In “The Case for Books,” he described the ideal book he imagined a decade ago. He envisioned a pyramid, with the top level a text monograph with links to supplementary essays. Readers could then “continue deeper through the book, though bodies of document, bibliography, historiography, iconography, background music, everything I can provide,” he wrote. “In the end, they will make the subject theirs, because they will find their own paths through it, reading horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, wherever the electronic links may lead.”
Technology is about to make real this sort of deep engagement with information. Mr. Darnton’s next book, “Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in 18th Century Paris,” will be a history of street songs in the French capital. There were no newspapers and half the population was illiterate, so news was spread by song. “Parisians wrote new verses to old tunes literally every day,” he says, “tunes being a great mnemonic device for spreading the word in a semiliterate world.”
He found the original tunes in the National Library in Paris and had a cabaret singer record them for a modern audience. These recordings can be incorporated with text to create a full information experience. Combined text and audio seems like a perfect offering for the iPad.
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