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The Book Before Printing: Ancient, Medieval and Oriental (Lettering, Calligraphy, Typography) Paperback – October 20, 2011


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The Book Before Printing: Ancient, Medieval and Oriental (Lettering, Calligraphy, Typography) + History of Libraries of the Western World + Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms (Looking At)
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Best Books of 2014
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Product Details

  • Series: Lettering, Calligraphy, Typography
  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; First Edition edition (October 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486242439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486242439
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #797,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

"A remarkable work. . . . For sheer weight of information there is no equal to it."—The Spectator.
It is probable that the earliest "books" were written on wood or leaves as early as the fourth millennium B.C. These fragile materials, unfortunately, have not come down to us. In their absence, the earliest surviving books are the clay tablets of Mesopotamia, the oldest attributed to c. 3500 B.C. On these ancient clay shards, dense rows of cuneiform script record the seminal writings of mankind: the Gilgamesh epic, Sumerian literary catalogues, Babylonian astrology, Assyrian accounts of the Creation and the Flood, and the Lipit-Ishtar Law-Code (c. 2000 B.C.), predating Hammurabi and the oldest law code in human history.
Probably as ancient as the Mesopotamian writings, or nearly so, are Egyptian hieroglyphics. In a sense, it is the papyrus scrolls of the Egyptians—preserved by that country's hot, dry climate—that represent the true ancestors of the modern book. As the centuries passed, papyrus slowly gave way to parchment (the prepared skins of animals) as writing material. Indeed, the handwritten parchment or vellum codex is "the book" par excellence of the Middle Ages. Western European book production is only part of the story, and the author is at pains to illuminate the bibliographic contributions of numerous peoples and cultures: Greek and Roman book production, books made in central and southern Asia, the books of Africa, pre-Columbian America, and the Far East—material that is often not mentioned in Western histories of the book.
Based on years of painstaking research and incorporating a wealth of new material and conclusions, the text is enhanced throughout by abundant illustrations—nearly 200 photographic facsimiles of priceless manuscripts in museums and libraries around the world.
Dover (1982) unabridged republication of The Hand Produced Book, 1953.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Dougal on August 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
"The Book Before Printing" by David Deringer is more than a book for bibliophiles: it is a mind-bogglingly comprehensive history of the roots of our common intellectual culture. From the oldest fragment of an Egyptian book c.2600 BCE, through clay tablets, papyrus, leather and parchment scrolls, to codices (that is, books as we have come to know them) in the early centuries of the Common Era, from prehistoric and non-literate symbolic/memnonic schemes, through early writing systems of Africa and Asia, to alphabets and scripts, Diringer examines every bit of evidence that was available up to the early 50's, when the book was written, to reveal archeological, cultural, linguistic, and religious trends through the millenia, and how scribes functioned, in their various settings, to bring us what remains of of distant literary past. He delves into the remotest corners of the globe for unexpected insights and manuscripts. Illustrations are abundant and well-described. I can only wonder what an edition updated to include all the most recent discoveries would be like. Probably huge! But even as it is,this book is a goldmine of information, and a feast for the mind.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Brian A. Glennon on May 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
The chief value of this work is in its collection of photographs of rare and unique manuscripts and its mass of empirical data; therefore this effort of Dr. David Diringer - 'THE BOOK BEFORE PRINTING: Ancient, Medieval, and Oriental (c.1953, 1982), becomes a nice compendium of evidence rather than a plausible theory of the development of the modern book.
Indeed this author's use of the word 'book' to designate any written material is a source of ambiguity as Dr. Diringer further refined his definition of a book to only the written word found "on perishible material such as wood, leather, or papyrus" (p. 48). So according to this author, only the written word found on clay, rolls, scrolls, leather parchments, linen, and waxed boards up to and including the codex are books - but not stone tablets, cave etchings, monument markings or metal stampings.
Though other studies begin their histories of the book with the codex (e.g. THE CODEX by Dr. Roberts; and THE BIRTH OF THE CODEX by C. H. Roberts), this author's extension of his book definition back to the furthest reaches of human civilization had inadvertently provided the reader with such a broad survey of data that few students will not be instructed by the many well chosen photographs of the rare and ancient manuscripts the author collected to use as examples of books.
In fact, the sheer volume of the photocopied documents almost compelled a reader to turn another page. In chronological order, each photocopy of a scroll, parchment, or codex coincided with Dr. Diringer's explanation of a period in a country's ancient history in which that document was produced. (This is a point where the author's expertise in writing tended to displace his main theme of book history).
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By L. Waldron on February 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a reprint of Diringer's "The Hand-produced Book". If you like books, you will LOVE this. You will beat yourself on the head and say, "Where has it been all my life?"
Diringer wrote "The Alphabet" and "The Illuminated Book", as well. All of these are easily accessible to the educated layman, and each is a rollicking good time. Alphabet and Illuminated are out of print. I found each of the 3 titles through the interlibrary loan program, but it would be a groove to actually own them.
Diringer is erudite, with a charming style. The illustrations in all the books are excellent.
What are you waiting for? THIS IS IT.
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By william bergman on September 23, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Older printing, but still full of interesting information.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dean van Halen on July 8, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the one book you need if you ever want to research "books" before the printing press. It is a great book, and interesting to read if you are interested in the subject matter. Warning: It is kinda dry, but it's not like you can really spice up a book about books. If you are interested or just a little curious, check it out.
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