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The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future Hardcover – October 27, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586488260
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586488260
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,136,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Booklist
“Historian and library director Darnton has written expansively and lucidly on the history of books and libraries. This collection of his influential essays from the past decade neatly encapsulates one significant part of his immense legacy and contribution to intellectual history. …Every one of Darnton’s essays reflects both his erudition and his good humor”

BookPage
“The stimulating and thought-provoking essays in The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future provide us with an excellent overview of where we have been and where we are likely to be headed.”

Shelf Awareness
“In this collection of well-informed essays, Robert Darnton, historian and director of the Harvard University Library, offers a decidedly open-minded perspective on some of the technological changes affecting the world of books and leads an insightful and learned discussion of topics that will appeal to more traditional bibliophiles.”

The New Republic
“Darnton’s volume is an informed and realistic guide to life in the first age of digital media. It argues convincingly that digitalization will create—is already creating—a new kind of enlightenment, if not a new Enlightenment…It seems entirely possible that Darnton will show scholars how we can make the digital world our servant, instead of accepting it as our master, and use it not to undermine but to complement the old powers of narrative and argument.”

Bookpage
“Darnton knows this territory as well as anyone and views the subject from a unique perspective…Darnton’s thoughtful and incisive essays on this important topic should be of interest to a wide range of book lovers.”

The Scotsman
“Darnton’s book ticks all the boxes. It looks nice. It smells nice. Its content is intelligent and forms a valuable primer to an increasingly important debate.”

Times Higher Education Supplement
“(an) important and highly readable book.”

Bookpage
“Darnton knows this territory as well as anyone and views the subject from a unique perspective…Darnton’s thoughtful and incisive essays on this important topic should be of interest to a wide range of book lovers.”

School Library Journal
The Case for Books breaks through the babble about books and offers concerned and curious librarians an intelligent and balanced response to the anti-Google claque while assuring readers that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the death of the book are greatly exaggerated.”

The Nation
“A worthy guide to the tremors created by the Kindle and electronic reading”

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Customer Reviews

Why would a scholar library director oppose providing better access to information?
spinoza
Darnton makes a case both for and against digitization of books, but mostly he comes out against.
hrladyship
This book is well worth reading, and it will make you love books more, both bound and unbound.
Dr. Marc Axelrod

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Robert Darnton doesn't want to have to choose between books and e-books. That's at the core of this compelling collection of essays and articles, some of which have been published elsewhere and some of which are new. He wants knowledge to be available and accessible -- and loves the idea of how new technologies can accomplish that. On the other hand, he has a number of concerns about the unintended or unexpected consequences of a future that rests solely on digital content, such as the fact that Google and others pursuing projects to digitize books aren't doing so as a public service. As Darnton points out, they do not see libraries as "temples of learning", but rather buildings that contain "potential assets or what they call 'content', ready to mined" at a cost that will be a fraction of the expense that went into building those collections.

Some of the interesting topics touched on in this eclectic collection are the economics of publishing -- what is a scholar to do in a world where university presses can't count on selling 800 copies of a monograph? Can electronic publishing help meet the needs of the scholarly community to publish or perish -- and what is the price that would be paid? Darnton speaks out about the tendency of some librarians to value space and what that means for preservation; as well as the dangers associated with simply tossing out old newspapers after reproducing them on microfilm. (What if the microfilm is fuzzy? What if someone made margin notes that aren't reproduced; yet those margin notes inform later scholars or historians far more than the original content itself, with the passage of time?) There is an essay on bibliography and the importance of studying the history of the publication of a book or work (such as the various folios of Shakespeare).
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By barbara a. trumpinski (kitten) on December 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading Robert Darnton's book The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future I would recommend it for every bibliophile's "books to read" list. Darnton is not only the director of the Harvard library, he is also a historian who has devoted a great deal of time and energy to the history of books, writing, printing and reading. The book provides an overview of the subject without trying to do too much and without being dry and too technical. (I liked it so much I will admit to purchasing my own copy after I had read the first 6 chapters.)

As indicated by the title, The Case for Books is divided into three sections, as indicated by the title, but the Introduction has one of the most important points in the book, in my opinion. Darnton says:"A generation "born digital" is "always on," conversing everywhere on cell phones, tapping out instant messages, and networking in real or virtual realities. The younger people you pass on the street or sit next to on a bus are both simultaneously there and not there." Even so, he doesn't want to choose between print and ebooks. He analyzes the way the public interacts with books and printing (he is especially fond of the 17th century and spends a lot of time on the craft of bibliography and the way it is possible to distinguish between editions of Shakespeare) and then provides one of the best and certainly one of the clearest explanations of the Google book settlement that I have read. He is obviously a fan of Google Books and other projects that provide access to information, but he is also not overly dazzled and points out the danger of giving one commercial entity a monopoly or even fostering an oligopoly.

I particularly liked the chapters that dealt with reading.
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Comstock on January 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There is no case for this book, which is deceptively marketed and disappointing.

The title indicates that Robert Darnton, an eminent historian and scholar, will mount an argument in favor of books. Instead, what follows is a series of his old articles, dating back to the early 1980s, with nothing seriously unifying the group.

A few of these old articles, laid out as chapters, are somewhat interesting. However, others are shameful, including one that reproduces a grant proposal he made in 1997, followed by a progress report from 2002. This is just lazy and insulting to readers.

Nowhere on the outer cover does it indicate that this is a collection of previously published essays; there's just a passing mention in the back flap. Seemingly, they wanted this to look like a book that it is not.

I do admire Darnton as a scholar, but I have lost admiration for him after this. For he, who so admires books, to release this is neither a tribute to the medium, nor to his readers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By hrladyship on May 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
Darnton's book is not quite what it seems. The title of The Case for Books seems to indicate that the contents would be details on the importance of books as they currently exist. In this age of the digitization of nearly everything that isn't nailed down, a lot of bibliophiles feel that their treasures are being attacked and may disappear in the near future. It is these current conditions that lead the reader to believe they know what arguments Darnton will be trying to prove once the cover is turned back.

As it turns out, only the new "chapter" on Google fits most expectations. Darnton makes a case both for and against digitization of books, but mostly he comes out against. One reason is the potential for loss of control of the books by both authors and publishers that could be a result of this and other projects. Another reason is having the control of much of the written word in the hands of one entity. This does not bode well for anyone in the business - including readers. Whether this is Google's intent, the project does tend to bring out the paranoia in those who believe in access to all books by all people.

The rest of the book is a re-printing of several earlier essays by Darnton, something that is not mentioned specifically on the book covers. Some of these are interesting, some are not. The chapter on the grant proposal would be useful only for someone looking for a sample of such, and does not make interesting reading. The same could be said for the chapter "The Importance of Being Bibliographical.

Now, the chapter on commonplace books was delightful, especially since this was a term I had never heard. I am familiar with marginalia (the practice of writing comments in the margins of books).
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