October 10, 2023
9.25 Inches (US)
6.13 Inches (US)
1.70 Inches (US)
$35.95 USD, £30.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

How Writing Made Us Human, 3000 BCE to Now

A sweeping history of how writing has preserved cultural practices, traditions, and knowledge throughout human history.

In How Writing Made Us Human, 3000 BCE to Now, Walter Stephens condenses the massive history of the written word into an accessible, engaging narrative. The history of writing is not merely a record of technical innovations—from hieroglyphics to computers—but something far richer: a chronicle of emotional engagement with written culture whose long arc intimates why the humanities are crucial to society.

For five millennia, myths and legends provided fascinating explanations for the origins and uses of writing. These stories overflowed with enthusiasm about fabled personalities (both human and divine) and their adventures with capturing speech and preserving memory. Stories recounted how and why an ancient Sumerian king, a contemporary of Gilgamesh, invented the cuneiform writing system—or alternatively, how the earliest Mesopotamians learned everything from a hybrid man-fish. For centuries, Jews and Christians debated whether Moses or God first wrote the Ten Commandments. Throughout history, some myths of writing were literary fictions. Plato's tale of Atlantis supposedly emerged from a vast Egyptian archive of world history. Dante's vision of God as one infinite book inspired Borges's fantasy of the cosmos as a limitless library, while the nineteenth century bequeathed Mary Shelley's apocalyptic tale of a world left with innumerable books but only one surviving reader.

Stephens presents a comprehensive history of the written word and demonstrates how writing has preserved and shaped human life since the Bronze Age.
These stories, their creators, and their preservation have inspired wonder and an endless appetite for historical revelation.

About the Author

Walter Stephens (BALTIMORE, MD) is the Charles S. Singleton Professor of Italian Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He is the coeditor of Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450–1800.


"'Better is a book than a well-built house,' claims a famous ancient Egyptian papyrus written three millennia ago—quoted by Walter Stephens. Of course, its author was a professional scribe. This judicious history of writing, from Sumerian clay tablets to smartphones, explores our uniquely human achievement with both knowledge and imagination."

- W. Andrew Robinson, author of The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs and Pictograms and Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-François Champollion

"Walter Stephens provides a wonderful exploration of the art of writing, from ancient stone tablets, tree bark and reed pens, through the printing press and the digital age. His feat of great scholarship is studded with remarkable stories and insights that reveal the absolute centrality of the written word to human identity and experience."

- Ross King, author of The Bookseller of Florence
Johns Hopkins University Press
Information Cultures
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9781421446646 : how-writing-made-us-human-3000-bce-to-now-stephens
October 10, 2023
$35.95 USD

Other Titles by Walter Stephens

Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450–1800

edited by Walter Stephens and Earle A. Havens - assisted by Janet E. Gomez
Jan 2019 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$57.00 USD - Hardback
$57.00 USD - Electronic book text

The Body in Early Modern Italy

edited by Julia L. Hairston and Walter Stephens
Apr 2010 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$75.00 USD - Hardback

Other Titles from Information Cultures

In the Land of Marvels

Paola Bertucci
Oct 2023 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$54.95 USD - Hardback

A Centaur in London

Fabian Kraemer
Apr 2023 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$60.00 USD - Hardback
$60.00 USD - Electronic book text

The Maker of Pedigrees

Markus Friedrich
Apr 2023 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$60.00 USD - Hardback
$60.00 USD - Electronic book text

Other Titles in HISTORY / Social History

Knights of the Golden Rule

Peter J. Frederick
Dec 2025 - University Press of Kentucky
$30.00 USD - Paperback / softback
$12.95 USD - Electronic book text


Jon C. Teaford
Mar 2024 - Indiana University Press
$40.00 USD - Hardback
$20.00 USD - Paperback / softback

Explaining Modern Social Reality

edited by Kire Sharlamanov, Jana Perteska
Oct 2023 - Central European University Press
$79.00 USD - Hardback