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The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski

The Book on the Bookshelf (1999)

by Henry Petroski

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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
This is a genial informal history of how books are store and shelved. Of necessity it is also a history of how books are produced and sold. Especially interesting is the extensive coverage of the history and development of public and academic libraries.Still, this is a fascinating and entertaining book, full of surprises. Petroski has an extremely clever penchant for finding modern analogies to older practices to clarify and make them seem less peculiar. It's never fair to criticize a book for not being what it doesn't try to be, but given the amount of research and travel that Petrosli evidently went to, I kept wishing for more in depth coverage. Much of the earlier historical material derives from a very few sources which is quoted literally, rather than just cited, in a way that would be more in place in an undergrad essay. Very odd. The illustrations are sloppily identified and derive from just a few secondary sources. ( )
1 vote sjnorquist | Aug 21, 2014 |
I like books and bookcases, and I'm interested in the evolution of everyday items, so I really liked this book. Anyone who doesn't share those interests would undoubtedly find it tedious. Petroski does get a bit repetitive at times, and I think it would have been a slog to read the whole thing at once. I noticed in the other reviews that several people objected to his personal anecdotes, but they were actually one of my favourite aspects of the book. The writing is easy to understand, with light touches of humour (and one excruciating pun). I particularly enjoyed the last chapter, "The Care of Books", which was really more about how people interact with their books and collections, and the appendix on ways of ordering the books on your shelves. ( )
  SylviaC | May 5, 2014 |
If I hadn't worked in a university library for 4 years, I might have found the book a bit more enjoyable; as such, I would not recommend this book to biblioholics, as you probably well versed in bibliohistory already.
  VeritysVeranda | Sep 29, 2013 |
The first 200 pages or so of this are fascinating. After that, it was more of a struggle; but that's my prejudice against history post-1800 and lack of interest in engineering.

I could've done with less anecdata throughout, but I suppose it did leaven the historical emphasis. ( )
  cricketbats | Mar 30, 2013 |
Petroski’s writing on such a quotidian subject is fortunately both inviting and poetic. You can tell he shares a remarkable affinity for the furniture (even when many around him do not). The history itself is much what one would expect. In the beginning, bookshelves were few and weirdly arranged, and now they are efficient and versatile. Since shelving technology progressed in a rather straightforward manner, Petroski also delves into the history of the book itself as well as bookshops, bookbinders, and mini-biographies of the inventors of the many types of shelving units (even a bit on Melvil Dewey himself!). My main problem with the book is that there is no mention of Eastern bookshelving. China invented paper before Western Europe (and also won the moveable metal type race), but no mention is made of Asian book-shelving technology. This seems to be a pitfall of many history books (not just Petroski’s), but it’s irksome just the same. All in all, it was a great book (if you’re into this sort of thing).

http://lifelongdewey.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/022-the-book-on-the-bookshelf-by-h... ( )
1 vote NielsenGW | Jun 4, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
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To Karen and Jason, whose bookshelves are full
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My reading chair faces my bookshelves, and I see them every time I look up from the page.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375706399, Paperback)

Consider the book. Though Goodnight Moon and Finnegans Wake differ considerably in content and intended audience, they do share some basic characteristics. They have pages, they're roughly the same shape, and whether in a bookstore, library, or private home, they are generally stored vertically on shelves. Indeed, this is so much the norm that in these days of high-tech printing presses and chain bookstores, it's easy to believe that the book, like the cockroach, remains much the same as it ever was. But as Henry Petroski makes abundantly clear in Book on the Bookshelf, books as we know them have had a long and complex evolution. Indeed, he takes us from the scroll to the codex to the hand-lettered illuminated texts that were so rare and valuable they were chained to lecterns to prevent theft. Along the way he provides plenty of amusing anecdotes about libraries (according to one possibly apocryphal account, the library at Alexandria borrowed the works of the great Greek authors from Athens, had them copied, and then sent the copies back, keeping the originals), book collectors, and the care of books.

Book-lover though he may be, however, Henry Petroski is, first and foremost, an engineer and so, in the end, it is the evolution of bookshelves even more than of books that fascinates him. Pigeonholes for scrolls, book presses containing thousands of chained volumes, rotating lecterns that allowed scholars to peruse more than one book at a time--these are just a few of the ingenious methods readers have devised over the centuries for storing their books: "in cabinets beneath the desks, on shelves in front of them, in triangular attic-like spaces formed under the back-to-back sloped surfaces of desktops or small tabletop lecterns that rested upon a horizontal surface." Placing books vertically on shelves, spines facing outward, is a fairly recent invention, it would seem. Well written as it is, if Book on the Bookshelf were only about books-as-furniture, it would have little appeal to the general reader. Petroski, however, uses this treatise on design to examine the very human motivations that lie behind it. From the example of Samuel Pepys, who refused to have more titles than his library could hold (about 3,000), to an appendix detailing all the ways people organize their collections (by sentimental value, by size, by color, and by price, to name a few of the more unconventional methods), Petroski peppers his account with enough human interest to keep his audience reading from cover to cover. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:12 -0400)

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By the poet laureate of technology. Looks at books, how they have been constructed and stored, especially on bookshelves and in the vertical position. From the papyrus onwards.

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