What is a Book?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The book is difficult to define, caught between a physical object, usually rectangular, made by tying together a stack of pages so that one side is bound and fixed, and the other free and loose; and an intellectual object, one that delimits a project that is self-sufficient and of reasonably substantial (though indeterminate) length. Clearly these physical and non-physical definitions are intimately related, yet they also involve considerable philosophical indeterminacy. A book is both finite and indefinite, open and restricted. This chapter considers both dimensions of the book, arguing that object and idea are inseparable. It discusses the 5,000 year history of the book from cuneiform to the Kindle, and theories of the book from Augustine to Petrarch, or from Freud to Heidegger. It is divided into five sections: the Book as Object; Contents; Metaphor; Technology; and Machine.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Unfinished Book
EditorsAlexandra Gillespie, Deidre Lynch
Place of PublicationOxford and New York
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)978-0198830801
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2021

Publication series

NameOxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature
PublisherOxford University Press


  • book
  • communication
  • object
  • technology
  • concept
  • metaphor
  • writing
  • hand-made
  • agency

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