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A book is both a usually portable physical object and the body of immaterial representations or intellectual object whose material signs—written or drawn lines or other two-dimensional media—the physical object contains or houses.

As a physical object, a book is a stack of usually rectangular pages (made of papyrus, parchment, vellum, or paper) oriented with one side (either left or right, depending on the direction in which one reads a script) tied, sewn, or otherwise fixed together and then bound to the flexible spine of a protective cover of heavier, relatively inflexible material so that, when the opened front cover has received a massy enough stack of sheets, the book can lie flat. The technical term for this physical arrangement is codex (in the plural, codices). In the history of hand-held physical supports for extended written compositions or records, the codex replaces its immediate predecessor, the scroll.

As an intellectual object, a book is prototypically a composition of such great length that it takes a considerable investment of time to compose and a still considerable, though not so extensive, investment of time to read. This sense of book has a restricted and an unrestricted sense. In the restricted sense, a book is a self-sufficient section or part of a longer composition, a usage that reflects the fact that, in antiquity, long works had to be written on several scrolls, and each scroll had to be identified by the book it contained. So, for instance, each part of Aristotle's Physics is called a book, as of course the Bible encompasses many different books. In the unrestricted sense, a book is the compositional whole of which such sections, whether called books or chapters or parts, are parts.

But the intellectual content in a physical book need not be a composition, or can be called a book. Books can consist only of drawings, engravings, or photographs, or such things as crossword puzzles or cut-out dolls. In a physical book the pages can be left blank or can feature an abstract set of lines as support for on-going entries, i.e., an account book, an appointment book, a log book, an autograph book, a notebook, a diary or day book, or a sketch book. Some physical books are made with pages thick and sturdy enough to support other physical objects, like a scrapbook or photograph album.

Books may be distributed in electronic form as e-books and other formats. In its "Revised Recommendation concerning the International Standardization of Statistics on the Production and Distribution of Books, Newspapers and Periodicals" of 1 November 1985, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stated that it was "convinced that it is desirable that the national authorities responsible for collecting and reporting statistics relating to the production and distribution of printed publications should be guided by certain standards in the matter of definitions, classification and presentation," and so "in order to improve the international comparability of statistics," it defined a book as "a non-periodic publication of at least 49 pages exclusive of the cover pages, published in the country and made available to the public" (11(a)), so that books statistics could be collected on "(a) Government publications, i.e., publications issued by public administrations or their subsidiary bodies, except for those which are confidential or designed for internal distribution only; (b) School textbooks, books prescribed for pupils receiving education at the first and second level as defined in the revised Recommendation concerning the International Standardization of Educational Statistics adopted by the General Conference; (c) University theses; (d) Offprints, i.e., reprints of a part of a book or a periodical already published, provided that they have a title and a separate pagination and that they constitute a distinct work; (e) Publications which form part of a series, but which constitute separate bibliographical units; (f) Illustrated works: (i) Collections of prints, reproductions of works of art, drawings, etc., when such collections form complete, paginated volumes and when the illustrations are accompanied by an explanatory text, however short, referring to these works or to the artists themselves; (ii) Albums, illustrated books and pamphlets written in the form of continuous narratives, with pictures illustrating certain episodes; (iii) Albums and picture-books for children; (iv) Comic books" (9-10). A single sheet in a codex is a leaf, and each side of a leaf is a page.

Although in ordinary academic parlance a monograph is understood to be a specialist academic work, rather than a reference work on a single scholarly subject, in library and information science monograph denotes more broadly any non-serial publication complete in one volume (book) or a finite number of volumes (even a novel like Proust's seven-volume In Search of Lost Time), in contrast to serial publications like a magazine, journal, or newspaper. An avid reader or collector of books or a book lover is a bibliophile or colloquially, "bookworm". A shop where books are bought and sold is a bookshop or bookstore. Books are also sold elsewhere. Books can also be borrowed from libraries. Google has estimated that as of 2010, approximately 130,000,000 distinct titles had been published. In some wealthier nations, the sale of printed books has decreased because of the use of e-books, though sales of e-books declined in the first half of 2015.

Selected article

Title-page engraving from an 1897 edition of Le Père Goriot, by an unknown artist; published by George Barrie & Son in Philadelphia.

Le Père Goriot (English: Father Goriot or Old Goriot) is an 1835 novel by French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), included in the Scènes de la vie privée section of his novel sequence La Comédie humaine. Set in Paris in 1819, it follows the intertwined lives of three characters: the elderly doting Goriot; a mysterious criminal-in-hiding named Vautrin; and a naive law student named Eugène de Rastignac.Originally published in serial form during the winter of 1834–35, Le Père Goriot is widely considered as Balzac's most important novel. It marks the first serious use by the author of characters who had appeared in other books, a technique that distinguishes Balzac's fiction and makes La Comédie humaine unique among bodies of work. The novel is also noted as an example of his realist style, using minute details to create character and subtext.The novel takes place during the Bourbon Restoration, which brought about profound changes in French society; the struggle of individuals to secure upper-class status is ubiquitous in the book.

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Studies of Embryos by Leonardo da Vinci (Pen over red chalk 1510-1513)

Credit: Leonardo da Vinci

A page from Leonardo Leonardo da Vinci's journal showing his study of a foetus in the womb (c.1510) Royal Library, Windsor Castle.

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In the news

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March 14, 2012

After a 244-year span in print, the Encyclopædia Britannica will discontinue its published volumes. With less than 1% of revenue coming from print versions, Jorge Cauz, Britannica's president, indicates there simply is not sufficient demand for the print publication. In the last 11 years demand has plummeted due to competition from Wikipedia and Britannica's own digital version. Britannica peaked in sales in 1990 with 120,000 sets sold. The 2010 edition will be the last in print and has sold 8,000 sets to date; with 4,000 sets remaining.


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Selected biography

Chinua Achebe , born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe on May 12, 1930, is a Nigerian novelist, poet and critic. He is best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the most widely-read book in modern African literature.Raised by Christian parents in the Igbo village of Ogidi in south Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service and soon moved to the metropolis of Lagos. He gained worldwide attention for Things Fall Apart in the late 1950s; his later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Achebe wrote his novels in English and has defended the use of English, a language of colonisers, in African literature. In 1975, his lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" became the focus of controversy, for its criticism of Joseph Conrad as "a thoroughgoing racist".

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Did you know...

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  • ...that by 2007, the Bible was translated into 429 languages, with portions of it translated in 2,426 languages?(Pictured)
  • ...that Muslims believe that the Qur’ān is the book of divine guidance and direction for mankind?
  • ...that the Rig Veda is one of the oldest religious texts?

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