Fernando Báez spent over a decade amassing a novelic encyclopedia of bibliocausty- from biblion “book” and from kaustos, the verbal adjective of kaiein which means “to burn”; the term coming into its own around the late 1970s. As he describes in the introduction to the work, his passion comes from his early childhood and his hometown of San Félix in Guayana, Venezuela. When he was between the ages of four and five, he would spend hours in the public library which he viewed “as a last refuge” (p.4) from “an honorable state of poverty.” (p.4) It was here that he would develop a passion beyond bibliophilia that served as his muse behind this work. This sprung when Báez witnessed his first bibliocaust when the Caroni river wiped out his local library, “the object of [his] curiosity,” (p.5) like the Incan god Paricia who came and wiped out mankind in a flood.
Báez acknowledges that this work is incomplete in its present form, and at the outset welcomes revisions that will come by stating that “each new edition is an invitation to correction and amplification so that the book approaches the ideal, definitive history that perhaps will never exist.” (p.xii) It is evident that his passion will continue the development of this work, and that he is willing to pick up upon suggestions by his readers, such as a chapter on the fictional accounts of book burning.
The book itself deals with the mythos behind creation and destruction, and Báez weaves throughout the work an apocalyptic lamentation for the lost knowledge of human intellectual and cultural history. Part of his research for the book led him to conclude that “all civilizations… have postulated their origin and their end in a creation myth counterpoised to a destruction myth in a framework whose axis is the eternal return.” (p.7) Báez returns constantly to this theme, which he claims is “the best way to introduce [his speculation] to the reader,” (p.8) as though the destructive means of cultural annihilation are justified as a path to salvation; not that he believes this to be true, but that those who commit such acts do. Perhaps the best phrasing of this comes when he makes the claim that “The apocalyptic narrative projects the human situation and its anguish: in each of us, the origin and the end interact in inevitable process of creation and dissolution.” (p.9) This brings to mind, at least to this reader, the longstanding mythos behind the phoenix and the destruction of what was with the rebirth of something new.
The work seeks to be comprehensive, perhaps in a future edition, of all major periods of book destruction. This edition is broken down into three parts: The Ancient World, From Byzantium to the Nineteenth Century, and From the Twentieth Century to the Present. More will be explored on each section later. Báez is not the only writer to explore this topic. He writes with the same concern as Polastron (2007), Knuth (2003), & Raven (2004).
While recognizing that it is impossible to secure all of the books in existence, Báez forces us to think about how we preserve books, libraries, and other like spaces and their contents. He wants to understand why people and cultures burn books, and, as I have already mentioned, he seeks to explore this with an apocalyptic narrative. One of the questions that we should ask ourselves is how do we go about preserving our knowledge and cultural centers? How do we preserve the things on which information is stored, whether it be clay tablets, papyri, paper, or compact-disks? If destruction is bound to happen, how can we mitigate the consequences?
In the first part of his work, Báez explores the distant past. Some of the prominent chapters in this part include Greece, an entire chapter dedicated solely to the enigma of “The Library of Alexandria”, Eastern battles for empire in “China”, and the rise of the codex discussed in “Rome and Early Christianity.” He closes this part of the work with a chapter dedicated to “Oblivion and the Fragility of Books.” No work can suffer the ravages of time unaffected, and the very thing that made libraries of antiquity so sacred is what also led to their ruin, and with that the loss of knowledge. When a library of antiquity was lost, due to fire, flood, war or other causes, the works could not as easily be replaced for the infrastructure was not as adaptable and rapid as it is today.
In the second part of his work, Báez explores a long stretch of time covering “Byzantium to the Nineteenth Century”. Examples of chapters in this section include: “Constantinople,” “The Islamic World,” “The Destruction of Pre-Hispanic Culture in the Americas,” “England,” and “Revolutions in France, Spain, and Latin America.” The last chapter, which seems out of place in this section, though very appropriate to the nature of the book itself, covers bibliocausts found in fictional works which was suggested to him by an “anonymous reader.” (p.188) Báez took on the challenge and created this work exploring twenty-four authors fictional dealings with the destruction of books; these authors include: Cervantes, Marlowe, Poe, H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, Tolkien, Bradbury, Borges, Eco, and Jan van Aken. Another chapter in this part deals with “Fires, Wars, Mistakes, and Messiahs.” Báez makes a curious point here, particularly when he speaks about messiahs. One such “messiah” was Jacob Frank, an eighteenth century Jewish heretic who “found some disciples” and forced them to burn books.
