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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The World's Largest Book

Measuring 5 feet by 7 feet, and weighing 133 pounds, Bhutan:  A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom has been deemed by Guinness World Records to be the world’s largest book.

Michael Hawley is a scientist at Massachusettes Institute of Technology who dreamed up the idea, after leading four separate student expeditions to Bhutan.  He and his American students, along with Bhutanese students, took photographs with state-of-the-art equipment. 

Hawley had experimented with very large digital images on a complex digital printer.  He thought the photographs taken in Bhutan were really awesome with their colorful scenes.  He wanted viewers to be able to step into the scenes.  Stymied by the permanence and lack of portability of wall murals, he decided to make a really large book.  Like John James Audubon, who made his paintings of birds life-size, Hawley wanted viewers to appreciate the fullness and expanse of his subject.

The resulting efforts took special equipment.  Processing, printing and the vast amount of computing power required were augment by contributions from Apple, Dell, and Kodak.  That left one problem:  how do you bind a book this size?

A special assembly line was designed, and an accordion method of binding used.  Each copy of the book used more than a gallon of ink, and took twenty-four hours to print.  The photographs are about two gigabytes.  The book is printed on a roll of paper bigger than a football field.

Each copy costs $2,000 to produce, and sells for $10,000.  All proceeds are donated to Friendly Planet, a charity begun by Hawley, whose mission is to build schools in Bhutan and Cambodia.

Although the book is impressive for its size, the graphic, visual quality of the photographs is the real star.  Human subjects are almost life size, and the views are breathtaking.  Turning the pages, though, is not for the faint-hearted.

A smaller version of the book was published in 2004.  It is only 17.2 x 12.5 inches, and weighs in at 6.8 pounds.  This edition sells for $100.

The University of Washington, University of Texas at El Paso, and Miami University in Ohio all have copies.
Images courtesy of University of Washington

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