# Why did textbooks get so big?

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You can get the Gottschalk, 2nd edition (?2012?) for $14 in used hardcover (not tiny, at 359 pages and over half a kilo, but a reasonable size. The cheapest one is probably highlighted in green and orange marker; I'd get a$25 or $35 copy.) Pretty good, compared to a new paperback at$135. Oddly, the kindle edition isn't much cheaper. So it's not the luxury furbishings that determine this price!

The Campbell hardcover (2013 - which is pushing the sell-by date), a whopping 1488 pages and 3.3k, sells for not very much more used $50 +/-), but the 11th edition (2016) is$200, without the workbook and lab notes. I'm guessing it includes a lot more than bacterial metabolism. If the class is specialized, students would certainly be better off with the Gottschalk, even if they have to take extra class notes or do supplementary research to fill in the time interval. The strain on their vertebral discs alone would be worth it!

That's my main concern with the size of textbooks: it cannot be good for young people with not-quite-finished skeletal structure, to carry that much weight around, day after day, for three to five years. The huge debt they incur to get an education is a secondary concern.

Edited by Peterkin

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22 hours ago, iNow said:

Asking because your request is too easy, but TBH even limiting ourselves to books on these much narrower topics would lead to fat flowing page counts… or would be if they weren’t all shared mostly as soft copies via PDF.

Textbooks are bigger bc we keep learning more (yes, even in business) and students should be able to educate themselves just by reading it / without supplemental instruction.

My original question was broader in scope than just high school or college textbooks. If we're restricting the discussion to high school and undergrad textbooks for the moment, it's easy to see that the increase in dimensions is not from us collectively learning more. Calculus has been calculus for a very long time. There's nothing new in an undergrad calculus textbook. The only difference I can find, is the introduction of calculators and the use of vectors in multi-variable calculus. (The older calculus textbooks didn't focus so much on vectors.) Most math books rarely need to be updated; despite this, their length and width seem to have increased.

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2 hours ago, Peterkin said:

You can get the Gottschalk, 2nd edition (?2012?) for $14 in used hardcover (not tiny, at 359 pages and over half a kilo, but a reasonable size. The cheapest one is probably highlighted in green and orange marker; I'd get a$25 or $35 copy.) Pretty good, compared to a new paperback at$135. Oddly, the kindle edition isn't much cheaper. So it's not the luxury furbishings that determine this price!

The Campbell hardcover (2013 - which is pushing the sell-by date), a whopping 1488 pages and 3.3k, sells for not very much more used $50 +/-), but the 11th edition (2016) is$200, without the workbook and lab notes. I'm guessing it includes a lot more than bacterial metabolism. If the class is specialized, students would certainly be better off with the Gottschalk, even if they have to take extra class notes or do supplementary research to fill in the time interval. The strain on their vertebral discs alone would be worth it!

That's my main concern with the size of textbooks: it cannot be good for young people with not-quite-finished skeletal structure, to carry that much weight around, day after day, for three to five years. The huge debt they incur to get an education is a secondary concern.

The second edition Gottschalk would be from 1986. Why would folks carry reference books with them? Don't folks nowadays don't have a space to sit and read? Or do you mean high-school books? Are they actually  heavy?

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1 hour ago, FragmentedCurve said:

Most math books rarely need to be updated; despite this, their length and width seem to have increased.

It’s going to take more than you simply asserting this for me to accept the premise as valid. Do you have anything more than mere anecdote confirming this increase in book size (calculus or otherwise) is actually happening?

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20 minutes ago, CharonY said:

Why would folks carry reference books with them?

Textbooks, not reference books. And students at all levels would have to.

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Just now, Peterkin said:

Textbooks, not reference books.

You’re asserting a distinction without a difference here.

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Just now, iNow said:

You’re asserting a distinction without a difference here.

No, I was answering a post. The OP question was about textbooks, and so that's what I've been basing all my answers on.

There is a difference: I have not been a student for a very long time, so I have no use for textbooks, but I keep small library of reference books. Many people do. We generally don't carry them around. Students, on the other hand, are obliged to ferry their textbooks between home and school on a regular schedule.

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The point you’re apparently missing is one raised only 3 hours ago in an earlier post by Charon.

The best textbooks tend to be those which can be used as reference books.

