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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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