A Thesis on Book

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

A book is ‘a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers’ (Oxford Dictionary). This is a definition too broad and too narrow.

It is too broad because history shows that books can exist in many forms. The definition is referring to a book – form called codexBooks in the ancient time were in scrolls made of papyrus. Imagine the grand  opening of the first public library in the Roman Empire, the shelves were packed not with bound books but rolls and rolls of scrolls to be kept under a dry condition.

Scrolls are more light – weight but fragile. A bigger problem is the difficulty of locating something. You will have to roll out the long scroll just to find a particular phrase that happened to come across your mind and wished to reference it. You can try that with the Torah Scroll, a religious text still used by the Jewish rabbis in the 21st century. Or you can try to imagine the Bible or War and Peace in scroll form and find one of the quotations of Jesus or Prince Andrew. (see a digital look of the Dead Sea Scrolls)

Torah Scroll

Torah Scroll

People get so used to the present codex form that they forget how easy it is to reference something. The page number gives clear indicators. A simple content and detailed index give extra – help. It is only by now that the electronic search finally superseded the codex.

Books in electronic format or otherwise known as electronic books (E – book) is another instance how book evolve with ages. Electronic readers or tablet computers are convenient way of storing a huge number of books and a thick more – than – 1000 – pages book – a feature that is highly desirable for a reader like me who reads in my trips on bus or subway.

The forms of books I mentioned are a tip of iceberg really. I haven’t yet mentioned the clay tablets that the Babylonians used to record tax and also the bamboo strips that ancient Chinese used. Even the Egyptian or Greek potteries  can be ‘book’ because the pictures on them try to tell us stories of the distant gods and heroes.

Since books can exist in such a myriad of forms, it follows that it can’t be just ‘a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers’. Books must be something broader.

The definition is also too narrow. Even if a book is written and bound in covers, it seems to go against intuition to say bookkeeping records as ‘books’. Similarly you can find all the receipts you received in restaurants and supermarkers and bound them in covers and call it a ‘book’. There is nothing ridiculous about it if it has been realized that prudent businessmen will faithfully record their daily transactions in a little ‘notebook’.

If the definition is too broad and too narrow, then what is a book? One purpose of writing  a book is to record. But as we have seen, a book solely for recording numbers and figures can not be intuitively a ‘book’. There is something in book that transcend all different kinds of representing forms.

Book burning in Opera Square, Berlin, May 10, 1933.

Book burning in Opera Square, Berlin, May 10, 1933.

I believe that a book should be an idea. A book consists of words. Every word has meaning behind it. A coherent organisation of words in sentences and paragraphs give rise to ideas. A book can also be a collection of pictures because lines and colors form meanings as well (that’s also why Leonardo Da Vinci ‘s notebook is a brilliantly imaginative book). There’s no reason why numbers can not constitute a book. The numbers in maths textbooks or treatise form equations and formula that transform complex notions into simple form. Notwithstanding it is words, pictures or numbers, they all have something in common: they try to express an idea.

The subject – matter of book can be anything and everything. It can be about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire or the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics. It can be sketches showing acute observations or a logic thesis discussing paradox and fallacy.

A destruction of book is equivalent to a destruction of idea. The fire that burnt the whole Library of Alexandria down is the single most destructive force in history for killing ideas of the great philosophical minds in the past. The Nazi book burning campaign is another ideacide (i.e. killing an idea)  for suppressing all ‘un – German’ ideas.

Since idea respects no boundary, then a book arises whenever an idea is formed. In other words, a book can arise in our mind and brain. Everyone of us is capable of coming up with great ideas. We always carry a book along with us without knowing it.

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4 thoughts on “A Thesis on Book

  1. 山中 says:

    “The fire that burnt the whole Library of Alexandria down…” don’t forget the burning of the imperial library by one Mr. Xiang Yu and another burning of the imperial library along with its 140,000 books by Mr. Xiao Yi of Liang. And the Baghdad library by the mongols.

    • mrtso1989 says:

      All those are really huge ‘welfare loss’ of the human history.
      by the way, as I read your articles, Einstein’s quote comes to my mind: ‘Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe’

      • 山中 says:

        I love to cite that quote from time to time myself. I cannot believe people could lose their mental facilities so easily.

  2. 山中 says:

    Oh, lest we forget the Catholic church. The word “index” originally means a list of books that a good christian (everyone at that time) shouldn’t read.

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