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Why did textbooks get so big?


FragmentedCurve
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1 hour ago, FragmentedCurve said:

The obvious data points to collect are length, width, height, mass and page count (as you mentioned).

Fine. Which of those data then are you suggesting cannot be aggregated and analyzed? 

I’m pushing back on the absurd suggestion you made that this question cannot be objectively answered. I’m pushing back on the idea that any of us should bother accepting your likely flawed opinions which are themselves based on extremely limited anecdotes. 

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39 minutes ago, FragmentedCurve said:

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

ISBN's have only been in use since the 1970's - and not uniformly until the '80's -  so the comparisons from then to now could be made across publishers and internationally from about 1980 to today. Before that, they had different kinds of identification in each country, and sometimes each publishing house. Even if you restricted the search to the post ISBN period, you'd still have no way to discover which numbers belong to textbooks. Not very useful. 

Even if you do have the ISBN, btw, there is no guarantee that any venue will supply all of the information. Amazon is pretty good on shipping dimensions - as are many independent vendors - but hardly anyone gives weights. They'll generally tell you the number of pages, but not the paper stock used, which may be anything from 22 to 84 lb/ream. They'll tell you hard or soft cover, but not the thickness of the boards.  

I'm not going to attempt the empirical method in my own stacks, since I have only a few recent medical (either humungous or pocket-sized), Science and Environment studies and a handful of high-school math and language texts.  Nowhere near a sample size going out to the cold for.

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3 hours ago, FragmentedCurve said:

The general question that's being asked is, have the (average) physical dimensions of technical books changed over time?

Yes asked as a question I think the answer must be yes they have changed, sometimes getting larger, sometimes getting smaller.

However did you not originally posit it as a hypothesis? Which is why you have been badgered for evidence.

I think that books have varied over time ins both size, weight and layout for a variety of practical historical reasons.

Centuries ago books were rare and generally quite large and heavy.

They also often had plenty of colour and quite a few illustrations.
Of course this was all had done.

The advent of printing and better paper reduced the size of the books but also did away with colour almost completely.

They were still quite heavy as paperbacks did not come in until the late 19th century.

During the 20th century we had two major wars and I have books from both periods which are 'economy' versions to save material.
These have very flimsy thin paper a reduced typesize and very little white space on the page.
Technical books were usually still hardback, but paperback versions and even further miniaturisations were available for travellers.

However a lot of work was done mid century to determine the optimum 'white space' for readability.
Interestingly the University of Cambridge adopted a peculiar shade of light green for their exam papers because they found out empirically that this colout resulted in the lowest numbers of candidates freaking out at the sight of the exam paper.

The final part of the 20th century has brought richer times along with a great deal of presentation theory and vast technological capacity to print.
However an exception being Dover which generally reduced the size, print and construction quality of older publications but at least reissued them.

So yes, I would agree that sizes have expanded at the moment, perhaps a little too far and a little too expensively.

No doubt things will change again in the future.
 

Looking around today I have quite a few Schaum texts, they all seem to be about the same size and format, whatever their age.

I have two very modern Geometry books one the size of a nomal novel by Roe and one the size of a Schaum book.

But it really seems to be Earth Sciences that go in for the super large.
Perhaps that harps back to their heritage in cartography and atlases.
At any rate I appreciate the larger photos and other graphics material they offer.
 

 

Edited by studiot
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This thread is disappointing. If I've learned anything here, it's a thread about the value of anecdotal experience needs to be created. I'm going to wrap this up just for the sake of not leaving this thread hanging.

First, I'll descibe what actually motivated me to post this which was initially avoided because I assumed it too verbose and unecessary . A common experience between me and my peers is that the size of technical books have increased. None of us have had hard evidence for it. It was just a common experience with the books we would read and were interested in.

I had an hour to kill before I went to the airport and spent that time browsing a bookstore. While there, I looked through the computer books and noticed the publisher "No Starch" printed a copy of "Cyberjutsu: Cybersecurity for the Modern Ninja" that was smaller than their typical books. The experience of finding small books in math, computer science, and physics seems to be increasing. Some of the books even advertise the fact they're "smaller" in their preface. I doubt listing examples will be helpful... So, I made this thread, wondering why did the types of books I read get big; especially if authors are intentionally trying to publish smaller books.

