In a chapter titled “The Path to Freedom,” part of his 1995 book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”, Carl Sagan observes that “For 99 percent of the tenure of humans on earth, nobody could read or write.” This meant that “Except for first-hand experience, almost everything we knew was passed on by word of mouth.”
As books emerged, and literacy with it, civilisation changed. Carl’s thoughts on this yield much when one ponders over them.
“Books,” Carl writes, “permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate — with the best teachers the insights….of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history.”
Carl then adds:
“Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses.”
In the 1917 novel “Parnassus on Wheels” by Christopher Morley, we listen to the travelling book-seller — “when you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life.”