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The Culture of the Book in Tibet Hardcover – July 6, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0231147163 ISBN-10: 0231147163
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Editorial Reviews


[A] brilliant study.

(Lauran R. Hartley The Journal of Asian Studies 1900-01-00)

This elegant, readable work portrays the considerable traditional Tibetan enterprise of book production.

(Jonathan C. Gold Religious Studies Review 1900-01-00)

This innovative and highly original exploration into the Tibetan culture of the book… is highly recommended reading for everybody interested in Tibetan Studies and cultural studies in general.

(Journal of the American Oriental Society 1900-01-00)


Written by one of the leading scholars of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism in the country, The Culture of the Book in Tibet is very timely, contributing to a lively field while drawing attention to the distinctive historical contribution of Tibetan texts and writing.

(Cynthia Brokaw, Ohio State University)|

The Culture of the Book in Tibet is a fabulous introduction to the religious significance of books in the Tibetan cultural world. Kurtis R. Schaeffer not only tells us what Tibetan intellectuals have had to say about the practice of writing, he also explores the material and economic dimensions of literary production and explains the process that led to the compilation and organization of important collections, including the 'canons.' In the first broad treatment of 'the book' in Tibetan culture, Schaeffer sets the agenda for all future research on this important topic. A truly fascinating and groundbreaking work.

(José Ignacio Cabezón, XIVth Dalai Lama Endowed Chair in Tibetan Buddhism and Cultural Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara)|

In recent decades we have seen illuminating new studies of literacy, scribal practice, and publication in many cultural spheres. Yet one of the most remarkable of book cultures, Tibet, has remained outside the purview of all but a narrow group of specialists. With this nuanced and graceful account, Kurtis R. Schaeffer introduces a broad readership to the scholars and monks, princes and poets who sustained for a millennium the publication and distribution of books across the length and breadth of the Tibetan high plateau. The Culture of the Book in Tibet is essential reading for all who are interested in the written word.

(Matthew T. Kapstein, École Pratique des Hautes Études and the University of Chicago, and author of The Tibetans)|

This marks a big step forward for the cultural history of Tibet. The volume is rich with details and vignettes that in the end allow us to put together a history of Tibetan Buddhism in an altogether novel—and most revealing—way. Fascinating reading for anyone interested in Tibet, the Buddhist world, or the world of books.

(Janet Gyatso, Harvard University)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (July 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231147163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231147163
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,012,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kurtis Schaeffer was born in Marin County, California, where he was introduced at an early age to the religions of Asia. His deep fascination with these rich spiritual traditions led him to become a lifelong student of Tibetan language, literature, and thought. Kurtis holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University, and teaches Buddhism at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Visit his site at UVa ( for more information on his current writing and translation projects.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Debbie VINE VOICE on February 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"The Culture of the Book" took a detailed look at book-making and the place of books in society in Tibet--a culture in which religious books are literally worshiped--during the 14th-18th centuries. While the books used in the examples were mainly Buddhist texts, the author only touched on Buddhist teachings as they related to the making, ownership, and value of the book. He covered several specific case studies where letters or texts were available which spoke about the process of making books (getting a patron, gathering materials, editing, translating, writing or cutting blocks and block printing the book, etc.) during the different centuries and in different areas of Tibet.

He also covered the social issues surrounding books, like how books were passed on after a person died, how donations were gathered to fund the expensive book-making project, and so on. The appendices contained the full text of a letter quoted in part in the book, a section explaining the contents of the Buddhist Canons for those of us who didn't know, and a chart showing the cost of making the Canon in his Degé example.

The wording used was formal but not technical, so it was easy to understand. I found the book interesting, though I felt at times like I would have gotten even more out of it if I was somewhat familiar with Tibetan Buddhism and the history during the time period covered. But maybe not. Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in how Tibetan Buddhism influenced book making in Tibet during the 14th-18th centuries.

I received this book as a review copy from the publisher.

Reviewed by Debbie from Different Time, Different Place
(differenttimedifferentplace. blogspot. com)
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