Emma Smith

Portable Magic
  • Portable Magic

  • We all encounter rare and valuable books all the time. Whether it's the anticipatory wedge of an unread detective thriller or a musty second hand volume of poetry; the compact weight of a new novel in hardback or the smell of a glossy exhibition catalogue; each book we encounter is special, for each one embodies and extends an unpredictable, unique human connection.

    In Portable Magic, Emma Smith tells the story of when, why and how books acquired their particular power over humankind - their distinctive ability to capture relationships between countries, histories, ideas and people, while serving as our companions, lovers, teachers and priests. From the manuscript Icelandic sagas repatriated from Denmark to Reykjavik in 1971, to the Bay Psalm book - the first book printed in North America - to the billions of copies of Mao's Little Red Book, Smith traces the evolution of the material book and the ways we have engaged with it across centuries and continents. Weaving together a millennium's worth of momentous encounters with volumes big and small, Smith reveals that books do not simply reflect humankind: they have shaped who we are, turning us into the readers they would like to have.

Emma Smith was born and brought up in Leeds, went unexpectedly to university in Oxford, and never really left. She is now Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College and the author of the Sunday Times bestseller This is Shakespeare. She enjoys silent films, birdwatching, and fast cars.

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