Literature fast facts
Sumerians invented writing in the 4th century BC.
The first book published is thought to be the Epic of Gilgamesh, written at about 3000 BC in cuneiform, an alphabet based on symbols.
Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote Meteorologica in 350 BC – it remained the standard textbook on weather for 2,000 years.
The earliest document in Latin in a woman’s handwriting (it is from the first century A.D.) is an invitation to a birthday party.
In 1097, Trotula, a midwife of Salerno, wrote The Diseases of Women – it was used in medical schools for 600 years.
The first history book, the Great Universal History, was published by Rashid-Eddin of Persia in 1311.
The world’s longest nonfiction work is The Yongle Dadian, a 10,000-volume encyclopaedia produced by 5,000 scholars during the Ming Dynasty in China 500 years ago.
The first novel, called The story of Genji, was written in 1007 by Japanese noble woman, Murasaki Shikibu.
William Shakespeare wrote his first play, The Taming of the Shrew, in 1593.
The oldest surviving daily newspaper is the Wiener Zeitung of Austria. It was first printed in 1703.
The German PJ Reuter started a foreign news agency in 1858. Today Reuters is one of the biggest news agencies in the world.
Even though it is never featured on any best-selling list, the Bible still is the world’s best selling book.
The first book on travel, called “Travel” was published by Sir John Mandeville in 1357.
The first illustrated book for children was published in Germany in 1658.
Barbara Cartland completed a novel every two weeks, publishing 723 novels.
The word “novel” originally derived from the Latin novus, meaning “new.”
An 18th century London literary club was called the Kit-Cat Club.
Johannes Gutenberg is often credited as the inventor of the printing press in 1454. However, the Chinese actually printed from movable type in 1040 but later discarding the method.
It is believed that Shakespeare was 46 around the time that the King James Version of the Bible was written. In Psalms 46, the 46th word from the first word is shake and the 46th word from the last word is spear.
When Jonathan Swift published ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ in 1726, he intended it as a satire on the ferociousness of human nature. Today it is enjoyed as a children’s story.
The words “Life, liberty, and property,” penned in the 17th century by English philosopher John Locke, was adapted by Thomas Jefferson to read as “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The problem of missing teeth was first discussed at length in 1728 by Pierre Fauchard in his book The Surgeon Dentist.
The first English dictionary was written by Samuel Johnson in 1755.
The first Oxford English Dictionary was published in April 1928, 50 years after it was started. It consisted of 400,000 words and phrases in 10 volumes. The latest edition fills 22,000 pages, includes 33,000 Shakespeare quotations, and is bound in 20 volumes.
Joyce Joyce started writing “Ulysses” in 1907 and finished 15 years later. It was originally banned in Britain and the US.
JRR Tolkien worked on The Lord of the Rings for almost 12 years.
Publisher Stanley Unwin decided to incur the probable loss of £1,000 on JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in three parts during 1954 and 1955. The American rights went to Houghton Mifflin.
Rudyard Kipling refused to write with anything other than black ink.
Virgina Woolf wrote all her books standing.
Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, was an ophthalmologist by profession.
Ian Fleming’s James Bond debuted in the novel “Casino Royale” in 1952.
Until he was 18, Woody Allen read virtually nothing but comic books but did show his writing skills. He sold one-liners for ten cents each to gossip columnists.
The first novel sold through a vending machine – at the Paris Metro – was Murder on the Orient Express.
Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
Frank Baum created the name Oz in the “Wizard of Oz” when he looked up at his filing cabinet and saw O-Z.
The original story from Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights begins, “Aladdin was a little Chinese boy.”
The “Big Three” science fiction writers: Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.
During his lifetime, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick sold only 50 copies.
The last four books in the Harry Potter series each set the record for fastest-selling book within 24 hours. The final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, sold 11 million copies within 24 hours.
The Harry Potter books sold almost 400 million copies.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling (b. July 31, 1965) is the world’s first billionaire writer.
Isaac Asimov is the only author to have a book in every Dewey-decimal category.
The only person ever to decline a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was Sinclair Lewis for his book Arrowsmith.
The original title of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice was “First Impression.”
Agatha Christie wrote romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmaccot.
Both writer Edgar Allen Poe and LSD advocate Timothy Leary were kicked out of West Point.
In the original version of Cinderella the slipper was made out of fur, not glass.
Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French journalist suffering from “locked-in” syndrome, wrote the book “The Driving Bell and the Butterfly” by blinking his left eyelid – the only part of his body that could move.
Ernest Vincent Wright’s 1939 novel Gadsby has 50,110 words, none of which contains the letter “e.”
In 1816, Frenchman J.R. Ronden tried to stage a play that did not contain the letter “a.” The Paris audience was offended, rioted and did not allow the play to finish.
The shortest stage play is Samuel Beckett’s “Breath” – 35 seconds of screams and heavy breathing.
By 2016, the English section of Wikipedia had over 5 million articles of any length, consisting of almost 3 billion words. The combined Wikipedias for all other languages had over 40 million articles, consisting of almost 30 billion words.
Arabs make up 5% of the world population but produce only 1% of the world’s books – and most of those are religious books.
The world’s libraries store more than a 100 million original volumes.
The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, stores 18 million books on approximately 850 km (530 miles) of bookshelves. The collections include 119 million items, 2 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4 million maps and 53 million manuscripts.
The largest online bookshop, Amazon.com, stores more than 3 million books but prints books on demand.
Amazon sells more e-books than printed books.
The first book sold on Amazon, on April 3, 1995, was “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies” by Douglas Hofstadter. The buyer was Australian engineer living in California, John Wainwright, who is famous in his own right as a computer scientist and as principal architect of both ScriptX and MaxScript.
2 billion people still cannot read.
When measuring fonts ‘point size’ refers to the height of capital letters (one point being one 72nd of an inch). ‘Pitch’ is a horizontal measurement of the number of letters which can be printed in an inch.
Edward Lytton Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) coined the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.”