The Omniscient Eye

How Heavy Is Dense Reading?

GURPS Technomancer indicates that storing the average spell takes 20,000 words. I heard that the average GURPS Third Edition softcover book is about 100,000 words.

Classically, how big would a book be to hold 20,000 words? Written the other way, what dimensions/mass of encumbrance would the average book be and most importantly, what is its capacity, in snapshots across history? What is the average density for "feature" civilizations such as the Greeks, Egyptians, Norse, Romans, Dark Ages, and Renaissance (and any others the Omniscient Eye would care to mention)?

Does this severely "bust" the archetype of a wizard's spellbook with hundreds of spells?
      --Eric Funk

How big is an average book and how much does it hold? Here, as with most things in history, an "average" isn't a particularly useful or meaningful quantity. What we'll be exploring here is information density, how much information various societies can or appear inclined to pack into a given space. Information density depends on several factors: materials, script, style, and purpose of the text. There are some trends across periods and societies, but all of these show a great deal of variability within any given period as well, to the point that a value somewhere in the middle of the range of variation doesn't necessarily represent a typical or even particularly common example. Details? That's what the Eye is here for . . .

Book Technology

We'll start . . .

This article originally appeared in the second volume of Pyramid. See the current Pyramid website for more information.

Article publication date: June 15, 2007

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