Who Invented the First Book? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Since the first book was printed, books have always ignited the imagination of mankind. They are a source of comfort and refuge, providing an escape from the mundane into a world of make-believe where anything is possible. They also offer a different perspective, catering to those who might not have had the opportunity to experience it otherwise. In short, books add value to our lives in so many ways.

Books have a long and much-celebrated origin. Let’s look at the first book ever made, the inspiration to inception, and how it has evolved throughout the centuries.

Who invented the first book?

The Golden Orphism Book was the first book in recorded history, around 600 BC. This 2,500-year-old book features six pages made from 24-karat gold. While the identity of its author remains unknown to this day, the Golden Orphism Book was used as a funeral book for aristocrats who belonged to the Orpheus cult.

Book history’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Etruscan Civilization 
    A book shrouded in mystery

    The Etruscans used the Golden Orphism Book as a ritual book for the dead. Historians reveal that the book dates to 600BC. It features ancient Etruscan texts and characters, including a horse, horseman, siren, lyre, and soldiers.

  • Thefarie Velianas
    Oldest bilingual book

    Thefarie Velianas, king of Caere, dedicated the ancient book of Pyrgi to the Phoenician goddess, Ashtaret. The book was made in 500BC and featured the Etruscan and Phoenician languages.

  • James Robinson
    Oldest Christian Gnostic Texts 

    The prominent scholar James Robinson had extensive knowledge about the Nag Hammadi library. Through research and first-hand accounts from people who discovered the codices, Nag Hammadi library belonged to a Pachomian monastery in Upper Egypt. The book was initially written between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD, but it’s dated as far back as 400 BC.

  • Wang Jie
    World’s Oldest Dated Printed Book

    Wang Jie commissioned block printing of the Diamond Sutra in 868AD or the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong. The 17-and-a-half-foot scroll was filled with sutras of the Mahayana Buddhism religion and translated into Chinese.  

  • Johann Gutenberg
    The release of the Apple II by Apple

    Johann Gutenberg facilitated the mass printing of the Holy Bible using mechanical printing methods. During the first printing in 1455, Gutenberg printed 180 copies, some 135 printed on paper and the remaining on vellum.

When was the first book created?

The Golden Orphism Book, the oldest book, dates to around 600BC. The book was purely made of gold of the highest quality. Its cover and pages are bounded with two golden rings. The book also showcased the fine craftsmanship of the Etruscans, as evidenced by the exquisite texts and characters engraved onto the golden sheets.

A brief history of books

The first-ever book was only recorded upon discovering the Golden Orphism Book in a tomb near Bulgaria’s Struma River in 1943. The six-page book is small, featuring golden sheets between 4.5 to 5 centimetres and a total weight of 100 grams. Due to the fine material used in the book’s creation, the Golden Orphism Book is believed to have been commissioned by wealthy followers of the cult.  

The Pyrgi tablets dating back to 500BC were discovered in 1964 during an excavation at the southern Etruscan town of Caera in Italy. Considered the first book with bilingual texts featuring Phoenician and Etruscan languages, the Pyrgi tablets were dedicated to the Phoenician goddess Ashtaret by King Thefarie Velianas. The writings inscribed on the three golden leaves were of utmost importance among early historians as they used Phoenician texts to further their knowledge and understanding of the ancient Etruscan language. 

The Nag Hammadi texts is a 13-volume library that was unearthed in 1945. The books containing Coptic texts are dated around the first half of the 4th century AD. According to renowned scholar James Robinson, the collection of books may have belonged to a Pachomian monastery in Upper Egypt. The discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library helped scholars of the 20th century learn more about early Christian history and the true nature of Gnosticism. 

Somewhere in the far east, a man named Jang Wie commissioned the printing of the Diamond Sutra, a 17-and-a-foot-long Sanskrit text in 868AD. The book is the oldest to have been discovered that displayed the exact date of printing. After more than one thousand years after its release, the Diamond Sutra remains a popular read among Mahayana Buddhists due to its rich illustration and stunning insights into the topics of dualism and illusion. Mass production of books only began in 1455 when Johann Gutenberg printed 180 copies of the Bible. The Gutenberg bible contained 1,286 pages that were bounded into two volumes. The Gutenberg Bible was clear, precise, accurate and free from errors that Pope Pius II read through his copy without the aid of glasses. 

The book timeline

  1. 600 BC
    The first book was created 

    Ancient Etruscans who followed the Orpheus cult commissioned the crafting of the Golden Orphism Book, which comprised six pages made of 23.82 karat gold sheets. Judging by the engraved texts and characters, the book was used for the funeral of the elite members of the Orpheus Cult.

