The World That Books Made

By Jeremy Lott

In the beginning were the words. It was only when we started writing them down that things really got interesting. From Hammurabi's code to the Hebrew scriptures to Plato's dialogues to a list of objections tacked to the door of an obscure German professor, the written word didn't just chronicle the churn of civilization. In large part, it invented the modern world by giving it shape and meaning.

The humble book has sustained religions and started revolutions personal and political. As Joe Queenan observed in his masterful memoir Closing Time, "Books are without question the wealth of the poor's children. Books are a guiding light out of the underworld, a secret passageway, an escape hatch. To the affluent, books are ornaments. To the poor, books are siege weapons."

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Thus, RealClearBooks. This site will be about books: their history, manufacture, sale, future, and revolutionary potential. It will cover a host of related issues, including literacy, copyright, and censorship. It will also, inevitably, be about my lifelong love affair with books.

To say that I grew up in a bookish household is an absurd understatement. You might as well say it sometimes rains in Seattle. Books could be found in every room of our home, including the head and the laundry. The Lotts made frequent trips to the library and bookstores. We made room for more books by selling old ones and the practice snowballed. One way I paid for college was buying and selling old books.

Most of my adventures in the word trade have been short-form journalism, but the most enjoyable work by far has had to do with books. I've written a few books, contributed to others, edited maybe a dozen volumes, and reviewed a few hundred titles -- including novels, histories, pop-econ texts, comics, how-to guides, and one book on jet packs. That's right, jet packs.

I did not review those books, and read thousands more, for the money or the prestige. I did so because books take you places very far away from yourself and return you changed for the journey. And so I launch this site with a promise to readers of every stripe and creed: We will never lose sight of the fact that we are living in the world that books made.

Jeremy Lott (jlott@realclearpolitics.com) is editor of RealClearBooks and RealClearReligion. He is author, most recently, of William F. Buckley.

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