The Illustrated Story of Copyright
by Edward Samuels
Reviewed by Audrey Snowden
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
The book's secret is out just from the title: it's not the history of copyright, it's the illustrated story. Edward Samuels has taken a subject in which we, as writers, should all be well versed, and he's presented it in an accessible, lively format. This book is downright fun.
While it's not meant to provide answers to nitpicky copyright questions, "The Illustrated Story of Copyright" does contain a huge amount of information and background on copyright. Perhaps more importantly, Samuels does a thorough job of putting his information in context: instead of dry facts, he sketches his subject matter in a framework of societal development. and political climate.
The book is separated into two sections. Section one is copyright technology. Section two is copyright basics. Samuels emphasizes that the reader can start with section two if said reader wishes to do so, or the reader can even follow Samuels's frequent cross-references and have a "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" experience. He's not being cavalier. The book is simply well designed. It's laid out like a textbook, but don't picture organic chemistry, picture Psychology 101 on caffeine.
This is a survey course masquerading as leisure reading. Decent-sized print and lots of side-bars grace the text, and you'll pick up all kinds of excellent extra knowledge along the way. Know how a microprocessor works? How a player piano works? No? Not only will you learn these things, you'll learn how these processes are relevant to the story of copyright.
Samuels's writing is highly readable, and his use of side-bars is fabulous. He includes sections of relevant legal rulings, which are useful, but he also uses the side-bars to riff on real-life examples that illustrate his accompanying text. Flipping through, you'll see lots of pictures (nice!), but will you expect to see Denis Leary, the Sesame Street Muppets, or Groucho Marx?
The factor that magnifies the quality and value of this book is Samuels himself. He's clearly passionate about and dedicated to his work, and he hasn't kept his personality or his sense of humor out of the text.
The book's tone is conversational, and while Samuels has lots of knowledge to impart, he doesn't lecture. Reading this book is deceptively fun. Samuels has succeeded wildly. He's crafted a comprehensive book on a substantial topic, and he's made the topic both accessible and enjoyable.
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