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The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future

3.34  ·  Rating Details  ·  654 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
The era of the printed book is at a crossroad. E-readers are flooding the market, books are available to read on cell phones, and companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple are competing to command near monopolistic positions as sellers and dispensers of digital information. Already, more books have been scanned and digitized than were housed in the great library in Alexa ...more
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Published July 22nd 2009 by PublicAffairs (first published 2009)
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Feb 08, 2010 Bob rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Very disappointing to say the least. The title and dust-cover description identified this as a book that would cover one of the most interesting topics I'd heard approached in years: Why are books important in this age of computers and the internet?

To say it didn't cover this topic is an understatement. This is a librarian who wrote multiple articles on the same 2-3 topics, then bound them together into this. The problems are many, but some include:

1. The repetition is horrendous. Many of the ar
Angelo Ricci
Avreste mai immaginato che l’abbonamento ad una sola rivista scientifica o letteraria potesse arrivare a costare, per la biblioteca di una qualsiasi università statunitense, decine di migliaia di dollari l’anno? E che questa biblioteca, considerando le centinaia di riviste alle quali deve abbonarsi per mantenere aggiornato il corpo docente e studentesco, non avrebbe avuto più denaro sufficiente per l’acquisto delle monografie? E che, mentre il contenuto di queste riviste è fornito gratuitamente ...more
Feb 11, 2010 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: librarians
Shelves: nonfiction
The first part of this book takes a critical look at the Google Book Search lawsuit and the potential crisis if no-longer-copyrighted material suddenly gets "owned" by Google which will be free to charge for access to it. The author makes a strong case that the ink-on-paper book will survive this -- only if libraries do not use the availability of digitizing everything to clear their shelves of "the book". The author argues that we do not as yet know the survivability of the digital record and c ...more
Jan 29, 2010 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Darnton's Case for Books is an oddly titled anthology comprised mostly of articles he's written over the past couple decades for the NYRB. I'd read many of them previously, and didn't find them any less insightful the second time around. What puzzles me, however, is the title of this anthology. For the most part, Darnton doesn't write about books in this volume. He writes about newspapers; he writes about Gutenberg-e; he writes about open access publishing; he writes about commonplacing. I think ...more
Jul 22, 2012 Drew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Underwhelming. Darnton stitches together a hodgepodge of vaguely related essays in what appears to be an opportunistic bid for either attention or a quick buck. Skip it.
Oct 31, 2012 Traci rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Too boring in a lot of parts, too academic (and aimed primarily at academia in general, with university libraries primarily - not public libraries). While I appreciate Darnton's endeavor, I just found a lot of it dry as toast, and since it didn't apply to my sphere, I skipped a lot of it. However, I really did like the following paragraph, so I'll share that with you.

"Consider the book. It has extraordinary staying power. Ever since the invention of the codex sometime close to the birth of Chris
Alejandro Soifer
Compré este libro en agosto de 2013 en una librería dentro del campus de la Universidad de Harvard (Boston, Mass.) El libro fue editado originalmente en 2009. ¿Por qué estos señalamientos? Porque el autor fue director de la biblioteca de Harvard y creo que es el único motivo por el cual su libro estaba tan vistoso en esa librería.
Se trata de una serie de ensayos antiguos ya para 2009 compilados bajo la promesa de una reflexión acerca del futuro de los libros. En realidad los primeros tres ensay
May 21, 2010 Betsy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Like many here, I was somewhat disappointed in the end. As a librarian, I was hoping for more ammunition to use in the inevitable conversations I find myself having with ignorant people who insist on proclaiming that The Book Is Dead.
Nov 17, 2010 Anthony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in books and the politics of reading
This is a retrospective collection of essays by Darnton written over the last thirty years, and published principally in the New York Review of Books, but also in other journals such as Daedalus and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Divided into three sections—Future, Present and Past—the collection of linked essays begins with an interrogative piece focused on the Google Books digitization initiative and its potential impact for scholars and readers worldwide in the rapidly changing world of n ...more

