The mysterious ancient origins of the book

  • 2016-08-30
  • BBC

The book is changing. Electronic books, or ebooks, are more portable than their paper counterparts, capable of being carried in their hundreds on a single reader or tablet. Thousands more are just a click away. It can be argued that ebooks are more robust than paper ones: an ebook reader can be stolen or dropped in the bath, but the books on it are stored safely in the cloud, waiting to be downloaded onto a new device. It is not too much to say that books and reading are in the throes of a revolution.

Not everyone is happy about this. Book lovers, publishers and booksellers alike are watching the book-v-ebook sales battle with great interest, and when Tom Tivnan of The Bookseller reported recently that ebook sales had dipped for the first time, he sounded almost relieved: “For those who predicted the death of the physical book and digital dominating the market by the end of this decade, the print and digital sales figures […] for 2015 might force a reassessment.” Physical books may have the upper hand for now, but the debate is a long way from being settled.

The odd thing is that the current angst over the book’s changing face mirrors a strikingly similar episode in history. Two thousand years ago, a new and unorthodox kind of book threatened to overturn the established order, much to the chagrin of the readers of the time.