A book is a medium of communication, a portable container of information in a graphic and legible form. Books can be read aloud and are often studied to improve literacy and comprehension. Books may be used as a source of entertainment and for reference in business, education, law or science. They are often used as an object of art and are sometimes sculpted or painted. Regardless of their physical composition they are usually organized into sections, chapters and parts to aid assimilation and reading, and they are commonly augmented by illustrations, photographs, maps and crossword puzzles. The term is also used to refer to a digital file that consists of pages that can be displayed on computers and other electronic devices, often with text, graphics and audio.
The evolution of the book over time and space has been influenced by the technology of printing, which was enabled by the inventions of Bi Sheng in China around 1045, and Johannes Gutenberg in Europe about 1450. The introduction of movable type allowed the mass production of books. Book production, distribution and storage have likewise been affected by changes in cultural values, the desire to make reading more accessible, changing notions of reading and writing, and technological change.
Books can be designed to appeal to a specific audience, based on genre, topic and writing style. Authors must consider the scope and purpose of their work, as well as accepted editorial standards. They may choose to include a preface, foreword or introduction, as well as footnotes and an index. They can use illustrations or tables, and include a glossary of terms that are not explained in the text.
The physical form of a book can be any size or shape, but is typically bound with one or more covers made of durable material. Books are most often printed on paper, although some are also printed on cloth or leather and some are made of other materials such as wood. They are often decorated with cover design elements such as a title, a binding that holds the pages together, page numbers and other identifying markings.
A book can be used for various purposes, including to read for pleasure, study or research, and as a source of information. It can also be used as a tool to educate, for example, in the case of textbooks which present information and concepts in a logical order that helps the student learn in an orderly way.
Books are often used to stimulate social or academic discussion, for example, in a book club or when a book is chosen for a school essay or report. They can also be used as a source of inspiration for artistic expression such as in an artist’s book, or as a means to develop literacy skills in the form of a children’s storybook. Increasingly, books are available in digital form for download from websites such as Amazon and Google. This has led to a debate over whether the rise of the digital book is diminishing the popularity and importance of paper publishing.