Obviously, all of this is anecdotal. I never tried to assert it was anything more than that. Some of you insisted I need to provide evidence that my premise, that newer technical books are larger than older books, is true. Maybe I should've defined "newer" and "older" so that the context would be clearer.

 

10 hours ago, iNow said:

Fine. Which of those data then are you suggesting cannot be aggregated and analyzed? 

I’m pushing back on the absurd suggestion you made that this question cannot be objectively answered. I’m pushing back on the idea that any of us should bother accepting your likely flawed opinions which are themselves based on extremely limited anecdotes. 

You're pushing back against your imagination. You wanted hard evidence that the size of technical books has increased, I started thinking about how we could practically collect that data. I never said it can't be objectively answered.

If you're looking for people that want to make you accept some belief or bias, go to a church or political rally and get off science forums.

You would've been more productive if you asked for clarification on miscommunications or details that weren't clear. You've added nothing but distraction to the discussion. I think you have a screw lose.

10 hours ago, Peterkin said:

ISBN's have only been in use since the 1970's - and not uniformly until the '80's -  so the comparisons from then to now could be made across publishers and internationally from about 1980 to today. Before that, they had different kinds of identification in each country, and sometimes each publishing house. Even if you restricted the search to the post ISBN period, you'd still have no way to discover which numbers belong to textbooks. Not very useful. 

Even if you do have the ISBN, btw, there is no guarantee that any venue will supply all of the information. Amazon is pretty good on shipping dimensions - as are many independent vendors - but hardly anyone gives weights. They'll generally tell you the number of pages, but not the paper stock used, which may be anything from 22 to 84 lb/ream. They'll tell you hard or soft cover, but not the thickness of the boards.  

I'm not going to attempt the empirical method in my own stacks, since I have only a few recent medical (either humungous or pocket-sized), Science and Environment studies and a handful of high-school math and language texts.  Nowhere near a sample size going out to the cold for.

You bring up some important points, but I'm not in the mood to continue this at the moment.

 

9 hours ago, studiot said:

Yes asked as a question I think the answer must be yes they have changed, sometimes getting larger, sometimes getting smaller.

However did you not originally posit it as a hypothesis? Which is why you have been badgered for evidence.

I think that books have varied over time ins both size, weight and layout for a variety of practical historical reasons.

Centuries ago books were rare and generally quite large and heavy.

They also often had plenty of colour and quite a few illustrations.
Of course this was all had done.

The advent of printing and better paper reduced the size of the books but also did away with colour almost completely.

They were still quite heavy as paperbacks did not come in until the late 19th century.

During the 20th century we had two major wars and I have books from both periods which are 'economy' versions to save material.
These have very flimsy thin paper a reduced typesize and very little white space on the page.
Technical books were usually still hardback, but paperback versions and even further miniaturisations were available for travellers.

However a lot of work was done mid century to determine the optimum 'white space' for readability.
Interestingly the University of Cambridge adopted a peculiar shade of light green for their exam papers because they found out empirically that this colout resulted in the lowest numbers of candidates freaking out at the sight of the exam paper.

The final part of the 20th century has brought richer times along with a great deal of presentation theory and vast technological capacity to print.
However an exception being Dover which generally reduced the size, print and construction quality of older publications but at least reissued them.

So yes, I would agree that sizes have expanded at the moment, perhaps a little too far and a little too expensively.

No doubt things will change again in the future.
 

Looking around today I have quite a few Schaum texts, they all seem to be about the same size and format, whatever their age.

I have two very modern Geometry books one the size of a nomal novel by Roe and one the size of a Schaum book.

But it really seems to be Earth Sciences that go in for the super large.
Perhaps that harps back to their heritage in cartography and atlases.
At any rate I appreciate the larger photos and other graphics material they offer.
 

 

 

With respect to Schaum's and Dover, it's the same on my shelves. In fact, my copy of Naive Set Theory by Paul Halmos shrunk because Dover published a reprint which I bought.

