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Sunday, 17 February 2013



It is not until about 425 BC that a book trade developed in Athens, with educated people acquiring papyrus scrolls to read in the privacy of their homes.

Plato, writing in the Phaedrus in about 365 BC, expresseed strong disapproval of this new-fangled fashion for reading by oneself.

The earliest books in China can be traced back to  the 3rd-c BC, in the form of wood or bamboo leaves bound with cord. The records indicate that they were in use at least 1000 years earlier, in the Shang dynasty.

An indigenous plant in China, the bamboo, proved as convenient a writing material as papyrus in Egypt. Chinese characters at this early period were written in vertical columns, so a thin strip of bamboo was ideal for a single column. To create a longer document, two lines of thread linked each bamboo strip to its neighbour. The modern Chinese character for a book evolved from a pictogram of bamboo strips threaded together.

In 213 BC the Chinese Emperor ordered that all books (except those on medicine, agriculture and divination) were to be burnt.

In 523 Boethius, who was the head of the civil service and chief of the palace officials for Theodoric The Great in Rome, was arrested on suspicion of secret dealings with Theodoric’s enemies in Constantinople. During his time in prison awaiting execution, he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy, which encouraged man to find consolation through meditation and prayer. Over the next millennium, The Consolation was probably the most widely read book after the Bible

The St Cuthbert Gospel is a 7th-century pocket gospel book, written in Latin, which was placed in the tomb of Saint Cuthbert at Lindisfarne, probably a few years after he died in 687. Its finely decorated leather binding is the earliest known Western book-binding to survive, and the whole book is in outstanding condition for its age. When the British Library purchased the volume for £9m ($14.3m) from the British Jesuits, they described it as "the earliest surviving intact European book and one of the world's most significant books". 

A block print copy of the Chinese version of Diamond Sūtra has been dated back to May 11, 868 making it the oldest known dated printed book. The Diamond Sūtra is a Buddhist collection of aphorisms from the "Perfection of Wisdom" genre, and emphasizes the practice of non-abiding and non-attachment. 

Frontispiece of the Chinese Diamond Sūtra, the oldest known dated printed book in the world

In 1373 Lady Julian of Norwich experienced 16 mystical visions over two days whilst suffering from a life-threatening illness. God showed these 16 different revelations of his immense love to her in order that she could meditate upon them for the rest of her life and to share them with others. Twenty years later, the fifty-year-old mystic recorded them in a book, The Revelations of Divine Love. This was the first book written by a female in the English language. 

Before the Renaissance, three-quarters of all the books in the world were in Chinese.

The Gutenberg Bible was the first western book printed with movable type. The traditional date for its publication was February 23, 1455.

Gutenberg Bible of the New York Public Library. By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) - originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible, CC BY-SA 2.0, Commons Wikipedia

The first printed book in Europe to bear the name of its printer is a magnificent Psalter completed in Mainz on August 14, 1457, which lists Johann Fust and and his son-in-law Peter Schöffer. The Psalter is decorated with hundreds of two-colour initial letters and delicate scroll borders that were printed in a most ingenious technique based on multiple inking on a single metal block.

The Mainz Psalter (1457) of George III, rebound in 1800

De Officiis (On Moral Obligations) by Cicero was printed by Johann Fust and and his son-in-law Peter Schöffer in 1465. This quarto of 88 leaves was the first printed edition of a Latin classic and contained the first printed Greek characters.

The first to be printed in the English language was The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye, a version of a French book written around 1463. It was translated over a three-year period by William Caxton, who would go on to pioneer the printing press in England. He published his version around 1474, at a time when when most books were printed in Latin, in either Ghent or Bruges, Belgium.

The first book published in the United States was Massachusetts Bay Colony: The Oath of a Free Man, in 1638.

Mary Rowlandson's 1682 book about her capture by Native Americans, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, is considered America's first "bestseller."

From the Middle Ages to the 18th century books were often chained to a bookshelf or a desk to prevent theft.

Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, published in 1843, was the first book ever to contain photographs. It was written by Anna Atkins (née Children; March 16, 1799 – June 9, 1871), an English botanist and photographer.

A cyanotype photogram made by Atkins which was part of her 1843 book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions

The slowest-selling book is reputedly a 1716 translation of the New Testament from Coptic into Latin. The last of its 500 copies was sold in 1907.

The Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania has been open since 1745. That 271-year running streak makes it the oldest bookstore in America. 

With sales of about 200 million copies, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities is the biggest selling novel in history

The first book described as a "best-seller" was Fools Of Nature by US writer Alice Brown in 1889.

Book tokens were launched by the Booksellers Association in 1934 with the slogan “The Gift is Mine. The Choice is Thine”. The idea for them came from Harold Raymond of Chatto and Windus in 1926 but the scheme took six years to come to fruition.

The Catholic Church abolished its list of Forbidden Books, which had existed since the sixteenth century. By 1948 over 4,000 titles had been censored including works by Erasmus, Defoe, Descartes and Immanuel Kant.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was originally rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book, according to the Guinness Book of Records. It was eventually published in 1974 and went on to sell five million copies worldwide.

First edition

Fatherhood by Bill Cosby, published by Doubleday/Dolphin in 1986, became the fastest-selling hardcover book of all time. It remained for over half of its fifty-four weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List at #1. It has sold 2.6 million hardcover copies and 1.5 million paperbacks (published by Berkeley). 

His next Doubleday/Dolphin title, Time Flies, had the largest single first printing in publishing history: 1.75 million copies.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the popular Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, was released on July 21, 2007 to record sales of 15 million copies in its first 24 hours, making it the fastest-selling book in history.


Throughout the entire 2001 33% of British men never read a book.

EL James' erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey broke the UK weekly paperback sales record, when it sold 205,130 copies in the second week of June 2012, some 64,000 copies more than the previous record set by Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol in July 2010. The novel tells the story of the steamy relationship between billionaire businessman Christian Grey and "unworldly, innocent" literature student, Anastasia Steele.

One of eleven surviving copies of the first edition of the Bay Psalm Book sold at auction in November 2013 for $14.2 million, a record for a printed book.

42% of college students will never read another book after they graduate.

The average Briton devotes 5 hours 18 minutes a week to reading. 

People in India are the world's biggest readers, spending an average 10.7 hours a week.

Ten books on a shelf can be arranged in 3,628,800 different ways.

'Bibliosmia' is the enjoyment of the smell of old books.

The Japanese word "tsundoku" refers to the practice of buying books and letting them pile up, unread.

38% of people finish books they don’t like.

The Bible is the best selling book of all time with approximately six billion books. The second-best selling book is Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse-Tung.

The most expensive book or manuscript ever sold at an auction was The Codex Hammer, a notebook belonging to Leonardo da Vinci. It sold for $30.8 million.

The thickest book published was 322 mm (12.67 in). The limited edition, £1,000 volume contained all Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories — 12 novels and 20 short stories. The book’s 4,000 pages weighed more than 17 lb.

The largest book in the world is The Klencke Atlas at 1.75 meters tall (about 5 feet 9 inches) and 1.90 meters wide (about 6 feet 3 inches when open).

Sources HistoryWorld, Daily Express, Encyclopedia of Trivia My knowledge

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