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This report is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.

Of Making Many Books Neil Powell

A late episode of Inspector Morse has John Gielgud as a splendidly camp and doddery college Master, rehearsing a speech in which he’s to contrast his authentic Oxford with various inferior imitation Oxfords dotted around the globe, to the predictable consternation of his international audience. There are times when Oxford University Press seems to have become so resolutely, or perhaps just pragmatically, global that even it mightn’t be sure of precisely which Oxford is its home, and the publication of The Oxford Companion to the Book is one of them. Its two editors - who live on opposite sides of the Atlantic, naturally - seem to have assembled a cast of thousands and a word-count of millions. It consists of two sections, split unequally across the two volumes. One comprises forty-eight essays, most of them entitled ‘The History of the Book in…’ (Britain gets three, South-east Asia two, other regions and countries one each); the other is an alphabetical reference section of getting on for a thousand large pages. Here, although there are a few entries which are too cursory to be very useful (you will learn more about some persons from a decent biographical dictionary and about some publishers from the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook), every imaginable aspect of the history, production and indeed afterlife of the book seems to be covered. It is, in the best possible sense, a time-wasting work of reference: no one at all interested in the subject will stand the faintest chance of ...

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