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The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (2009)

by Robert Darnton

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6462824,962 (3.37)19
The era of the printed book is at a crossroad. E-readers are flooding the market, books are available to read on cell phones, and companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple are competing to command near monopolistic positions as sellers and dispensers of digital information. Already, more books have been scanned and digitized than were housed in the great library in Alexandria. Is the printed book resilient enough to survive the digital revolution, or will it become obsolete? In this lasting collection of essays, Robert Darnton--an intellectual pioneer in the field of this history of the book--lends unique authority to the life, role, and legacy of the book in society.… (more)



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English (26)  French (2)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
This book was okay. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. I liked learning about the troubles of bibliographers and stuff like that, but I felt that the book as a whole was a bit disjointed. This is mostly because it is made up of a series of essays that were already in existence. Another issue I had with the book was the structure of it. The future of books is dealt with first, followed by the present and finally the past. He follows a bit of how the book-making process goes about; in the seventeenth century. The author is no Jules Verne, he predicts something about Google's digitizing books and a lot of the first chapters is devoted to that.

The author repeats himself several times also, since each chapter is a different essay typed up at a different time. So then, he repeats himself about the expenses of professional journal subscriptions. For instance, at the time of publishing, a year subscription to some neurology journal is around 25000 USD. That is about the price of a new car, if you don't want a Maserati or something... In any case, he talks about how this has caused a downward spiral of research libraries cutting back and University presses making less Monographs. It's all very sad.

The message of the author is apparent though; books aren't going to just disappear. Since electronic media is rather vulnerable to mistakes and other ways to ruin files it makes sense to have a hard copy available. Even microfiche, the darling of libraries in the 1960's and such is not immune to the bite of time. Paper Books are a lot more hardy than previously thought and although they take up a lot of space, they are a good way to spread information.

I don't need to read this again, and since it is a library book, I doubt I will take it out again. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
A good book about Google, the issues on access and ownership of public domain books, and a few other topics of interest to bibliophiles and writers. Worth reading for me, though the latter half of the book might be a tad esoteric for non-bibliomaniacs. ( )
  SESchend | Sep 6, 2017 |
I'm having a hard time deciding what this book is more guilty of: false advertising or unreadable dryness.

If you think this is a book about the history of books and how books fit into people's lives differently in the new "eBook age", you would be wrong. As was I.

What Darnton has done here is slap together ten or so essays he had written in the past (like from 30 years ago up to 7 years ago) that sort of, kind of, have to do with the way book publishing has changed as the world moved into the Internet age, but mostly they just go off-topic to long diatribes about his favorite 18th century works or endless thoughts about Google Book Search. (Honestly, in the first half of the book I was convinced this was just a book about Google Book Search and the lawsuits attached to it.)

This book was originally published in 2009, when this mountain of information about GBS would have been up-to-date and possibly engaging. In 2015 it is already incredibly dated and uninteresting. When you throw in other articles written in the 1990s about the idea of books turning digital, it becomes a disjointed, and oftentimes discusses newspapers more than it does books themselves.

The major problem with throwing together all of these out-of-date articles, despite the fact that they sort of touch on the same subject, is that they become nothing but a repository about how one man saw the transformation of printed works move into the digital age as it happened. It creates no linear history and does not call into account a broader discussion of how these changes affected society on the whole.

I was intensely disappointed by the book and I feel almost shocked at how happy I am to be finished with it. ( )
  sublunarie | Feb 9, 2015 |
I started reading this sometime back and picked it up again today. It seems to me that it's written a bit backwards and in a rather rambling style. It begins by making the argument in favor of printed books then goes into the stupidity that led to the destruction of books and papers due to microfilming and then into a small history of printing in the 1600s and a bit of a history of common place books by Jefferson and others with interpretations of their meanings. I'm not sure if the author lost his focus or was filling space as the latter chapters could have been made into a completely different book altogether and doesn't really have any relevance in the argument for or against paper books except somewhat tangentially as it applies to individual journals/scrapbook combinations that were published in the past. It was still an interesting read nonetheless even though I did eventually skip a bit of the chapter on monographs and the gutenberg e proposal. The contents of the proposal were really not relevant or particularly interesting. ( )
  Diana1952 | Nov 25, 2013 |
I thought this was a pretty good read for those who would like to know about the recent history of books and how Google books is affecting the written word.

It is a bit repetitive as the book is a collection of scholarly articles, but an interesting read nonetheless. However I might suggest not reading it all the way through in one go like I did, but rather use it more as reference.

I am looking forward to starting a commonplace book! :) ( )
  Amanda.Richards | Apr 9, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Darnton's thoughts are provocative, but his assemblage of essays, reviews and scholarly articles, many previously published in the New York Review of Books, doesn't quite measure up to the task. Some of the material is very recent, some was first published in the 1980s. As Darnton confesses, these pieces were "fired off, scattershot". The same concerns emerge over and over, with an insistence that comes to seem obsessive. In the final part of the book, essays on subjects such as the history of the commonplace book or the complex origins of Shakespearean bibliography unexpectedly appear. They are intriguing and accomplished, but the investigation of such matters is unlikely to interest readers eager to learn about the pressing consequences of Google's imperialism or the changing prospects for e-texts. Darnton is not clear about who should read this book and why. The result is a muddle.
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This is a book about books, an unashamed apology for the printed word, past, present, and future.
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