Quote

However a lot of work was done mid century to determine the optimum 'white space' for readability.
Interestingly the University of Cambridge adopted a peculiar shade of light green for their exam papers because they found out empirically that this colout resulted in the lowest numbers of candidates freaking out at the sight of the exam paper.

How and why do you know this?

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35 minutes ago, FragmentedCurve said:

So, I made this thread, wondering why did the types of books I read get big; especially if authors are intentionally trying to publish smaller books.

Obviously, all of this is anecdotal.

Right, which means you’re asking for us to explain a premise which is unfounded and quite likely invalid.

You may as well be asking us to explain why all bananas are now covered in feathers. Until you prove they are, in fact, covered in feathers then it’s our time being wasted by you jumping immediately to a request for reasons why this happened.

Asking you in return, “well, did it happen?” is hardly unreasonable. 
 

35 minutes ago, FragmentedCurve said:

I started thinking about how we could practically collect that data. I never said it can't be objectively answered.

That’s how it came across when you asked if this data even exists:

14 hours ago, FragmentedCurve said:

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

Of course it exists. Why wouldn’t it? Books can be measured and pages counted. This isn’t exactly controversial.

35 minutes ago, FragmentedCurve said:

If you're looking for people that want to make you accept some belief or bias, go to a church or political rally and get off science forums.

You would've been more productive if you asked for clarification on miscommunications or details that weren't clear. You've added nothing but distraction to the discussion. I think you have a screw lose.

Thanks for the feedback. I’ll be sure to take that under advisement, but it’s wholly irrelevant to my valid and fair criticism that your core premise is specious and is quite likely based on flawed assumptions and limited… yep, you guessed it… anecdotes. 
 

35 minutes ago, FragmentedCurve said:

I need to provide evidence that my premise, that newer technical books are larger than older books, is true.

Precisely. Yet here we are, still waiting for you to do so and instead getting comments like this:

35 minutes ago, FragmentedCurve said:

I'm not in the mood to continue this at the moment.

 

Edited by iNow
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32 minutes ago, iNow said:

Right, which means you’re asking for us to explain a premise which is unfounded and quite likely invalid.

You may as well be asking us to explain why all bananas are now covered in feathers. Until you prove they are, in fact, covered in feathers then it’s our time being wasted by you jumping immediately to a request for reasons why this happened.

Asking you in return, “well, did it happen?” is hardly unreasonable. 

It's not unreasonable. You asking that is what made me curious about it's validity. As I said, what made me post this thread originally was contradictory anecdotes. Possibly the belief that technical books from the mid 1900s were smaller developed at a time in my life when I was frequently being exposed to larger technical books due to life events such as undergrad.

This is why I agreed to actually answer your question. Now the question is, how do we figure out if the increase did occur?

32 minutes ago, iNow said:

That’s how it came across when you asked if this data even exists:

Of course it exists. Why wouldn’t it? Books can be measured and pages counted. This isn’t exactly controversial.

My view of you has improved a little. That is such an epistemological interpretation. What matters to me is, did someone measure this data and make it available in a usable form. It doesn't matter in this context, if it can be collected.

I'm not willing to spend more than a couple weekends of coding and/or making empirical measurements.

Early into this discussion I sent out emails to the Library of Congress and archive.org, asking the former for methods of uniquely identifying a book and the former for data.

1 hour ago, iNow said:

Precisely. Yet here we are, still waiting for you to do so and instead getting comments like this:

This is slightly unfair. @Peterkin's post was productive and brought up an important issue which would require further thought if this task is even worth doing. I have some experience with this because I worked on software for a bookstore that was responsible for automating the categorization of used books. The problem @Peterkin is getting is, if the scope of the dataset is restricted to some technical subject such as math books, we don't want to accidentally include layman books.

 

Anyway, as an end result, would a table of each decade and it's mean and median dimensions be sufficient? 

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6 hours ago, FragmentedCurve said:

How and why do you know this?

Since you asked the question but quoted two hardly related statements of mine I don't know to which you are referring.

But I sat some of those Cambridge exam papers and that is what we were told at some point.
I see no reason to doubt the veracity of the examiners.

As to the second point I have some manuals on technical writing and layout describing exactly this subject.
I believe there are many such available.

