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Biggest, Smallest, Most Expensive: 8 Record-Breaking Books

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Despite the constant predictions that e-books are set to kill traditional publishing, our love affair with the humble print book continues. Books have captured our imagination for centuries, leading to no shortage of record-breakers. Whether it's the longest, smallest, or most valuable, here is a small library of book superlatives:

1. MOST EXPENSIVE BOOK IN THE WORLD

Philippe Kurlapski via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

According to Forbes, Bill Gates owns the most expensive book ever sold. In 1994, Gates paid an astonishing $30.8 million (accounting for inflation, that would be roughly $49.4 million today) for Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester. This original hand-drawn manuscript, compiled between 1506 and 1510 by the Renaissance polymath and artist, is one of only 20 notebooks by da Vinci still in existence. The Codex contains sketches, notes, and ideas, all transcribed in his special right-to-left “mirror writing."

2. MOST VALUABLE BOOK IN THE WORLD

NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) via Wikimedia Comons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Gutenberg Bible is probably the most valuable book (or type of book) in the world. It was the first book to be printed (c.1455) using modern moveable type, a process that revolutionized the book trade (before that, all books had to be meticulously copied by hand or printed with woodblocks, a process that took many months). Only 180 were originally printed, of which 49 survive today; of these, only 21 are complete. Nearly all Gutenberg Bibles are owned by museums, libraries, or institutions, but such is their rarity and value that if one were to come up for auction on the open market it would likely fetch many millions of dollars.

3. FIRST BOOK PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES

moped and bangos via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, also known as the Bay Psalm Book, was the first book to be printed in what's now the United States. About 1,700 copies were printed during the 17th century by Pilgrims in Massachusetts, but today only 11 copies are known to exist. In 2013, it also became the most expensive book ever sold at auction, after it was purchased for $14,165,000.

4. LARGEST BOOK IN THE WORLD

Wagaung via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The world’s largest book is not a book in the conventional sense, but a series of huge stone tablets surrounding the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, Myanmar. The more than 700 marble tablets (each one over 5 feet tall and 3-and-a-half feet wide) tell the story of the tipitaka, the central text of Theravāda Buddhism. When built around 1860, the tablets’ dense writing was filled with golden ink and decorated with precious stones, but unfortunately when the British invaded in the 1880s, the soldiers looted the ink and gems.

The Guinness Book of World Records gives a more standard type of book the record—they say the world’s largest book is a 2012 text on the Prophet Muhammad created in Dubai and measuring an impressive 16.40 ft x 26.44 ft.

5. LONGEST BOOK IN THE WORLD

Madeleine de Scudery via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Going by word count, the longest conventionally published book in the world is generally said to be Artamène,ou le Grand Cyrus (Atarmene or Cyrus the Great) a 17th-century romantic novel by Madeleine de Scudery. The 10-volume work has over 10,000 pages and is 2.1 million words long (to give some context, the famously meaty War and Peace contains only around 560,000 words).

6. SMALLEST BOOK IN THE WORLD

Simon Fraser University via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The world’s smallest book is so very tiny it can only be read using an electron microscope. Teeny Ted from Turnip Town was written by Malcolm Douglas Chaplin and was printed using pure crystalline silicon by his brother, Robert, at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. The 30-page work measures 70 micrometres by 100 micrometres, and is so small it could fit on the width of a human hair.

7. BESTSELLING FICTION BOOK OF ALL TIME

Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859, is the bestselling novel of all time, moving an incredible 200 million copies worldwide. More recently, E. L. James’ trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey has breached the 100 million copies sold barrier, and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books have sold over 450 million copies worldwide.

8. BESTSELLING BOOK OF ALL TIME

Anonymous (photo by Adrian Pingston) via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

It is safe to say that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, as it has been widely estimated to have sold over 5 billion copies. It's also been translated in its entirety into over 394 languages (2123 languages have at least one book from the Bible translated into that language) and has been sold all over the world since the very first book came off the printing presses.

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
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MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
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FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
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A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
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A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
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A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
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A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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