You’re asserting some fundamental distinction that doesn’t really exist. You're making a distinction without a difference.

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45 minutes ago, iNow said:

The point you’re apparently missing is one raised only 3 hours ago in an earlier post by Charon.

The best textbooks tend to be those which can be used as reference books.

You’re asserting some fundamental distinction that doesn’t really exist. You're making a distinction without a difference.

I'm not making a distinction at all: the distinction already exists.  If all textbooks were worthy of becoming reference books, 'best' wouldn't mean anything. A very few students of today will keep a very few of their textbooks for future reference. Most will sell, or try to sell, most or all of their textbooks. Many, including those who were unsuccessful at selling the unwanted textbooks, will try to donate them to thrift shops and library sales, who will almost unanimously refuse them. The resale value of university textbooks doesn't begin to justify the time, effort and shipping cost, so no second-hand booksellers buy them anymore. And the damn things all have plastic-coated paper, so they're toxic to burn and not everywhere eligible for recycling.

But they're all big, even the mediocre and crappy ones.

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Ok. You’re right. The difference between textbooks and reference books is like the difference between potato chips and dirt bikes.

Edited by iNow
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39 minutes ago, iNow said:

The difference between textbooks and reference books is like the difference between potato chips and dirt bikes.

I know something about books. I don't know anything about potato chips or dirt bikes. If the topic has changed, I'm no longer qualified to comment.

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In uni textbooks are used for reference. It is rare (in natural sciences at least) to have books in the class. You are supposed to use it to deepen your knowledge before and after lectures. The only books I remember used in class are reference books for botany and zoology, for identification of specimens. They are still tiny and portable.

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3 hours ago, iNow said:

It’s going to take more than you simply asserting this for me to accept the premise as valid. Do you have anything more than mere anecdote confirming this increase in book size (calculus or otherwise) is actually happening?

No, it's totally anecdotal. That's why I said "seem". I return home from vacation on Jan 5th. When I get back, I'll start measuring books from my personal library. I was thinking I can put up a spreadsheet on google docs or something so others can contribute their own data.

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On 12/23/2021 at 10:15 PM, Peterkin said:

In 1920, you could put most college textbooks in a jacket pocket.

Could you ?

Calculus was mentioned late in this thread.

Consider Hobson's calculus (Theory of functions of a real variable)

Volume 1 (originallly1907)  My third edition 1927  736 pages 190 x 260 x 40 mm 1496 kg.
Volume 2 My second ed 1926     780 pages 190 x260 x45 mm 1547 kg

Both bigger than either my modern Setwart or my Finney.

How about Wells  - Structural Inorganic Chemistry My 1962 3rd edition weighs in at 2150 kg 1055 pages at 170 x240 x 80 mm.

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1 hour ago, studiot said:

Volume 1 (originallly1907)  My third edition 1927  736 pages 190 x 260 x 40 mm 1496 kg.
Volume 2 My second ed 1926     780 pages 190 x260 x45 mm 1547 kg

Wow! Those are some heavy books! I've never come across anything like them. Bang goes one anecdotal observation.

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7 hours ago, FragmentedCurve said:

No, it's totally anecdotal. That's why I said "seem". I return home from vacation on Jan 5th. When I get back, I'll start measuring books from my personal library. I was thinking I can put up a spreadsheet on google docs or something so others can contribute their own data.

Wiki beat you to it; there's nothing wrong with using a reference point to further your understanding; just be careful you don't limit your understanding by fixing that reference point to a rock...

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8 hours ago, FragmentedCurve said:

No, it's totally anecdotal. That's why I said "seem". I return home from vacation on Jan 5th. When I get back, I'll start measuring books from my personal library. I was thinking I can put up a spreadsheet on google docs or something so others can contribute their own data.

You’re free to measure anything you want when you arrive home and publish it to the spreadsheet software of your choosing, but unless your personal library offers a properly representative cross section of the entire global population of textbooks… and more importantly, unless it also offers a valid population to use as a point of comparison between modern sizes versus historical sizes, then you’re wasting your time.

Why, you ask? Because you’re still dealing with anecdotes (just a fractionally larger set of them) and any conclusions you draw from such a misguided exercise will remain specious.

