Book review: ‘The Secret Life of Books’ by Tom Mole

Why they mean more than words.

‘The Secret History of Books’ by Tom Mole

As a bibliophile, a few years back, I was horrified to learn that my hero Charles Darwin sometimes tore especially thick books in half down the spine to make them more manageable to handle. It’s clear Darwin saw books’ primary value being in the information they contained. But he also recognised particular books could mean things to individuals. On receiving a specimen copy of the first edition of On the Origin of Species, he professed himselfinfinitely pleased & proud at the appearance of my child’.

This short but entertaining book provides plenty of food for thought about what books mean to us. It concentrates not on the contents of the books themselves, but on books as artefacts: physical objects that are far more than simple receptacles of text and images.

Tom Mole explores how we use books as status symbols, value signifiers, and home decorations; how we develop relationships with individual books, and with other people, both living and dead, through books; how we catalogue and cross-reference books; how we navigate our way through them; how we augment them with thoughts of our own. Mole also considers the pros and cons of modern e-books compared with their codex predecessors and contemporaries, and ponders where books might be heading in future.

Fellow bibliophiles will find The Sacred Life of Books an intriguing read.

  • Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com (for which I receive a small commission)
  • …or, better still, buy or order a copy from your local, tax-paying independent bookshop, who could really do with the help.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.


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