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A book is both a usually portable physical object and the body of immaterial representations or intellectual object whose material signs—written or drawn lines or other two-dimensional media—the physical object contains or houses.

As a physical object, a book is a stack of usually rectangular pages (made of papyrus, parchment, vellum, or paper) oriented with one longer side (either left or right, depending on the direction in which one reads a script) tied, sewn, or otherwise fixed together and then bound to the flexible spine of a protective cover of heavier, relatively inflexible material so that, when the opened front cover has received a massy enough stack of sheets, the book can lie flat. The technical term for this physical arrangement is codex (in the plural, codices). In the history of hand-held physical supports for extended written compositions or records, the codex replaces its immediate predecessor, the scroll.

As an intellectual object, a book is prototypically a composition of such great length that it takes a considerable investment of time to compose and a still considerable, though not so extensive, investment of time to read. This sense of book has a restricted and an unrestricted sense. In the restricted sense, a book is a self-sufficient section or part of a longer composition, a usage that reflects the fact that, in antiquity, long works had to be written on several scrolls, and each scroll had to be identified by the book it contained. So, for instance, each part of Aristotle's Physics is called a book, as of course the Bible encompasses many different books. In the unrestricted sense, a book is the compositional whole of which such sections, whether called books or chapters or parts, are parts.

But the intellectual content in a physical book need not be a composition, or can be called a book. Books can consist only of drawings, engravings, or photographs, or such things as crossword puzzles or cut-out dolls. In a physical book the pages can be left blank or can feature an abstract set of lines as support for on-going entries, i.e., an account book, an appointment book, a log book, an autograph book, a notebook, a diary or day book, or a sketch book. Some physical books are made with pages thick and sturdy enough to support other physical objects, like a scrapbook or photograph album.

Books may be distributed in electronic form as e-books and other formats. In its "Revised Recommendation concerning the International Standardization of Statistics on the Production and Distribution of Books, Newspapers and Periodicals" of 1 November 1985, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stated that it was "convinced that it is desirable that the national authorities responsible for collecting and reporting statistics relating to the production and distribution of printed publications should be guided by certain standards in the matter of definitions, classification and presentation," and so "in order to improve the international comparability of statistics," it defined a book as "a non-periodic publication of at least 49 pages exclusive of the cover pages, published in the country and made available to the public" (11(a)), so that books statistics could be collected on "(a) Government publications, i.e., publications issued by public administrations or their subsidiary bodies, except for those which are confidential or designed for internal distribution only; (b) School textbooks, books prescribed for pupils receiving education at the first and second level as defined in the revised Recommendation concerning the International Standardization of Educational Statistics adopted by the General Conference; (c) University theses; (d) Offprints, i.e., reprints of a part of a book or a periodical already published, provided that they have a title and a separate pagination and that they constitute a distinct work; (e) Publications which form part of a series, but which constitute separate bibliographical units; (f) Illustrated works: (i) Collections of prints, reproductions of works of art, drawings, etc., when such collections form complete, paginated volumes and when the illustrations are accompanied by an explanatory text, however short, referring to these works or to the artists themselves; (ii) Albums, illustrated books and pamphlets written in the form of continuous narratives, with pictures illustrating certain episodes; (iii) Albums and picture-books for children; (iv) Comic books" (9-10). A single sheet in a codex is a leaf, and each side of a leaf is a page.

Although in ordinary academic parlance a monograph is understood to be a specialist academic work, rather than a reference work, on a single scholarly subject, in library and information science monograph denotes more broadly any non-serial publication complete in one volume (book) or a finite number of volumes (even a novel like Proust's seven-volume In Search of Lost Time), in contrast to serial publications like a magazine, journal, or newspaper. An avid reader or collector of books or a book lover is a bibliophile or colloquially, "bookworm". A shop where books are bought and sold is a bookshop or bookstore. Books are also sold elsewhere. Books can also be borrowed from libraries. Google has estimated that as of 2010, approximately 130,000,000 distinct titles had been published. In some wealthier nations, the sale of printed books has decreased because of the use of e-books, though sales of e-books declined in the first half of 2015.

Selected article

The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South is a book written by historian John W. Blassingame. Published in 1972, it is one of the first historiographies of slavery in the United States to be presented from the perspective of the enslaved. The Slave Community is a revisionist study challenging previous scholarship that suggests African American slaves were docile and submissive "Sambos" who enjoyed the benefits of a paternalistic master-slave relationship on southern plantations. Using psychology, Blassingame analyzes fugitive slave narratives published in the 19th century to conclude that an independent culture developed among the enslaved and that there were a variety of personality types exhibited by slaves other than the Sambo.Although the importance of The Slave Community was recognized by scholars of American slavery, Blassingame's conclusions, methodology, and sources were heavily criticized. Historians critiqued the use of slave narratives that were seen as unreliable and biased.

Selected image

Folio 27r from the Lindisfarne Gospels contains the incipit from the Gospel of Matthew.

Credit: Eadfrith of Lindisfarne

The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated Latin manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The manuscript was produced on Lindisfarne in Northumbria in the late 7th century or early 8th century.

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In the news

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March 14, 2012

After a 244-year span in print, the Encyclopædia Britannica will discontinue its published volumes. With less than 1% of revenue coming from print versions, Jorge Cauz, Britannica's president, indicates there simply is not sufficient demand for the print publication. In the last 11 years demand has plummeted due to competition from Wikipedia and Britannica's own digital version. Britannica peaked in sales in 1990 with 120,000 sets sold. The 2010 edition will be the last in print and has sold 8,000 sets to date; with 4,000 sets remaining.


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Selected biography

Left to right: Candido Portinari, Antônio Bento, Mário de Andrade and Rodrigo Melo Franco

Mário Raul de Morais Andrade (October 9, 1893 – February 25, 1945) was a Brazilian poet, novelist, musicologist, art historian and critic, and photographer. One of the founders of Brazilian modernism, he virtually created modern Brazilian poetry with the publication of his Paulicéia Desvairada (Hallucinated City) in 1922. He has had an enormous influence on Brazilian literature in the 20th and 21st centuries, and as a scholar and essayist—he was a pioneer of the field of ethnomusicology—his influence has reached far beyond Brazil.Andrade was the central figure in the avant-garde movement of São Paulo for twenty years. Trained as a musician and best known as a poet and novelist, Andrade was personally involved in virtually every discipline that was connected with São Paulo modernism, and became Brazil's national polymath. He was the driving force behind the Week of Modern Art, the 1922 event that reshaped both literature and the visual arts in Brazil. After working as a music professor and newspaper columnist he published his great novel, Macunaíma, in 1928. At the end of his life, he became the founding director of São Paulo's Department of Culture, formalizing a role he had long held as the catalyst of the city's—and the nation's—entry into artistic modernity.

Selected quote

Did you know...

  • ...that in English language works the table of contents is at the beginning of a book, but in French and Spanish ones it is at the back, by the index?
  • ...that print space determines the effective area on the paper of a book, journal or other press work, and is limited by the surrounding borders?
  • ...that the craft of bookbinding may have originated around the 1st century A.D.?

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