24 March 2011

Review: The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski book coverThis non-fiction book is a treat for bibliophiles but could prove a bit of a bore for the average reader. In The Book on the Bookshelf, author Henry Petroski takes an in depth look at the development of books and the humble bookshelf over the centuries including: scrolls and codices, illuminated texts and the modern paperback.

I enjoyed tracing the history of book storage across history, and particularly enjoyed learning more about the practice of chaining precious books to desks in libraries and reading rooms. When chained books were first shelved vertically, they were shelved with their spines facing inwards as the spine was the weakest point of the book and not suitable for attaching the chain mechanism.

What to do then when there were too many books and not enough space? This question continues to plague the modern day librarian, and Petroski takes us through the many advances in technology and engineering throughout history addressing this very problem.

Historically, natural light was pivotal in the design of libraries and you can often identify the library in a historic building by the construction of their windows. With the advent of the printing press, books became more prolific and the nature of their bindings began to change. Petroski also discusses the changes in various materials such as: parchment, papyrus and paper.

At the end of the book, Petroski provides at least 21 different ways to shelve books. I'm most interested in shelving books by colour, as demonstrated in my favourite bookish picture (left). I'd love to have a wall of shelves and try this for myself, but this photo and many more like it will have to sustain me for the moment.

The Book on the Bookshelf is full of historical gems and
interesting bookish facts and I'd recommend it to dedicated bibliophiles out there who are interested in a little history.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Would you like to comment?

  1. Interesting.
    I like Bill Bryson for making sometimes fairly weighty subjects accessible to the average reader. A Short History Of Almost Everything and At Home: A History of Private Life are both excellent.
    Does Petroski have a similarly readable style?

  2. I haven't read any Bill Bryson (but A Short History of Nearly Everything is on my TBR pile). Petroski does have a very readable style though, he's written an entire book about the humble pencil! Can't say I'm planning to check that one out though.

  3. I guess you will want to put a facebook icon to your blog. I just marked down this blog, but I must do this manually. Simply my 2 cents.

  4. Hello, thanks for your feedback, I really value your suggestion. I don't have a FB page for this blog, but I've worked out how to incorporate a 'Like' button for an individual post, does that help?

    I've also included a new option to subscribe via email to receive my posts. Is that the sort of thing you were looking for but I didn't have?

    I'd love any additional feedback or comments on how to improve my page for you and anyone else who visits.

  5. Now this looks like a book I would love to add to my bookshelf! I will definitely be checking it out once I have got through my mammoth TBR pile. Currently finishing Middlemarch and then thought I would try out a nonfiction that was highly recommended for my curreny job: "Descent into Chaos" by Ahmed Rashid.

  6. Thanks for your share! very impressive!


  7. Thanks Nicole, what did you think of Middlemarch? I haven't read it but I've always thought that I should.


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!