The Notebook

A History of Thinking on Paper: A New Statesman and Spectator Book of the Year

Roland Allen author


Publisher:Profile Books Ltd

Published:2nd Nov '23


Available to order, but very limited on stock - if we have issues obtaining a copy, we will let you know.

This hardback is available in another edition too:

The Notebook cover

Diaries, sketchbooks, common-places, notebooks, ledgers and ships' logs: how the blank book changed the way we think, and helped us change the world.

A NEW STATESMAN 'BEST BOOK OF 2023' A SPECTATOR 'BOOK OF THE YEAR' 2023 A WATERSTONES BEST BOOK OF 2023 'From plans for flying machines to philosophy - the remarkable joy of jotting things down' 'Book of the Day', Guardian 'A fine book on a fabulous subject' Daily Telegraph 'A fascinating study of notebooks through history ... beautifully written and a complete delight to dip in to or read from cover to cover' Alexander McCall Smith, Books of the Year, New Statesman 'Surprisingly revealing ... despite what Apple, Evernote and the like might try to tell us, the best cognitive tool available to us today was invented in the counting houses of Renaissance Florence' The Sunday Times The first history of the notebook, a simple invention that changed the way the world thinks. We see notebooks everywhere we go. But where did this simple invention come from? How did they revolutionise our lives, and why are they such powerful tools for creativity? And how can using a notebook help you change the way you think? In this wide-ranging story, Roland Allen reveals all the answers. Ranging from the bustling markets of medieval Florence to the quiet studies of our greatest thinkers, he follows a trail of dazzling ideas, revealing how the notebook became our most dependable and versatile tool for creative thinking. He tells the notebook stories of artists like Leonardo and Frida Kahlo, scientists from Isaac Newton to Marie Curie, and writers from Chaucer to Henry James. We watch Darwin developing his theory of evolution in tiny pocketbooks, see Agatha Christie plotting a hundred murders in scrappy exercise books, and learn how Bruce Chatwin unwittingly inspired the creation of the Moleskine. On the way we meet a host of cooks, kings, sailors, fishermen, musicians, engineers, politicians, adventurers and mathematicians, who all used their notebooks as a space for thinking and to shape the modern world. In an age of AI and digital overload, the humble notebook is more relevant than ever. Allen shows how bullet points can combat ADHD, journals can ease PTSD, and patient diaries soften the trauma of reawakening from coma. The everyday act of moving a pen across paper can have profound consequences, changing the way we think and feel: making us more creative, more productive - and happier.

[A] restless, arresting new history of the notebook ... beautifully produced, with stylus-shaped dinkuses and lined endpapers to get you in the mood, it is packed with a wonderful range of insights and anecdotes ... [Allen] has written a fine book on a fabulous subject * Daily Telegraph *
A different, fascinating, entertaining, witty approach to writing cultural history * Irish Times *
I'm something of a notebook addict. Now I know I'm not alone, as Roland Allen makes clear in his fascinating study of notebooks through history, The Notebook: A History of Thinking on Paper (Profile Books). Moleskine users will love this wide-ranging history of an everyday object: it is beautifully written and a complete delight to dip in to or read from cover to cover. A lovely book -- Alexander Smith McCall, 'Best Books of the Year 2023' * New Statesman *
With this fascinating exploration, Allen has written a very original, diverting and surprising history of a humble everyday object * Saga *
Fluently and engagingly written * Art Newspaper *
Remarkable ... Allen points to evidence that maintaining a notebook with pen and paper is best for processing and retaining information. It can stave off depression and act as ballast to those struggling with ADHD. It is tactile, a form of "embodied cognition", another example of the superiority of slowness ... paying attention, caring, handwriting: this is love. -- Sukhdev Sandhu, 'Book of the Day' * Guardian *
The fascinating stories [The Notebook] tells certainly make you want to take out a pen and jot down a few points ... Allen considers the notebook in its various forms, from the wax tablet to the electronic spreadsheet, and from early modernity to the present day ... his writing has the lightness of touch needed to turn the dry pages of notebooks into living historical documents * Spectator *
The humble notebook is surprisingly revealing ... despite what Apple, Evernote and the like might try to tell us, the best cognitive tool available to us today was invented in the counting houses of Renaissance Florence * The Sunday Times *
Roland Allen traces the ancient lineage of thought made tangible in pen and ink -- Jane Shilling * Daily Telegraph *
The story that Allen tells dances from the pages of the earliest Arabic texts and the oldest surviving European scribbles from the 13th century, to friendship albums in the Netherlands in the 16th century, and onto recipes, cures and bookkeeping * Monocle *
Enjoyable ... Allen is a relaxed and amusing guide ... although he professes to be concerned mainly with notebooks' practical applications, he is a philosopher by stealth, keen to make the reader question where the mind stops and the rest of the world begins. * TLS *
Charting an epic history from medieval sales ledgers to the jottings of Albert Einstein, Allen's wonderfully engaging account of the humble notebook through the centuries makes for enlightening reading -- Waterstones 'The Best Books of 2023'
A fascinating, sweeping book which belongs on the Christmas present lists of everyone who lives their life in notebooks ... the humble notebook might be one of the most simple inventions humans have ever made, but that doesn't mean it hasn't revolutionised our lives ... charting everything from medieval note-takers to the pocketbooks of Einstein; Frida Kahlo's sketches to Agatha Christie's exercise books which are scrawled with plot ideas, Allen delves into how brilliant minds and everyday people put pen to paper as a method for thinking and shaping our world * i Newspaper *
An engaging popular history that considers the notebook in its various forms - wax tablet, ledger, spreadsheet - over the centuries. Why, despite the digitisation of everything, do many of us still write and draw on paper? Reflecting on this question, Allen touches on art, accounting, science and politics the better to trace through the years the relationship between power and information technology. -- Anna Aslanyan, 'Books of the Year' * Spectator *
[An] intriguing exploration through the ages of the humble - and not so humble - notebook ... this is a book to be savoured -- Jaqueline Riding * Country Life *
A delight to read, The Notebook is a reminder of our most vital tool * Idler *
[A] meticulously researched celebration of notebooks, and the vital role they've played in creativity of all kinds * The Simple Things *
A notebook is evidence, process and inspiration, and Roland Allen captures it all in this sweeping survey of ideas and inventiveness -- Simon Garfield
Transformational ... it's inspiring me to write longhand in a real paper notebook again -- Victoria Finlay
A glorious celebration of my all-time favourite object from its earliest incarnations to its funkiest forms. In his always interesting history of thinking on paper, Roland Allen has confected a scintillating cornucopia of notebook miscellany -- Sara Wheeler, author * Glowing Still *
Meticulously researched and intensely readable ... a tantalising glimpse into the private thoughts of artists, voyagers and medics, from pre-Renaissance Florence to a Covid-filled intensive care ward -- Giles Milton

ISBN: 9781788169325

Dimensions: 236mm x 162mm x 38mm

Weight: 760g

416 pages