In the last part of his work, Báez explores events that are seared in modern cultural memory covering the “Twentieth Century to the Present.” Topics in this part include events in “China and the Soviet Union,” “Spain, Chile, and Argentina,” the 2003 war in “Iraq” and particularly the looting of the Baghdad Archaeological Museum and the burning of the national library and archive, as well as the extensive and systematic bibliocide that took place throughout the second world war. Two of the other chapters that he explores in this section include ethnic rivalries and harm done, through no ill intent, but through the feeding by insects and the decomposition of modern paper and other publishing mechanisms.
Intellectual history has been susceptible throughout time to forces that we can control and forces that we can not. Though there is nothing that can escape time, save God, there are ways that we can mitigate disasters. Báez seeks to keep a record of those disasters and, by shedding light on them, prevent the destruction of more (books). I believe that Báez seeks to open his audience’s eyes to what happens through the intentional and willful destruction of books. It is hard enough trying to maintain and preserve them without their willful elimination.
Though Báez does a masterful job in writing the book and drawing the reader into the narrative, there are other ways in which the organization of the work could be arranged to tell the story. For instance, the organization could be arranged geographically instead of chronologically. In this way, we could go on a Vernian world tour of bibliocausty and explore how different cultures have handled the loss and destruction of their culture. This is not to say that the chronological arrangement is not good, but that the same story could be arranged so we see the history of bibliocausty played out in different geographic zones. Can we see any difference in how different cultures sought out the damnatio memoriae of their adversaries?
Another possibility for the retelling of this story would be to create a digital companion with an ArcGIS story map for a visual story that could serve as a tour of this work. One way to retell this story would be to extract the information from the work into a file and overlay it onto a GIS map and thus bringing the narrative to life, on a global scale and in a geo-pictoral context, the major ramifications of what Báez has devoted much of his life’s work to.
The author’s work is never done, as everyday the news recounts some new tale of the evils that take place among men. One of the most prominent contemporary examples stems from the rise of the Islamic State. This crisis could serve as an extended component of one of Báez’s current chapters, or as an entirely new chapter. It seems as though each new passing year sees another example of the unending destruction of books, and, as Báez has already stated, this book can continuously be expanded. Since the publication of this work in 2008, more examples of bibliocausty have taken place globally including the events in Ukraine, various parts of Africa, and the ongoing horrors brought about by the Islamic State. It is also possible to further extend the third part of his work to cover events such as the Vietnam War, the Iranian Revolution, and the burning of the Jaffna library in Sri Lanka during the midst of a civil war. That said, it is a great work, and worth reading by anyone who considers themselves a bibliophile, or has spent time relaxing in the pleasures of a library.
“Good books, it has been well observed, deserve good binding; did they but contain the power of speech, as well as all manner of tongues, how many tales of woe would they relate to us of the neglect and destruction they have suffered, merely for the want of a decent covering, which would have secured to them the friendship and esteem of the scholar, as well as universal admiration.” ~ Edward Walker
History of Binding: Quite Abridged and Extra Brief
In this paper I will be addressing the topic of bookbinding: what it is, how it is done, how it has developed, and will briefly attempt to see if there is anything we can learn culturally about this process; all of this will be, as the title states, in brief, or rather, to provide the reader with merely an overview of the subject with some historical background added for good measure. There is no intent to lead the reader to any sweeping claims, well maybe one in closing, but more to examine the role of books as physical objects and what they mean to us and our understanding of ourselves as humanity.
The first question that needs to be addressed in this essay is “What constitutes a book?” First and foremost, a book is an instrument of communication or conveying ideas, but within that definition it must be parceled out from other methods of communication. The Encyclopædia Britannica provides this as a concise definition for a book: “a written (or printed) message of considerable length, meant for public circulation and recorded on materials that are light yet durable enough to afford comparatively easy portability. ” What is commonly thought of as a book has a more precise name: codex. The codex is “the earliest type of manuscript in the form of a modern book. ” This essay will exclude discussion on the contemporary ebook.
