The Enduring Book, Print Culture in Postwar America

The Enduring Book, Print Culture in Postwar America

The Enduring Book, Print Culture in Postwar America

The Enduring Book, Print Culture in Postwar America


The fifth volume of A History of the Book in America addresses the economic, social, and cultural shifts affecting print culture from World War II to the present. During this period factors such as the expansion of government, the growth of higher education, the climate of the Cold War, globalization, and the development of multimedia and digital technologies influenced the patterns of consolidation and diversification established earlier.

The thirty-three contributors to the volume explore the evolution of the publishing industry and the business of bookselling. The histories of government publishing, law and policy, the periodical press, literary criticism, and reading--in settings such as schools, libraries, book clubs, self-help programs, and collectors' societies--receive imaginative scrutiny as well. The Enduring Book demonstrates that the corporate consolidations of the last half-century have left space for the independent publisher, that multiplicity continues to define American print culture, and that even in the digital age, the book endures.


Michael Schudson

Is the Book Disappearing?

Is the book disappearing? No. Even in an age dazzled by the Internet and distracted by hundreds of television channels, the book endures in something very much like the form it acquired centuries ago. Books produced today, as physical objects, would be easily recognizable to Gutenberg. Books as cultural icons retain a great deal of the magical power they have had for hundreds of years. TV entertainers write books, as do radio talk show hosts, ambitious politicians, billionaire businessmen, and enterprising bloggers. Bookstores populate more communities across the country than ever. Printed matter remains a central resource for formal education, a primary medium of exchange and communication in the arts and sciences, and a focal point for public and political life. Newspapers and magazines, bruised by competition from television and other sources of information and entertainment, persist, although the economic underpinning of the daily newspaper is in jeopardy. Both in the changing world of scientific publishing and in religious and inspirational publishing, print carries on.

More books are published than ever. People buy more books, and presumably read them or look at them, than in the past. There has been a rapid growth of what can be termed high-end literacy. In 1940 Harvard’s library held 4.3 million volumes; by 1990 holdings totaled 11.9 million and were 14.4 million in 2000. In the same years, Berkeley’s holdings grew from 1.1 million to 7.5 million to 9.1 million, Illinois from 1.3 to 7.7 to 9.4 million, Columbia from 1.7 to 6.0 to 7.3 million. And, of course, people read much else besides books. They read forms and memos and manuals on the job as the economy has shifted to jobs that require reading skills. Reading is presumed by income tax forms, job application forms, voting, prescription medication inserts, bus schedules, selfservice gas stations and bank ATMs, and every use of a personal computer. A measure like the percentage of consumer dollars spent on books systematically . . .

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