For hundreds of years, books have served as the world’s primary method of recording information, sharing knowledge, and telling stories. At some point, we’ve all disappeared into the magical world of a fantasy novel, begrudgingly memorized facts and figures from a textbook, or used our local library to learn about math, science, philosophy, or history. But as intrinsic as books are to education and recreation, most of us rarely stop to think about the history of the humble devices carrying all that crucial information.

In the short TED-Ed video “The Evolution of the Book,” Julie Dreyfuss explores the history of the book in order to ask a larger question: What, exactly, makes a book a book? Dreyfuss explains how books as we know them—with their paper and ink, binding and cover—came to be. She breaks down story into its individual components, explaining how physical components like ink, and stylistic features like font, came from different historical sources.

In the end, she asks whether the shift from printed and bound volumes to digital books and eReaders is changing the way we read. “As the book evolves and we replace bound texts with flat screens and electronic ink, are these objects and files really books?” she wonders. "Does the feel of the cover or the smell of the paper add something crucial to the experience, or does the magic live only within the words, no matter what their presentation?” Watch the video above and decide for yourself.

Banner Image Credit: TED-Ed, YouTube

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