Is the age of the printed book coming to an end? If history is any guide, notes Harvard University Library director Darnton, not any time soon. In this collection of previously published essays, an “unashamed apology for the printed word,” Darnton, an eloquent writer and one of the world's foremost historians of the book, offers a fascinating history of our literary past and a penetrating look at the disruptive forces shaping the future of publishing. Almost no topic is untouched, from the role of libraries to metadata, the print traditions of Europe, piracy old and new, Darnton's own forays into digital initiatives and the efficacy—even the beauty—of our changing literary landscape over centuries of development. This book clearly has a main character, however—Google. The search giant appears often. While the individual essays are brief, in sum, the book offers a deep dive into the evolution of the written and published word. Darnton offers little cover from the winds of change, but for book lovers and publishing professionals he offers the comfort that comes from understanding the past, and hope, as he places the Internet among a litany of disruptive innovations the book has survived. (Oct. 27)
Darnton (director, Harvard Univ. Lib.) gathers more than a decade's worth of his published work to address the essential issues surrounding the future of the book, from the genesis of ebooks and the opportunities of electronic text to early practices of book production and circulation and the nuances of reading. Darnton comes across most forcefully when he does more than just reintroduce the debate over the dangers and promises of a global digital library and instead shares instructive insights into the nature of information itself and the relationship of text to the reader. Core is his treatment of the Google Library Project and the settlement's importance. Darnton's personal opinion: digitize and democratize. VERDICT These essays bring balance and a refreshing perspective to the nervous predictions over the future of print. Highly recommended for anyone with an investment in new media, libraries, literacy, and publishing.—Katharine A. Webb, Ohio State Univ. Libs., Columbus
Harvard University Library director Darnton (George Washington's False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century, 2003, etc.) offers measured essays on books, libraries and publishing. In pieces published in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere, Darnton focuses on the status of scholarly publishing and librarianship. Quoting a colleague who says that the latter is, perhaps surprisingly, tightly bound up in the world of money and power, the author notes that, for all the recent woes of the economy, a million new books are published each year around the world-books that have somehow to be put into the hands of readers. In that connection, Darnton, an eminent student of the Enlightenment and a good citizen of what that era called the Republic of Letters, considers the role of Google and its plan to scan the contents of the world's great libraries into digital form. On the face, he writes, making such a wealth of knowledge available to readers would appear to be a public good, and there are many reasons why a bibliophile and scholar should applaud such an enterprise. Yet, he adds, after evenhanded consideration of those pluses, "The more I learned about Google, the more it appeared to be a monopoly intent on conquering markets rather than a natural ally of libraries, whose sole purpose is to preserve and diffuse knowledge." The competing demands of public welfare and private profit occupy Darnton in several pieces, while others consider the still foggy realm of electronic publishing and the addition of value to the culture that people who work with books provide. The author also includes a few scholarly pieces on various aspects of the history of publishing ("Little isknown about the way books reached bookstores from printing shops"), connected to the earlier pieces only incidentally but pleasing all the same. Of much interest to anyone with a stake in the developing Google settlement, as well as for fans of books about books.
From the Publisher
Chronicle of Higher Education, August 29, 2010
“A useful text with which to muse on this subject is Robert Darnton's The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (PublicAffairs, 2009). In it, the onetime newspaper reporter, distinguished scholar of the Enlightenment and the history of the book, and director of Harvard's libraries, swings between explanations and concerns about Google Book Search, and how the situation with books today looks in the perspective of history. Many of his observations give pause.”