World Book Day 2022: from ancient scrolls to digital publishing, a brief history of books and reading

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Today, we live in a world where the printed medium has somehow lost its charm and influence. With technology taking over our lives, we have moved from reading physical copies of books to their digital versions through e-readers and Kindles. The eReader market revenue is expected to grow in the coming years, reaching around USD 23.12 billion by 2026.

However, have you ever wondered when and where did the concept of books and reading emerge? Today, on the occasion of World Book Day, we bring you a brief history of books and reading.

The beginning

The history of the book begins with the development of writing and various other inventions such as paper and printing, and continues through to the modern business of book printing. The earliest knowledge society in the history of books predates what would conventionally be called “books” today and begins with tablets, scrolls and sheets of papyrus.

The “first” books
Among the earliest books were the ancient scrolls, which were made as early as the 4th millennium BC/BC. But the first book printed in the form we know now, with pages bound together, is the “Diamond Sūtra.”

A copy of the Tang Dynasty Chinese version of the ‘Diamond Sūtra’ was found among the Dunhuang manuscripts in 1900 by Taoist monk Wang Yuanlu and sold to Aurel Stein in 1907. They are dated May 11, 868. This is , in the words of the British Library, “the first dated printed book”.

Illustrations on manuscript manuscripts (600 – 800 AD)

Manuscripts from this period were largely handwritten on parchment. Books from this period began to be decorated in gold and silver, with added illustrations, making them exquisite additions to a wealthy person’s collection.

Movable type (1000 – 1400 AD)


In China, the first movable type, made of wood, was invented around the year 1000 AD. However, the complexity of the Chinese characters and the tempering properties of the wood made it very laborious to use, so it did not take off.

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Instead, in 1200 AD, the first metal movable type was invented in Korea, during the Goryeo dynasty, producing the first book printed with a metal movable type called “Jikji”, printed in 1377 AD.

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Then, in 1439, Johannes Gutenberg, using his talents as a metalworker, devised a methodical and reliable printing press that enabled the mass production of books. The first mass-produced book was “The Gutenberg Bible”, printed in 1455 using metal movable type.

First book in America (1600 AD)
When the Puritans arrived in the New World within 20 years, they brought in a printing press and printed the first book in America, “The Bay Psalm” in 1640 AD.

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It contained the Book of Psalms from the Bible. To date, only 11 copies of this book are known to exist.

Arrival of inexpensive paperbacks (1832 to 1860 AD)
The continued decline in the cost of printing and improved education of the masses paved the way for the first mass-printed paperbacks. In the UK, the main market for these paperbacks was working-class young people and adults. One of the most popular series in print at this time was ‘Black Bess’ or ‘Knight of the Road’, a series which ran for 254 episodes.

The hardback books (1900s)
At the turn of the 20th century, hardcover books grew in popularity. During this time, the Boni brothers founded the Modern Library, which quickly became Penguin Random House, one of today’s largest publishing houses.

Arrival of computers (1970s)
With the invention of the commercial microprocessor in the 1970s, it became easier to go through the process of editing and designing books. Eventually, this also paved the way for the digitization of books, starting with the first book put on CD in the 1980s, “The New Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia”.

The current formula
The current format that we think of as books, with separate sheets bound together rather than a roll, is called a codex. Then hand-bound, expensive and elaborate manuscripts appeared in codex form. These gave way to press-printed volumes and eventually led to the mass-printed volumes prevalent today. Contemporary books may even have no physical presence with the advent of the e-book. Books have also become more accessible to people with disabilities with the advent of Braille and talking books.

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