As to the rest of my thoughts and this thread in general, you seem disinterested.

 

6 hours ago, iNow said:

Thanks for the feedback. I’ll be sure to take that under advisement, but it’s wholly irrelevant to my valid and fair criticism that your core premise is specious and is quite likely based on flawed assumptions and limited… yep, you guessed it… anecdotes. 

I think you are being unfairly dismissive of anecdotes.

A great many scientific discoveries were the result of anecdotes.

Penecillin was the result of a single one.

 

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7 hours ago, FragmentedCurve said:

Now the question is, how do we figure out if the increase did occur?

Why this requires explaining I may never know. You even suggested the correct answer yourself a few posts back… You aggregate data in a spreadsheet or database.

The basic structure would be one column for publication year, the additional columns, one each for height, width, depth, weight, and finally page count. Perhaps topic area could offer an interesting dimension against which to slice the data, but isn’t required to address your core question / rebut your opening assertion. You then just ensure a valid sample size, cross section of the entire textbook population, and group details by year or decade to search for possible trends (or confirm their lack). 

7 hours ago, FragmentedCurve said:

What matters to me is, did someone measure this data and make it available in a usable form. 

Yes, I see. You agree that a valid answer is possible. You simply want others to do the heavy lifting to help you find it. Others have suggested APIs, which would be a decent place to start IMO.

7 hours ago, FragmentedCurve said:

I'm not willing to spend more than a couple weekends of coding and/or making empirical measurements.

Which is entirely fair and I don’t fault you for it, but this simultaneously means you must begin by asking IF textbooks have changed size over time, not WHY they have as you’ve done here. 

7 hours ago, FragmentedCurve said:

My view of you has improved a little.

Gosh. What a relief. I’ll surely sleep better tonight. 

2 hours ago, studiot said:

I think you are being unfairly dismissive of anecdotes.

A great many scientific discoveries were the result of anecdotes.

Penecillin was the result of a single one.

Duly noted, but my points stand and remain valid.

Penicillin wasn't exactly discovered by claiming mold could help us overcome infection and THEN asking how. Returning to my previous example, perhaps YOU would like to explain for us all WHY bananas are all covered in feathers?

I suspect you’d be smart enough to first challenge the premise, exactly as I’ve been doing here. This isn’t exactly Marie Curie discovering radioactivity, after all. 

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21 hours ago, iNow said:

Penicillin wasn't exactly discovered by claiming mold could help us overcome infection and THEN asking how. Returning to my previous example, perhaps YOU would like to explain for us all WHY bananas are all covered in feathers?

I suspect you’d be smart enough to first challenge the premise, exactly as I’ve been doing here. This isn’t exactly Marie Curie discovering radioactivity, after all. 

I suspect I'm smart enough not to be caught by such specious nonsense.

Neither Curie discovered radioactivity, though they worked a lot with it and sadly died from it.

I did not say this was an account of the discovery of penecillin.

It was, however, the result of a single incident  -  which is what anecdotes are all about.
Nor did I deny that there was intensive scientifc activity follwing that incident and continued subsequent developement thereafter.

Incidentally that discovery led to the making of a struggling minor american company called Pfizer.
(But that would be another anecdote).

:)

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1 hour ago, studiot said:

I suspect I'm smart enough not to be caught by such specious nonsense.

Neither Curie discovered radioactivity, though they worked a lot with it and sadly died from it.

I did not say this was an account of the discovery of penecillin.

It was, however, the result of a single incident  -  which is what anecdotes are all about.
Nor did I deny that there was intensive scientifc activity follwing that incident and continued subsequent developement thereafter.

Incidentally that discovery led to the making of a struggling minor american company called Pfizer.
(But that would be another anecdote).

Right. That’s all well and good. Hard to disagree with any of that and we’re aligned. Do me this favor, though: 

Kindly please explain how any of that is even remotely relevant to me asking for confirmation that textbook sizes truly have increased over the years and decades… and pushing for this premise to be confirmed before seeking explanations from us about why they did. 

Go ahead. I’ll wait… and just so we’re clear, inspired comments about anecdotes aiding in scientific progress throughout history won’t suffice, regardless of how many you introduce. 

