The suggestions for Further Activities are ideal for encouraging students to undertake independent research while the Case Studies in each chapter provide some excellent examples for instructors to build upon. The author is to be commended for the breadth of research that underpins this text, clearly evidenced by the selected bibliographies at the end of each chapter. Whether you are new to the subject or looking to enhance the breadth of your knowledge, this is a text that is well worth consulting.” — Clare Horrocks, Liverpool John Moores University

The Book in Society is a book that allows readers from many different backgrounds into the complex world of print culture. Used in a team-taught class which mixed technical and professional communication with 18th century literary scholarship, for example, the book offered us a touchstone for bringing our different academic cultures and worldviews together. Undergraduate students from professional and public writing, literature, creative writing, education, and more found relevance in the way Robinson works through time periods, technical practices, and cultural differences, and, as professors, we appreciated the way the book fostered rich conversation while still allowing for flexibility in the way we ran our course on the history of the book in theory and practice.” — Emily C. Friedman and Derek G. Ross, Auburn University Department of English

The Book in Society: An Introduction to Print Culture by Solveig Robinson is written with students and those new to the history of the book in mind … What makes this book particularly useful as a teaching tool is the thoughtfully selected bibliography that follows each chapter and the selected activities and resources that follow each part … What is commendable about this book is that it makes the history of the book an approachable subject for students.” — Joya Mannan, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada



Chapter One Origins

Writing and Writing Systems: Moving from Signs to Words
Egypt and Mesopotamia

  • Egyptian Hieroglyphic
    The Rosetta Stone
    The Book of the Dead
    Semitic Writings
    The Torah
    The Dead Sea Scrolls


  • Other Asian Writing Systems


  • Mesoamerican Codices
    Mayan Codices
    Incan Quipus

Ancient Greece
Selected Bibliography

Chapter Two Scribal Culture and the Codex

Books and the Roman Empire

  • Writing at the Center: Rome
    Writing in the Provinces: Vindolanda

Books of the Jewish Diaspora

  • Jewish Codices

Islam and the Book

  • The Qur’an
    Bookmaking in the Muslim World

Christianity and the Codex

  • The Development of the Christian Bible

Book Production in the Middle Ages

  • The Monastic Scriptorium
    The Book of Hours

The Renaissance

  • Universities

Selected Bibliography

Chapter Three The Printing Revolution

Early Printing in Asia

  • Printing in China
    The Diamond Sutra
    Printing in Japan and Korea

Early Printing in Europe

  • Gutenberg
    The Biblia Pauperum
    Type Design
    The Common Press
    The Gutenberg Bible

The Press and the Reformation

  • Printing and the Protestant Churches
    Printing and the Catholic Church

The Expansion of Print Culture

  • The Officina Plantiniana
    Printing and the Enlightenment
    Encylopedists and Lexicographers
    Johnson’s Dictionary

Printing in the Industrial Age

  • Developments in the Printing Trades
    Wood-Pulp Paper
    Mechanized Typesetting
    The Book Arts Revival

Selected Bibliography

Chapter Four Modern Times: From Paperbacks to e-Books

Education, Literacy, and Mass Readerships

  • Periodicals
    The Saturday Evening Post

The Paperback Revolution

  • Penguins and Pockets
    Penguin Books
    Popular Genres
    Mass Market versus Quality

The Digital Revolution

  • Gutenberg and the Internet

The Future of the Book
Selected Bibliography

Selected Activities and Resources for Part One


Chapter Five Authors

The Rise of the Modern Author

  • Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publishing
    William Shakespeare

Author by Profession

  • The Royal Literary Fund
    Subscription Publication
    From Profit Sharing to Royalties
    Copyright and Contracts

Literary Agents and Professional Societies

  • Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell: An Author and Her Agent
    Authors’ Associations
    PEN International

Translation, Adaptation, and Other Transformations

  • Bapsi Sidhwa and the Self-Publishing Springboard

Selected Bibliography

Chapter Six States and Censors

Regulating Print

  • Trade Associations


  • Book Bans and Challenges
    Censorship and the Inquisition
    State Censorship
    Obscenity Legislation and Lady Chatterley’s Lover
    Censorship and the Third Reich
    Censorship in the Modern Era

Promoting Print

  • Freedom of the Press
    The Danish Cartoons Controversy
    The History of Copyright
    International Copyright Protections
    Limits on Copyright: Fair Use
    Copyright Law Today
    Copyright and Copyleft

Harnessing Print

  • Propaganda and War

Selected Bibliography

Chapter Seven Publishers

The Professionalization of Publishing

  • Geraldine Jewsbury: A Publisher’s Reader
    An Explosion of Publishing Ventures

Specialized Publishers: Educational Presses

  • Textbook Publishing
    University Presses

The Publishing Process
Acquisitions and Development

  • Acquisitions
    ISBNs and CIP Data
    Max Perkins: A Literary Editor


  • Copyediting
    Misguided Editing: Bowdlerization
    Typesetting, Printing, and Binding

Selected Bibliography

Chapter Eight Booksellers

Independent Booksellers

  • Independents Today
    The Strand Book Store
    Used and Antiquarian Booksellers
    Powell’s Books

Bookstore Chains

  • Glorious Chain Stores

The Superstores

  • Foyles: A Legendary Superstore
    Barnes & Noble

Online Booksellers

  • The Internet Superstore:
    Other Internet Booksellers

Distributors and Wholesalers

Book Fairs

  • The Frankfurt Book Fair

Selected Bibliography

Chapter Nine Libraries

The Evolution of the Library: Ancient Greece to the Renaissance

  • The Vatican Library

Modern Libraries
The Public Library Movement

  • Mudie’s Select Library
    Chetham’s Library
    The Library Builders: John Passmore Edwards and Andrew Carnegie
    The Tacoma Public Library
    Grand Public Libraries
    Public Libraries Today

National Libraries
The First National Libraries

  • The British Library
    The Private Case
    The Bibliothèque Nationale
    The Library of Congress

Modern National Libraries

  • Cataloguing Systems

Conservation and Preservation

  • Emergency Preparedness

    Brittle Books

Selected Bibliography

Chapter Ten Readers


  • George Dawson: Late-Life Literacy

Tools for Reading

  • Aids to Vision
    Devices for Readers

Reading Communities

  • The Book-of-the-Month Club
    Book Clubs of the Air

Special Books for Special Readers

  • J.K. Rowling: The Magic of Harry Potter
    Nora Roberts: Queen of Romance
    Action/Adventure and Suspense
    Stieg Larsson: Scandinavian Crime Success

Selected Bibliography

Selected Activities and Resources for Part Two

Landmarks in the History of the Book

Solveig C. Robinson is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Publishing and Printing Arts Program at Pacific Lutheran University.

For a sample from The Book in Society, click here. (Opens as a PDF.)

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