‘History of the Book’ by Leslie Howsan (ed)

9781107023734The Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book, edited by Leslie Howsan, is for those who love books and like to read about them. Not being a book scholar, I still find the book very reader-friendly and appealing in the way it provides the reader with information and gives insights a whole discipline with which I am not particularly acquainted beyond what you would expect from a generally well-informed reader. But do not let you the easy reading deceive you: there is a lot of serious scholarship here and I found Parts I and II particularly informative and engaging.

The sections are well-thought and create a narrative that takes avoids the common chronological organization but still offer you a clear sense of progression in the way books evolved though history. The three chapters in Part I do this very competently and praise goes to the authors but mainly to the editor who manages to very competently coordinate the contributors’ efforts in a coherent narrative arch. Part II brings us chapters where the main focus falls on the materiality of the book and who texts have changed. I found the chapters on handwriting, by Margaret J.M. Ezell, and the one on the beginnings of printing in Europe, by Adrian Johns, particularly interesting as they gave me new perspectives on a periods in the history on the book and of reading that I am especially attracted to. Part III projects the history of the book into the future by looking at sources and practical approaches in the discipline but, albeit interesting, not being a book historian myself I found this much less appealing than the previous two parts of the book.

Highly recommended to those who like books and want to know more about the object of their passion and/or looking for a scholarly and that the same time engaging introduction to the discipline of book studies.

Howsan, L. (ed). 2015. The Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.