A book is a collection of pages (made from papyrus, parchment, vellum, paper or modern equivalents) fastened together and protected by a cover of stronger material. It contains writing, pictures, or both.
The first recorded books were made of scrolls, the physical supports for lengthy written compositions in Hellenistic, Roman and Chinese cultures. The codex form took over in late antiquity. The Etruscans were also prolific producers of folded linen ‘books’ called Libri lintei, but none survive.
In Europe, Johannes Gutenberg introduced the modern book by developing movable type printing and an ink that would stay wet for long enough to allow several copies to be printed at once. His inventions greatly increased the speed of book publishing and reduced the cost.
Most books are produced today using offset lithography. The printed sheets are cut to standard sizes, which correspond to sheet sizes and machine dimensions that were popular 200 or 300 years ago. The printed sheets are then assembled into a book by a bindery, which folds and trims the sheets to their correct sequence. Books are then bound into covers of hard or soft binding materials such as leather, cloth or cardboard.
Paperback books have flexible covers and are much more common than hardcover books. They are cheaper to make and therefore more affordable to buy for the general public. Hardbacks have a harder and more durable cover that protects the books pages, which is why they are pricier to buy.
A book may have a cover with a title, author’s name, and illustration of the subject or theme of the book. The text inside may be arranged in chapters, sections or paragraphs, and the words may be written in one or more languages. The body of the text may contain notes or references to other sources.
Typically, a book will be classified in a library or archive by a number that identifies it in the catalogue system. This number is called a call number and is usually placed on the spine of the book, a short distance before the bottom edge. The catalogue code corresponding to the call number is a unique identifier that allows books to be easily located on shelves or in electronic databases.
There are many types of books, with varying genres and themes. A children’s book is a genre of book with a large proportion of images and little or no text, while an academic textbook is typically structured as a series of chapter-like units that build up the subject gradually. An almanac is a general reference book, containing lists of information and data on numerous topics; a dictionary has listings of words, their etymology and meanings; a book of maps is a collection of atlases; and a more specific reference book with tables and lists of information in a particular area is known as an encyclopedia or handbook.