February 11, 2024

The Notebook: A History Of Thinking On Paper

by Roland Allen

A superb introduction to the history of the notebook, from its medieval origins in Italy to its widespread modern use for art, literature, and learning, this volume invites comparison to Thomas Mallon’s wonderful study of diaries, A Book Of One’s Own. Allen is particularly strong on the close connection between notebooks and accounting, and the importance of accounting to the development of Europe: paper and ink turned out to be a superb defense against financial fraud because paper, unlike parchment, absorbs ink. Allen misses the laboratory notebook, unfortunately, but Jillian Hess covers that ground superbly in How Romantics and Victorians Organized Information. Though his dismissal of electronic tools is, I think, unjust, Allen’s volume is delightfully casual but taut and almost always insightful.