There seems to be little to no communication between myself and the kindly librarian who has done a lot for me over the years of my shelf-ravaging. She gives out the good kind of good advice. No sugar toppings. It's become a seriously funny joke, self-punishment by books about books.
"They just are not out there, hun."
"It's a new year though, so until I have infallible proof, the game is afoot!"
*Sighs* "Don't be such a smut glut, hun. I would rather you get your nails done every three weeks than
Nov 11, 2010 Joyce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The Case for Books> is a collection of eleven essays by the distinguished historian Robert Darnton, now director of Harvard University libraries. Composed over a thirty year period for journals, the essays are organized into three sections about the place of books: the future (hopeful); the present (confusing); and the past (book history as an academic discipline). As an historian I enjoyed "The Past" section the most, found "The Future" repetitive at best and incredibly naive at worst. On pa ...more
Ron Nie
Dec 16, 2014 Ron Nie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Darnton's writing style is super readable and chill - yay - but ultimately, I kept waiting for more from this book: more critical engagement with what digitization is doing, more specificity, more argumentation instead of "what if this?" just *more*
I think this book functions nicely as a mass market overview of a general subject (how do we feel about books going digital) but if you actually want to engage with what's happening, I'd read N. Katherine Hayles' How We Became Posthuman essay (and th
Jun 15, 2010 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booksforschool
I used this book for a project I did for my collection development class. Most of the books that I used for that project, I would skim, pick out a few highlights, and then return them to the library. This one really caught my attention, and I ended up reading the whole darn thing! It's a collection of essays by Robert Darnton, who is the head of the Harvard University Libraries. Although not a librarian by trade, he has a deep love for books and reading, as most academics seem to, and his essays ...more
Robert Darnton is a cultural historian, the director of Harvard's library system, and the author of an eyebrow-raising number of titles, some of which come with such appealing-- or not -- titles as 'The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History.'

This book collects about eight essays that he's written over the years, most of them for The New York Review of Books. Roughly divided into the future, the present, and the past, the pieces range from critical looks at the implica
D.M. Dutcher
Sep 10, 2011 D.M. Dutcher rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bad-nonfiction
It's not really a case for books, but a collection of articles on them. I bought this book ironically from a closing Borders, and was hoping he would mount an impassioned defense for the physical book. You wont find that here. Instead you'll find articles more centered around the case of physical books for libraries-all the books tend to be antiquarian ones and he tackles it from a research librarian perspective. The most lively section is about the controversies surrounding microfilm, but even ...more
Leila Mota
Jan 31, 2015 Leila Mota rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How could I not like this book, if its subject is one of the things I love the most in the world? Unfortunately, it took me a long time to read it, and the fact that it brings to light the digital book issue really makes me feel that it is dated, at least in this aspect. I couldn't shake this feeling reading some articles that had been written some years before. Even so, for a not erudite reader like me, it was an interesting experience to learning so many facts about something that I not only l ...more
William Schram
This book was okay. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. I liked learning about the troubles of bibliographers and stuff like that, but I felt that the book as a whole was a bit disjointed. This is mostly because it is made up of a series of essays that were already in existence. Another issue I had with the book was the structure of it. The future of books is dealt with first, followed by the present and finally the past. He follows a bit of how the book-making process goes about; in ...more
Feb 09, 2015 Bree rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm having a hard time deciding what this book is more guilty of: false advertising or unreadable dryness.

If you think this is a book about the history of books and how books fit into people's lives differently in the new "eBook age", you would be wrong. As was I.

What Darnton has done here is slap together ten or so essays he had written in the past (like from 30 years ago up to 7 years ago) that sort of, kind of, have to do with the way book publishing has changed as the world moved into the In
Amanda Richards
I thought this was a pretty good read for those who would like to know about the recent history of books and how Google books is affecting the written word.

It is a bit repetitive as the book is a collection of scholarly articles, but an interesting read nonetheless. However I might suggest not reading it all the way through in one go like I did, but rather use it more as reference.

I am looking forward to starting a commonplace book! :)
Harry Hutton
Chapters are a series of essays from over his years as a journalist. It can be a little repetitive because of this.
In particular, the Google Books legal case is discussed to the death.

