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Before the printing press, a book took weeks or months of skilled labor to produce. The idea of Aristotle’s philosophy and the books in which Aristotle’s philosophy was written were inextricably linked, because in theory someone with enough time and energy could hunt down every book with Aristotle’s philosophy, destroy it, and then the philosophy would be gone.

Imagine if every single piece of knowledge you wanted - the name of the tallest mountain in the world, the latest findings on nutritional biology, what the top thinkers were saying about the nature of consciousness - required this sort of quest, and the end result was a book. Not a Book in the sense of a platonic collection of information, but a single material-world book that could get eaten by goats or something.

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    Bad analogy. I am talking about books in general, sentimental value applies only to specific books.

    I loved my teddy bear*, but I don’t claim all teddy bears are sacred, or that everyone should love teddy bears, or that anyone who doesn’t is fundamentally flawed in some way, or that the destruction of a teddy bear is inherently wrong.

    But that’s just the thing. You might not love each and every teddy bear, but someone does. Thus, even if a particular physical book is not valuable to you, I would say it’s valuable to someone. I find the rationalist tendency to treat books as disposable objects somewhat abhorrent.

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      There are a lot of particular physical mass market paperback books in the world right now. You need to work pretty hard to get all of them matched with affection from an actual human. I think this is actually going to change now that ebooks and e-readers are an established thing. The physically nasty books that basically just serve as maximally cheap text delivery platforms are first on the line to get dropped in favor of ebooks. The physical books that have a better value proposition against ebooks are nice, more expensive durable hardcover ones. And there might be fewer of those overall and biased to books people want to keep around on their bookshelf instead of reading through once and then forgetting about.

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        There’s something to what you say, I agree, but ultimately I think that drawing the distinction between “softcover” and “hardcover” takes this in the wrong direction. I have some softcover books which I value quite a bit, more than I value some of my hardcover books. The actual spectrum of value is perhaps not entirely orthogonal to the book’s physical form factor (there is a correlation, for various obvious reasons), but it’s orthogonal enough that I don’t consider it to be a very useful dimension to think about. The following factors all seem more relevant:

        • Content
        • Availability/rarity
        • Uniqueness (related to the previous point but not identical to it)
        • Personal history with the book

        (Some examples, from glancing at my bookshelf: my hardcover mass-market volumes of Sergei Lukyanenko’s less… artistically valuable… novels, vs. my softcover copies of Gödel, Escher, Bach and The Cyberiad; a hardcover copy of Scott Adams’ The Dilbert Principles vs. a softcover copy of Robyn Dawes’ Rational Choice in an Uncertain World; etc. Also, I have some beautifully custom-bound, hardcover, gold-embossed volumes of mass-market cheaply printed Soviet children’s books; where do you classify those? And this is just the tip of the iceberg, example-wise…)

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          Yeah, I was mostly going for the “correlation for various obvious reasons”, and that there are currently probably lots of physical books that are of pretty low value, not an absolute demarcation at exactly what the non-valuable books are like.

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            Yeah, agreed that there’s a correlation. What occurs to me about this is that this particular correlation is probably strongest for relatively current books, with large publishing runs, but gets weaker as you go back in time and out towards the tail of the popularity / rarity distribution.

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        Agreed, and this is one of the tendencies that set me off from “rationalist culture”. (I guess many folks in said culture found the shredders in Rainbows End totally unobjectionable, but to me they were an element of “mundane dystopia”…)

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