How to Build a Book: Abridged and Incomplete 1.) The Leaf
There are various types of material which can be printed upon to form a book. The most common types of material have included papyrus, parchment (made from goat skin, sheepskin, or some other animal membrane) or vellum (made from calf), and paper, but there are various other types of material that can be used for making books including metal, plastic, stone, and, for the postmodernist out there, lasagna. Edward Walker, a nineteenth century bookbinder from New York, wrote in his work The Art of Book-Binding, Its Rise and Progress; Including a Descriptive Account of the New York Book-Bindery that
“In ancient times, a great variety of materials were used in making books; plates of lead and copper, bricks, wooden planks, and the thin part of the bark of the lime, ash, and maple. From hence is derived the term liber, which signifies the inner bark of trees; and as these were rolled up to render them portable, they were called volumen, or volume- a name afterwards given to the like rolls of papyrus, parchment, and paper. ”
Many of the books remaining from antiquity up through the medieval period were written on parchment. Parchment is a material typically made of the skins of sheep, goat or other animal membrane, and “derives its name from Pergamus, where it is said to have been invented by Eumenes, about 197 B.C., in consequence of the scarcity of the papyrus. ” A similar item is vellum, which is made exactly the same as parchment, but derives from calfskin; calf in the latin is vitulum and such is the etymological origin of the word. Parchment is made through a laborious process involving skinning the animal, washing the material in a lime solution to loosen the fur, attaching the skin to a stretcher, and then using a knife to get the skin to the appropriate thinness before it can be used for writing.
As the scope of this paper is not to delve solely into paper-making, I would only like to mention how it is made. Early European paper was made from linen, cotton rags, or a mixture of the two . Since the late 19th century wood pulp has been the staple of the paper industry. One of the most succinct descriptions of the science behind paper making can be found by Michael Seery in his paper entitled Saving Paper :
“The principal component of paper is cellulose, which is effectively a polymer of β-D-glucose. Hydrogen bonding between cellulose chains sticks them together to form fibrils, which further associate to form fibres, the basis of the structure of paper… . Raw cellulose fibres are extracted from plant sources and suspended in baths of water. Pulling an appropriately sized mesh through the suspension forms a mat of interwoven cellulose fibres as the water drains away. The remaining water is removed through drying and pressing, which bonds the fibres together into a sheet. ”
When the printing of books still dealt with folding pages out of one large leaf the type of book that was made depended on the number of folds. The types of books that were bound included folios (folded once), quartos (folded twice), octavos, (folded three times), twelvemos (folded four times), and so on . All of these folded sheets needed to be forced together and made permanent in their place. The individual sections of a grouped folded leaf is called a signature . Once all of the signatures were gathered, they needed to be brought together for binding. This process took what was familiar to the people and capitalized it to meet the needs of the book process; the process they utilized to bind the signatures together is known as sewing.
The earliest form of sewing leaves together is known as stabbing which is “the holding together of a number of leaves or sections by passing thread through holes made in the side of the book near the back folds. ” As books grew in thickness, the use of stabbing leaves together became impractical. Coptic  sewing sought to fix the need for binding larger texts together by sewing using thread or a thin cord “to sew the sections to each other and… to attach the boards to the sections. ”
In the modern era of printing, the most common types of sewing were Center Sewing, which involved “sewing through the center of the signatures and chaining these stitches together;”… Side Sewing-”sewing vertically through the body of the book from front to back,” or some combination thereof . Edward Walker provides a description of what happened after books were sown in his shop in New York City in the latter half of the nineteenth century:
“When the book [was] taken from the sewing press, an inch or two of each string [was] left hanging to it; these [were] afterwards either scraped so thin as to be but little conspicuous, or are employed for fastening the book to its case. The back of the book- that is, the assembled back edges of all the sheets- [was then] glued, to increase the bond by which they [would be] held together.”