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2 hours ago, iNow said:

Right. That’s all well and good. Hard to disagree with any of that and we’re aligned. Do me this favor, though: 

Kindly please explain how any of that is even remotely relevant to me asking for confirmation that textbook sizes truly have increased over the years and decades… and pushing for this premise to be confirmed before seeking explanations from us about why they did. 

Go ahead. I’ll wait… and just so we’re clear, inspired comments about anecdotes aiding in scientific progress throughout history won’t suffice, regardless of how many you introduce. 

 

Once again

I did not say that.

If you read my post that I thought it was you who like I said that for a variety of reasons, (and I gave some of them) textbooks have changed size, sometime getting bigger and sometimes smaller on average (again I gave examples of both).

I also said quite clearly that accidental experiences (another 'definition/description of an anecdote) have sometime led to scientific discoveries in the past, although this time I only gave one example.

If Fleming had adopted your attitude to 'anecdotes' we would not have penecillin today.

 

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21 minutes ago, studiot said:

I did not say that.

Please elaborate. What didn’t you say? You seem to be pushing back on me for misrepresenting your view. Unsure where you think I’ve done that. 

22 minutes ago, studiot said:

I also said quite clearly that accidental experiences (another 'definition/description of an anecdote) have sometime led to scientific discoveries in the past, although this time I only gave one example.

If Fleming had adopted your attitude to 'anecdotes' we would not have penecillin today.

I acknowledged this and even confirmed our agreement. I then asked why you find this relevant to my questioning of the premise in the OP. You have yet to reply to this clear and direct question.

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2 hours ago, iNow said:

Please elaborate. What didn’t you say? You seem to be pushing back on me for misrepresenting your view. Unsure where you think I’ve done that. 

I didn't say what I've highlighted in neon (emboldened) in the quote I made from your post.

2 hours ago, iNow said:

 

I acknowledged this and even confirmed our agreement. I then asked why you find this relevant to my questioning of the premise in the OP. You have yet to reply to this clear and direct question.

I find it relevant because neither you nor anyone else seems to want to acknowledge my actual point(s) which I reiterate.

(Text)books have become larger and become smaller over periods of years to decades or longer many times in history.

I also made the point that in my experience we are currently in a period of size increase.
I also made the point that these are averages.
I also made the point that in one specific technical discipline this is significantly evident because there has been an explosion of books in this area and also explained more.
But I also made the point that the reasons for both size increase and size decrease are manyfold.

 

Thank you for acknowledging that if I were to find a five leaved clover in a some field, related the anecdote to say CharonY , and asked how that clover might have come about, it would be OK.
Not a theory of everything, or even anything significant, but still OK.

 

Edited by studiot
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1 minute ago, studiot said:

I didn't say what I've highlighted in neon (emboldened) in the quote I made from your post.

Yes, we completely agree. What you bolded was a quote from ME asking how something was relevant to MY request for confirmation of the premise.

Unsure why your response to this was that YOU never said this. Nobody suggested you had. 

3 minutes ago, studiot said:

(Text)books have become large and become smaller over periods of years to decades or longer many times in history.

Once again, we’re in violent agreement here. My position was directed toward the OP who suggested an overall trend of increased size over time. As that’s NOT your position, my feedback doesn’t apply to you. 

5 minutes ago, studiot said:

in my experience we are currently in a period of size increase.

And I’d like to see data confirming you’re not merely suffering from a confirmation bias here before we go searching for reasons to explain the proposed size increase.  Waxing philosophical about anecdotes doesn’t achieve that. 

6 minutes ago, studiot said:

Thank you for acknowledging that if I were to find a five leaved clover in a some field, related the anecdote to say CharonY , and asked how that clover might have come about, it would be OK.
Not a theory of everything, or even anything significant, but still OK.

It’d be okay, but entirely irrelevant. 

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1 hour ago, studiot said:

So why don't we move on ?

Works for me.

And in the spirit of continuous improvement, note that we likely already would have moved on had you not replied to my entirely fair and valid point in this way:

 

12 hours ago, studiot said:

I suspect I'm smart enough not to be caught by such specious nonsense.

Nothing about my actual point was either specious or nonsensical. Cheers 

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