Behold the “Book Wheel”: The Renaissance Invention Created to Make Books Portable and Help Scholars Study (1588).
Devotees of print may object, but we readers of the 21st century enjoy a great privilege in our ability to store a practically infinite number of digitized books on our computers.
What’s more, those computers have themselves shrunk down to such compactness that we can carry them around day and night without discomfort. This would hardly have worked just forty years ago, when books came only in print and a serious computer could still fill a room.
The paper book may remain reasonably competitive even today with the convenience refined over hundreds and hundreds of years, but its first handmade generations tended toward lavish, weighty decoration and formats that now look comically oversized.
These posed real problems of unwieldiness, one solution to which took the unlikely form of the bookwheel.
In 1588, The Various and Ingenious Machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli, the Italian engineer of that name “outlined his vision for a wheel-o-books that would employ the logic of other types of wheel (water, Ferris, ‘Price is Right’, etc.) to rotate books clockwork-style before a stationary user,” writes the Atlantic’s Megan Garber.