Another big topic is the survivability of books.
Darnton makes the argument that books stored digitally are a poor way to preserve knowledge, as they may be lost either by damage to the disk format they are stored on, or by their format becoming obsolete and unreadable.

I think this premise might be a bit old fashion
May 13, 2010 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subject intrigued me, but the book was a disappointment. It is a collection of some of the author's essays and other work that gave me the distinct impression they were resurrected and thrown together simply to put a product on the publisher's shelf. While much of the esoteric history was interesting, the pieces about digital technology are horribly dated.
Jul 09, 2013 D rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A series of essays from Harvard University's library director on how the new technology of the electronic image does not mean the immediate demise of the old technology of paper books. But since access to books has always been a privilege, I'll keep my paper books or donate them to the local library to share that privilege with others.
Jeff Swystun
Written in 2010, The Case for Books, already seems a bit dated. That is for two reasons. The content is comprised of essays that go back much further and the big bugaboo of Google ruining books and reading has largely passed. I remember that Google debate vividly as it was in the press with frequency and it appears to have been the catalyst for this book. Many studies report that we are reading more and that books have grown 80 pages longer on average between 1997 and 2014. It appears the digita ...more
Nov 25, 2009 Divina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No doubt it's awfully difficult to speculate accurately on the future of the codex, but if I can believe anyone, it's Darnton. A gentlemen, a scholar, and a very engaging writer with all the street cred to write this book.
"... I want to avoid repeating myself." (page 67)

I am sorry to tell you, Mr. Darnton, that you utterly failed this proposition. I have to admit that I had high expectations for this collection of essays - but who wouldn't? The Case for Books is marketed as the answer to a book-lovers questions of where the book was, where it stands today and what we can expect from the future. While these are all issues that pop up frequently in Robert Darnton's essays, they are by no means the center of this bo
Dec 29, 2011 Andrés rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historia, internet
The Case for Books es una colección de ensayos de Robert Darnton, publicados anteriormente en distintos medios, sobre el "pasado, presente y futuro" de los libros.

Robert Darnton es una persona que sabe mucho de libros. Tanto por su especialización historiográfica (la historia de los libros durante la Ilustración) como por su experiencia en la junta editorial de la Princeton University Press y como director de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Harvard. Su opinión, por lo tanto, es especialmente
Aug 04, 2010 Jesse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Case for Books by Robert Darnton

I think it kind of humorous actually. Not the book I am reviewing here, but the paradoxical correlation at its vertex. The correlation I am referring to is the one which has come to define a peculiar textual phenomenon that supposedly epitomizes the spirit of my generation, Gen-Y. More specifically, it deals with a scenario where the exponential increase in “information” (updated in real-time for the sake of convenience) along with its conceivably ubiquitous a
Pierre Gabriel Dumoulin
Robert Darnton propose ici un intéressant discours sur la place du livre à différents moments de son histoire, évoquant de nombreux exemples - croustillants ou non - pour appuyer son propos. Sa vaste connaissance du livre (et notamment les innombrables travaux d'archiviste qu'il a faits ) lui permet de brosser le portrait du livre à l'ère numérique. Notamment, Darton s'intéresse aux changements que peut provoquer l'avènement des nouvelles technologies, appuyant son propos sur des réflexions pers ...more
In this collection of previously published essays on the book and literary history, Darnton raises compelling points on why Google (or any other company with like goals) will never be the impetus that sends the physical book into obscurity. He presents thoughtful evidence, including the need for various editions of the same title and for collections of ephemera such as out-dated phone books which may provide information from which researchers can draw. He even dares to make the case for a few in ...more
Apr 30, 2010 Anne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
With inventions such as the Kindle and the iPad, there has been a great deal of discussion about the future of books - meaning whether actual bound books have become obsolete, as well as how we as a society best store, obtain, digest, and process the written word. This book is a collection of essays about the digitization of literature. Some of the essays take the position that by scanning books and making information readily accessible, that we have a net benefit. How could anyone possibly argu ...more
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