By Aiman Afaque

Books as we know it!

Books are great means of communication, a medium of excessive knowledge and a source of wholesome entertainment. A good book can have a profound effect on its reader at an individual level or even at the societal level. But how the books came to be the way as we know it today and how advancement in the modern science has affected the physical appearance of the books? Let’s cover some of it in detail in the upcoming sections.

History of books

People for ages have been using different medium of communications. Long before letters and words were developed and set method of language was created, Sumerians who lived in southern Mesopotamia around 3500 BC used pictures, initially and combination of alphabets and pictures later, on a clay tablet. This system of writing and communication came to known as cuneiform system. This as we know is the oldest medium of communication known to mankind.

Around 2400 BC papyrus scroll was used by Egyptians. Papyrus scroll was a roll of thick paper like material made from the stem of the papyrus plant. Inner pith of the plant was cut length wise into thin strips and all the strips was later joined to form a flat surface which was then used for writing purpose. An average scroll can be 14 to 52 feet long. The text in the scroll was written left to right or right to left or even top to bottom depending upon the language.

Scroll was used for centuries until it was replaced by codex invented by Romans. Codex is the closest relative of modern books that we used today. The pages used in the codex was parchment. Parchment was made from the animal skin, soaked in lime, dried and then stacked and bound together. The codex opened like book and in some cases also contains table of contents and indexes.

From Scroll next stage of development for books were the invention of paper and printing press. Paper was invented in China in around 104 AD. It was made from the paper pulp which was derived from the plant fibers, hemp, mulberries, bark etc. Knowledge of papermaking moved from China to Korea and Japan and to Arabs. From Arabs it further went to Africa and European countries. With time paper making technique was more mechanized and involved the use of electric power and machine.

Book which was printed for the first time in paper was again in China. It was printed by the use of block printing technique. In this technique different block was used for different letters. From China block printing later moved to Egypt. After block printing came the movable type printing. Movable type printing used movable components to reproduce the character of a document. Chinese used clay to make the molds of the letters. This is was not very efficient as the clay would break easily. The Koreans used bronze which was stronger and was more durable.

The movable type printing was first introduced to Europeans by a German named Johannes Gutenberg. Before the Gutenberg’s introduction of printing press, only rich people can afford the books and they were mostly hand written. Johannes Gutenberg invention led to the printing revolution in European and which played a key role in the development of the Renaissance. The Gutenberg Bible was the first book that was mass produced.

Earlier books were sewn together at a bindery and was generally hard bound. Later papers were glued which led to the creation of paperback books. These books were more affordable and cheaper than the hard bound. With the advancement of modern science and invention of computers the printing of books have become much easier.

Books and the modern world

Books are the medium by which we learn new things and gain knowledge. A highly learned person is someone who has read many books and has gained extensive knowledge. In this rapidly changing world of internet and Google search everyone claim to be knowledgeable but a very few are actually highly knowledgeable. Some may say importance of books have diminished in this world where one can know anything by just pressing few buttons. I somewhat tend to disagree. Although the advancement in this modern world has made us very easy for us to get any information we want in just a few seconds and there are dearth of information on Google and internet on a single topic, on one hand this can be a good thing but on the other hand the authenticity of such information remains to be judged.

Unlike books, on internet any one can put any information they want which can be fake or real. The onus falls on the reader what they want to believe. Some of them will tend to believe fake news or unauthentic information which can be dangerous both at the individual and societal level. This is not the case with books. First of all not everyone can write a book. A book is written by a highly knowledgeable person and someone with lots of information. Second thing which is also very important is that a book has its own synthetic appearance. It is great when you want to create a library of your own and show off it to your friends, relatives and guests. Also books are read not only for information but also it is a great source of entertainment. A good novel can be very entertaining and a pleasure to read. For these reasons and many others, book as a medium of communication and entertainment has stood the test of time and many people prefer to read books rather than to surf internet.

A new development and rather a significant one which has taken place in this modern age regarding the book is the production of e-books. The first e-books was produced way back in 1970’s by the Gutenberg project. The production of large number of e-books has led to ease of reaching the books to their readers in just one click. The real market of e-books was captured by Amazon with the introduction of Kindle in the year 2007. The amazon kindle was e-book reader with over 30,000 free books. Books on kindle are either free or very cheap compared to their paper counterparts. The introduction of Kindle led to the mass digitization of the books. Despite the fact that almost all the books nowadays have their kindle or e-books version available, many people prefer the paper bound or hard bound format. This is owing to the facts that physical books are easier and comfortable to use, are handier, has got more aesthetic appearance and is great if you want to create a library of your own.


Before I finish my article I want to touch base on something called bookselling. The history of selling of books dates back to ancient times. In Rome, Alexandria library was founded in 300 BC. In Rome, it was fashion to have a library and Roman booksellers carried on a thriving trade. From the Roman ages till date the concept of bookselling has remained the same albeit few changes. In the year 1794, a British man named James Lackington opened a bookshop in London called the Temple of Muses which revolutionized the selling of books in the 18th century. It was one of the largest bookshop in the world with an inventory of over 500,000 volumes. Modern book selling has changed drastically over time. Now almost all the books can be bought online on amazon, flipkart and other websites. This has drastically reduced the number of offline bookshops. More and more book shops are now selling their books online. The advent of the online books stores have greatly helped the readers easily access the books they want to read and this in turn has helped the authors to increase their readership massively.

In my view, although the offline bookstores may diminish overtime and online books stores may take over the large share of the book market, the paper format of the books are here to stay because many people still prefer their books in paper format rather than the digitized version. I also have always preferred the paper format of the books and for me the e-books lack the appeal and smell that only can be sensed in the paper format.