Paper Adaptations


Quite honestly, sometimes I’m not sure how I feel about books. Paper books, I mean, like the ones currently clogging my bedside table and piled beside my keyboard. I catch myself sighing whenever I have to reach for the enumerated bulk of the Chicago Manual of Style, or as I hunt through my bookshelves for some half-remembered bit of information. We’ve spent 50 years freeing information from the prison of the paper book, making it ubiquitous, searchable and
self-replicating, and so it is easy to wonder: what are physical books good for?

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The Metallic Ink of Herculaneum


In January 2015, scientists at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, announced that they had deciphered handwritten text from a series of papyrus scrolls excavated at the Roman town of Herculaneum by passing X-rays through the scrolls’ carbonized remains. Then, in March this year, another secret was revealed. Those same scrolls were discovered to have been written with distinctive metallic ink, once thought to have been invented many hundreds of years later, and which boasted – or rather, whispered of – roots in ancient spycraft.

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Miscellany № 77: amperbrand

The ampersand is one of those shady characters that has taken on a life of its own, thriving happily beyond its home in writing and typography. In particular, it exerts an irresistible power over designers, advertisers and others in the business of creating and promoting commercial brands. Fortnum & Mason, for example, recently published a blog post1 explaining “the little-known story of the important symbol sat between our two famous names”. Crate & Barrel, the American homeware store, once built an advertising campaign around their ampersand;2 AT&T did the same earlier this year.3 As John Brownlee of Fast Co. Design puts it in “Why Designers Love The Ampersand”,

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Shady Characters at the BBC: The mysterious ancient origins of the book

In the run-up to the US publication of The Book, I was happy to be able to write an article for BBC Culture entitled “The mysterious ancient origins of the book”. It takes a look at the forces, mysterious and otherwise, that lay behind the evolution of the papyrus scroll into the parchment book. It was a challenge to write this one — it compresses a huge amount of history into a few hundred words — but I hope that it does justice to the subject. Have a read!

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