I sat down with my Kindle e-reader on Saturday morning to read the Los Angeles Times. There was an article about an L.A. used bookstore called Iliad Books. Sounded nice. So I went. What should I find but a section of books about books and publishing. There was a copy of The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making by Adrian Johns. The author’s main thrust is to examine how books in early modern England influenced and largely caused the development of the modern scientific method and the general acquisition and spread of knowledge. He wonders why readers assume that books are accurate and fixed. This is an interesting inquiry in light of the recent changes in publishing which involve ever-changeable electronic publishing and web postings. The history of the effort to make books fixed and true representations of their authors’ intentions and ideas is a fascinating one. It includes an analysis of widespread piracy that dogged publishers of books from the very beginnings of printed material.
Thinking about the nature of books and their history, along with the underworld of book manipulation, piracy, copyright, and the conveying of knowledge is essential as publishing undergoes its greatest changes since the beginnings of the printed page.