  2. 500 BC
    Gold was writing material 

    The Pyrgi tablets are a testament that ancient civilizations understood the value and relevance of gold. Due to its malleability, it was easy to engrave Phoenician and Etruscan texts onto the three golden sheets that make up the Pyrgi tablets.

  3. 858 AD
    Ancient Marketing Medium 

    Jang Wie commissioned the printing of the Diamond Sutra to disseminate the essential teachings of Mahayana Buddhism further.

  4. 1455
    Introduced Printing in the West

    While printing existed in Europe before the Gutenberg Bible was published in 1455, Johann Gutenberg’s printing press was the first machine to utilize movable types made from metal instead of carved wooden blocks. As a result, his printing technique was more efficient, and he produced books with high-quality texts.

Where was the first book created?

The Etruscan people were originally from Turkey but soon migrated to other parts of Europe, including Italy and Bulgaria. There is no definitive answer as to where the Golden Orphism Book was created by the Etruscan elite who belonged to the cult of Orpheus. 

The importance of the first book

  • The origin of the first book

    If our ancestors failed to think about a more efficient way of documenting their lives through books, later innovators would not have developed more advanced communication and technological devices that we enjoy today. As a result, E-books, tablets, and computers are the more sophisticated channels through which we chronicle our daily lives.   

  • 21<sup>st</sup> century books feel like actual books

    Nothing can beat reading your favorite novel on actual paper. Despite the many changes in printing books throughout the millennia, books are here to stay.  While e-readers, tablets, and mobile phones offer the same utility, reading from a book is still preferred by most people.  

  • Book manufacturing innovations have come  a long way 

    Books are now published using various book manufacturing techniques, materials, and designs. They come in many shapes and sizes, making book collection an exciting and worthwhile hobby among bibliophiles.

  • An ever-changing medium 

    The materials, techniques, and designs used in manufacturing books may have changed over time, but its primary use remains- a medium for recording information in the form of writing.

Book by the numbers

  • 1455Johann Gutenberg produced 180 copies of the Bible. He invented a printing press that used metal and printing blocks instead of wood. Each page of the 1,300-paged Gutenberg bible featured 42 lines of text in Gothic typeface, double columns and some letters in color.
  • 1832The first book covers appeared in 1832. Although cheaper than hardbound books, not everyone had a penny to buy them. So the first book clubs started around this time as well. Groups of friends pitched in to purchase gothic horror stories aptly called Penny Dreadful.
  • 1868The first practical typewriter was developed in 1868. This writing device helped novelists and printing companies publish more books faster.
  • 1971Project Gutenberg, launched by Michael S. Hart, was the first electronic platform for books. The first digitized book or eBook was the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Five facts about books

  • The parts of a book

    A standard book consists of eight parts, including the book cover, title page, copyright, table of contents, dedication, foreword, prologue, and epilogue.

  • The longest sentence printed on a book

    “The Rotter’s Club” by Jonathan Coe is the longest sentence printed in a book. The sentence contained 13,955 words.

  • Thickest book published

    “Shree Haricharitramrut Sagar” is the world’s thickest book at 496 mm or 19.5 inches. It was written and published by Gyanjivadasji Swami in Gujarat, India, in February 2020. The book is a lengthy biography of Bhagwan Shree Swaminarayan.

  • The best-selling book of all time

    The Holy Bible remains the best-selling book of all time. There are 384,615 bibles sold every week. This is a testament to the ever-growing influence of Christianity in the modern world.

  • Longest book novel ever written

    Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” is the longest written novel. The book contains 9,609,000 characters. The 13-volume masterpiece was first published in 1912. 

FAQ about books

  • What is the word for loving the smell of books?

    Bibliosmia refers to the enticing aroma of books. It is also a sensation that people feel when reading books. It is a unique scent attached to most books and an experience that e-readers can never offer. The addictive “book scent” comes from the breakdown of chemicals found within the paper.

  • What are the most popular books borrowed from libraries?

    Famous authors and classic reads wrote the most borrowed books from public libraries. Books from top authors such as James Patterson, Lee Child, Julia Donaldson, David Baldacci, and David Meadows are checked out the most from public libraries. Classic books popular among library goers include Don Quixote, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Pride and Prejudice, and Treasure Island. 

  • What is the most re-read book of all time?

    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is the most re-read book of all time. Considered one of America’s Greatest Novels, it is a lovely, nostalgic re-read for many bibliophiles. 

  • Which author has published the most books?

    In 2006, the Guinness Book of World Records declared L. Ron Hubbard the most published author, with more than 1,084 fiction and non-fiction books under this name. However, further investigation into the matter points us to a man named Philip M. Parker, a professor at INSEAD, who claims to have authored more than 1 million books since he started writing in 2008. Amazon listed that there are 133,501 books under his name.

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