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39 minutes ago, iNow said:

You’re free to measure anything you want when you arrive home and publish it to the spreadsheet software of your choosing, but unless your personal library offers a properly representative cross section of the entire global population of textbooks… and more importantly, unless it also offers a valid population to use as a point of comparison between modern sizes versus historical sizes, then you’re wasting your time.

Why, you ask? Because you’re still dealing with anecdotes (just a fractionally larger set of them) and any conclusions you draw from such a misguided exercise will remain specious.

Right. You're taking this way more seriously than me and now you're making me curious. I was originally going to say: I'm almost certain there's a bias in my collection of books, so if everyone added to the data, I was hoping to help soften that bias. I'm not claiming that we would be able to conclude something definitively from this nor would it be good data. But a collection of ancedotes can offer suggestions.

But now I'm wondering, if we actually wanted a real answer to this question, does this data exist? If not, maybe we can passively collect enough data. This would probably be eaiser if we limit outselves to books that aren't older than the library of congress. The LCCN or ISBN combined with a print date will provide a unique identifer for a physical book.

I'm thinking...

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4 minutes ago, FragmentedCurve said:

But now I'm wondering, if we actually wanted a real answer to this question, does this data exist?

It exists, but is so scattered and hard to find, it wouldn't be worth anyone's while to pursue. Unless you were doing a thesis on the subject as a revenge on boring professors...

One way to proceed would be to follow the history of a single publisher. Which, of course, they're not. Pearson, for example, has had two dozen incarnations, mergers and acquisitions since the mid 19th century, and has published text and reference books under as  many concurrent imprints. It would be a Cinderellian task to sort through them all. Wiley might be easier, though it, too, has a number of imprints, including a couple in Europe, where the formatting standards may be different.

Soooo - anecdotal we are and anecdotal we remain, yes?

(*sigh* How i miss book sales!)

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47 minutes ago, FragmentedCurve said:

if we actually wanted a real answer to this question, does this data exist?

Are you seriously asking me whether data on the number of pages in textbooks past and present exists or could be collected? Please tell me you’re joking.

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Why would the number of pages be significant?

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3 hours ago, Peterkin said:

Wow! Those are some heavy books! I've never come across anything like them. Bang goes one anecdotal observation.

Oops yes they were full of Christmas spirit.

Sorry.

That should have been grammes.

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1 hour ago, iNow said:

Are you seriously asking me whether data on the number of pages in textbooks past and present exists or could be collected? Please tell me you’re joking.

Please don't assume details that weren't discussed. Obviously, huge amounts of data for the number of pages in books exist. You can easily scrape that from Google's book API, the Library of Congress API, Amazon, and many other sources.

We didn't discuss what data points are worth collecting. The general question that's being asked is, have the (average) physical dimensions of technical books changed over time? There are many ways to look at this, right? We can break it down into different categories that might be worth looking at individually. Such cateogies might be, high school textbooks, undergrad textbooks, professional software engineering books, math & computer science monologues. This is totally ancedotal, but those categories feel like they have different characteristics.

The obvious data points to collect are length, width, height, mass and page count (as you mentioned). Off the top of my head, I don't know of any source that provides those other data points.

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29 minutes ago, studiot said:

That should have been grammes.

even so ... But you have to admit, the other would have been impressive.

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2 hours ago, Peterkin said:

It exists, but is so scattered and hard to find, it wouldn't be worth anyone's while to pursue. Unless you were doing a thesis on the subject as a revenge on boring professors...

One way to proceed would be to follow the history of a single publisher. Which, of course, they're not. Pearson, for example, has had two dozen incarnations, mergers and acquisitions since the mid 19th century, and has published text and reference books under as  many concurrent imprints. It would be a Cinderellian task to sort through them all. Wiley might be easier, though it, too, has a number of imprints, including a couple in Europe, where the formatting standards may be different.

Soooo - anecdotal we are and anecdotal we remain, yes?

(*sigh* How i miss book sales!)

The thought of getting it from publishers crossed my mind. I was thinking maybe there's a way to have the data come to us. If there's a way to uniquely identify a printed book, then crowds can submit data with all the data points that would allow us to uniquely identify the book they're measuring.

If uniquely identifying printed books over the past century is impossibly, then as you said, anecdotal we'll remain.

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