One of the most ubiquitous fasteners used in the assemblance process is glue. The popularity of this is due to the inexpensive nature of the binding material and time/cost involvement. Glue plays a very prominent role in the history of binding, but more on that later. The glue helps to hold the cover in place as well as keeping the signatures together. This process is known as Perfect Binding &. On the commercial end of book binding, Perfect Binding proved to be tremendously effective because publishers were able to put out books at a much quicker rate .
We now have the basic assemblance of the book, but now it needs protection from the elements and usage. There are many ways that this can be done, but it generally involves applying a covering. A covering for a book can be made of paper, wood, leather, metal, vellum, and even precious metals such as gold. John Clyde Oswald expresses it this way:
“The folded leaf came into use in the fourth century. Soon it was found that a covering was needed for manuscript books of the new form, and the calfskin parchment known as vellum was selected as the most durable material available. Vellum served the purpose admirably excepting in one particular: It curled. This defect caused the introduction into the binding of wooden boards, secured with a leather hinge which covered the “backbone” of the book- the forerunner of the “half-binding.” In time the leather spread over the whole of the cover, other material- paper, vellum, etc. – eventually displaced the wood stiffening, and the book thereby attained the form and substance it has since preserved. ”
As time progressed into the Industrial Revolution, the processes of covering book was just as mechanized as every other process. The material became more inexpensive, the quality became less, but the ease of attainment and the mass dissemination was a valuable trade-off that enriched society at every level.
Origins of Binding
It is impossible to pin an exact date to the origin of bookbinding because, like so many human achievements , they take time to develop and each stage of innovation leads to the next. Philliatius, an Athenian, is credited with being the father of bookbinding for he “invented glue, or at least he was the first person to use it for printing together parts of papyrus manuscript books. ” So should we count that as the origin of bookbinding, or go back further with the Jewish holy scrolls, or perhaps the Sumerian Cuneiform tablets?
For the purposes here, we will stick to books as we know them today. “Books in their present form were invented, it is said, by Attalus, King of Pergamus, in 887. ” The codex “began to emerge at least as early as the second century A.D. ” As the Roman Empire faded into days gone by, the knowledge, including the making and writing of books, moved more and more under monastic guidance. It doesn’t appear that there were any major changes to book production until Johann Gutenberg  helped to establish the viability of movable type.
In the fifteenth century movable type is believed to have been created in Europe by Gutenberg making the printing of books much quicker and cheaper, though not as a product of Gutenberg’s zealous work. Due to an outstanding debt, Gutenberg was unable to continue his work and his entire operation was moved under the ownership of John Fust  (the owner of the loan) and the direction of Peter Schoeffer (Guttenberg’s principle workman) in 1455 . The printed works of the fifteenth century have a special title to designate their significance in history: incunabula , or cradle books. Movable type printing was introduced to Paris “by Guillaume Fichet, librarian at the Sorbonne,” in 1468; it was introduced in Rome by John Philip de Lignamine in 1470.  It was not long before the entire western world was caught up in the frenzy of the printing press.
Albert Pfister was another early printer who was possibly a partner of Gutenberg’s and made a name for himself traveling as a moveable print shop. It is thought that he was an “engraver and possibly a xylographic printer before becoming a worker with type.” What is significant about Pfister is that he “was the first printer to introduce woodcut illustrations in text matter. ” The quality of his productions were not of high mark, as a “boycott” was put out against him by the “skilled wood-engravers” who “saw in the new art of printing a menace to their own industry. ”
Günther Zainer of Reutlingen was the first printer to establish a printer in Augsburg, Germany; Augsburg became one of the best towns for printwork because their quality was highly regarded.  Zainer also has a place in history as “the first printer to engage in a controversy with engravers ” in which they opposed his admission to the privileges of a burgess , meaning his right of citizenry and to participate in the city governance.
Anthony Koberger established the House of Koberger  in Nuremberg circa 1471, and went onto become one of the most successful printers of his time. “The total number of his known separate productions [is] 236. ” It was at the House of Koberger where Anthony would produce his most successful venture, the Nuremberg Chronicle  printed in 1493.
