Man is a social being. It is one of the keys to the success of our species. The ability to talk with each other for practical, strategic and pleasure purposes. It is a way for us to coordinate action, preserve and pass down knowledge or/and pleasure. You could see this in:
Oral stories and traditions
Graphic Depictions in a cave painted by the Cro-Magnon Man
Written symbols, graphics and language systems developed
Evplution of medium to store ideas
IN THE BEGINNING: BOOKS AND LIBRARIES
In Sumeria records were written on clay tablets and carved on stone or metal. Egypt developed papyrus or paper. Pergamon used skins of animals. And in China paper was also developed. It was now possible to record, store and pass down lore, knowledge and art. Places to create, store and arrange this were established. In Egypt, Alexander the Great’s General Ptolemy, now the Pharaoh of Egypt established the Great Library of Alexandria. It became one of the important centres of knowledge for some time until it was destroyed by fire and human censorship and intolerance in increments. The decline of Egyptian, Greek and Roman Civilisation eventually led to the destruction of the Great Library and an intolerance and hostility against foreign ideas exhibited by different religious sects led to the destruction of the Great Library in increments.
The next great library was founded by the Abbasids Caliphs Haroun Al Raschid and his son Al Mammun. The Bayt Al-Hikma or the House of Wisdom was a library, a translation and a research centre in Baghdad. It was the successor of the Great Library of Alexandria in that part of the world. It was one of the places were works of Aristotle, Socrates and other Scholars were preserved, translated to Arabic and worked on. This was the Islamic Golden Age – an age of progress and tolerance: the Abbassid Society was multicultural. Religion was not imposed. Trade, Art and Science blossomed. It was also here,in Baghdad the centre of the Abbasid Empire and the home of the Bayt-Al Hikma, when the mass production of paper began. Paper from China began to be mass-produced in Baghdad. The House of Wisdom ended when the Mongols laid siege to Baghdad. Luckily a number of books from the collection were spirited out of Baghdad and eventually found its way to Europe.
In Europe similar to Bayt AL-Hikma there were groups and places busy translating and collecting the knowledge and culture of past civilisations. Religious orders were doing the collecting, collating, translation and reproduction. It was all hand crafted: hand written: written by hand one at a time. The production of a book was not merely writing. Books were clearly written and decorated with art. These were the Illuminated Books. Not surprisingly these books were highly valued. Libraries and Book Owners rarely loaned out books. And books were protected by book curses and chained to the walls.
Things change when Gutenberg and the printing press came along. The movable type of printing press enabled more books and things to be printed and printed faster. Still not cheap but at least it could now be available to more readers. And more ideas could be printed and s number of them had impact on Human Societies:
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Upton SInclair’s The Concrete Jungle
Jose Rizal’s Works: Noli Me Tangere; El Filibusterisimo;
Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf
George Orwell’s Animal Farm
IMPACT OF BOOKS, BOOK BURNINGS AND CENSORSHIP
The impact of knowledge, opinion and art was and is great and perhaps that is why book burnings and censorship has come and come again in our civilisation, The First Emperor of China Shi Huang Di wishing to establish a new cultural template for the empire and stifle dissent pursued a policy of book burring , except for those of the practical knowledge like agriculture and technology, and sent dissenting intellectuals to build what came to be the Great Wall of China. In the Americas, the Inquisition and Clergy destroyed the Later Hitler and the Nazis wishing to cleanse German culture of Jewish influence had book burning rallies. Even here in the Philippines it was said anecdotally that the Friars had book burnings of Rizal’s book. Not surprisingly the two books and Rizal’s work figured greatly in the Philippine Revolution. They were not called Propagandists for nothing.
Of course there were other less political impacts. Upton Sinclair’s The Concrete Jungle led to laws in the US for Food Safety. Jules Vernes works like a Trip to the Moon and others inspired generations of people to breach the stratosphere and reach the Moon.
There is of course another type of burning that books undergo. Paper and specifically Pulp paper, although inexpensive cannot last forever. Paper from pulp untried will react slowly with surroundings to turn yellow and eventually disintegrate. Pulp Fiction derived its name from the nature of the paper it was printed on it was cheap and not designed to last for a long time. Its binding was also not strong. Even before it disintegrate the book will fall apart. It is not uncommon to see book owners resorting to having their books hard bound. Sewn together and not glued.
A book that is worth buying for the long term is one that is hardbound: its paper acid free and better if laminated. The Bible and Perpetual Missals are of this quality.
THE FUTURE OF BOOKS
Book today come in many forms. This is not surprising due to the advances in Science and Technology, Also because of the evolving preference of the contemporary book readers and bibliophiles. (i) Books can now be read in cellphones, smartphones, computer, laptops, netbooks and tablets. A whole library can be carried in ones bag. (ii) Books now cover a wide genre because of our present diversity of taste – Classics like Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist; JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit; Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke are read. (iii) Rowling’s Harry Potter Books and Machiavelli’s The Prince is read to us by actors and sometimes the Author themselves. And more importantly books are still printed both in their ephemeral versions and those hardbound sturdy ones.
Will people still read books? I think so whether using a gadget or by reading it on paper. They have their advantages and disadvantages. In the end the book reader will read what he or she wants. They will learn what they want. Even if Tyrants and Intolerant Communities try their best in the end they wont stop. A book will survive whether it was kept safe or be resurrected by another writer in another time and place.