Archibald Leighton is considered the first book binder to utilize cloth in his binding . This new technique, though much cheaper, took away from the aesthetical value that added the perception of weight and importance to a bound book. To add more value to these works decoration was added to camouflage the threads . This process also aided in the eventual mass dissemination of knowledge by making books more affordable to the masses.
Once the Industrial Revolution set the modern world in full steam it did not take long for the world of bookbinding to catch up to speed. Edward Walker explains it this way:
“The craft and art of binding books underwent major changes in England and in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. Large numbers of books were no longer bound by hand individually to order as they had been in preceding centuries; instead they were cased in uniform lots. In the 1820s traditional leather covers began to give way to cloth covers, which were plain and drab in the 1820s and 1830s, but often highly decorated by the middle of the century. As the reading public grew larger and more diversified, more and more covering materials and styles were invented and used, and binding factories began to displace the small shop as the size of publishers’ editions increased to meet the heavy demand for information and entertainment. ”
What really set the process in motion though was developments in transportation; it became quick, easy, and accessible to move large quantities of products over vast areas.
Individuals and Cultures tend to spend their time and money on the things that they value, this axiom extends to every facet of society- including the book. The book is a mainstay of civilizations past and present, and different epochs express their fascinations and curiosities with the book differently.
The binding of a book says a lot about the nature of the intent of a book. Some books are lavishly ornate for ritual significance and symbolism, such as “a superbly illuminated Prayer-book, the binding of which was of pure ivory, studded with gems ” that was probably used by a bishop during the middle ages. Or another instance involving an “Anglo-Saxon bishop, named Wilfred, [who] had the books of the four evangelists copied out in letters of gold upon purple parchment; and such value did he set upon the work when it was completed, that he kept it in a case of gold adorned with precious stones. ” These two particular bindings speak to the richness and the sacred nature of the text, conveying the overwhelming majesty of the God they worshiped.
On the other hand, cloth bindings and paperbacks helped to aid in the dissemination of knowledge because books could be more cheaply produced and more easily affordable by the lay person. These minor changes, in addition to the production capabilities acquired as a direct result of the Industrial Revolution helped to get books into the hands of the people. Books produced in this manner were meant to be used, but not necessarily preserved.
Other books are designed to be showcased as oddities such as miniature books  which are unique in that they are generally under three inches. These tiny books are not limited in their content though as many classics are available in this format.
What we can glean from book bindings is that it is, in it’s own right, an art form as well as a craft that takes years to master. Book coverings range from the ornate to the mundane, but their primary purpose is to support the material within.
The book has changed in many ways over the millennia of it’s existence; we have seen changes in writing material, changes in binding, changes in covering, but the book, as a physical object, has remained structurally the same as the most effective medium for conveying and expressing ideas over wide audiences. Though the structure, vessel, and medium of a book may change, the nature of the book as a physical object will always retain it’s purpose as an instrument of communication or conveying ideas.
But, so as not to leave the reader with doubt to whether I answered the question in the introduction, Does the binding of a book as a physical object mean anything to us and our understanding of ourselves as humanity? The answer is unequivocally Yes! The book, as a physical object, represents the marriage of human thought, craft, expression, and art with what Plato called the Good, Hegel called Zeitgeist, the religious refer to as God, but all represent some overwhelming force that calls us to interact with it and with each other. The binding of a book is the first encounter that a reader will experience with the physical object and as such can affect how the reader will experience the ideas contained within.
“‘Books,’ says Milton, ‘are among the sweetest luxuries of our world;’ and Channing affirms that ‘in the best books, great men talk to us, with us, and give us their most precious thoughts. Books are the voices of the distant and the dead. Books are the true levellers. They give to all who will faithfully use them the society and the presence of the best and greatest of our race. No matter how poor I am; no matter though the prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling. If learned men and poets will enter and take up their abode under my roof- if Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of Paradise; and Shakespeare open to me the worlds of imagination, and the workings of the human heart; and Franklin enrich me with his practical wisdom- I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, and I may become a cultivated man, though excluded from what is called the best society in the place where I live.’ Books have in all ages commanded the veneration of mankind; …”