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Guinness: Scientist creates world's largest book

At 133 pounds, light reading it's not

Pete Merrill-Roldham of Acme Bookbinding stands in front of the book.
Pete Merrill-Roldham of Acme Bookbinding stands in front of the big book.

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CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) -- A 133-pound tome about the Asian country of Bhutan that uses enough paper to cover a football field and a gallon of ink has been declared the world's largest published book.

Author Michael Hawley, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said it's not a book to curl up with at bedtime -- "unless you plan to sleep on it."

Each copy of "Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Kingdom," is 5-by-7 feet, 112 pages and costs about $2,000 to produce. Hawley is charging $10,000 to be donated to a charity he founded, Friendly Planet, which has built schools in Cambodia and Bhutan.

Guinness World Records has certified Hawley's work as the biggest published book, according to Stuart Claxton, a Guinness researcher.

Hawley has led a number of MIT student expeditions to Cambodia and Bhutan, an isolated country of 700,000 people that is about the size of Switzerland, and thought he could raise money for education there by putting together some of the thousands of photographs he was gathering.

He said he did not set out to make the world's largest book. But playing around in his office at MIT's Media Lab with a state-of-the art digital printer, Hawley discovered just how spectacular large, digital images can look -- especially of Bhutan, a country flush with colorful scenery and dress where even the rice is red.

"What I really wanted was a 5-by-7-foot chunk of wall that would let me change the picture every day," he said. "And I thought there was an old-fashioned mechanism that might work. It's called the book."

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Michael Hawley stands in front of his book.
MIT scientist Michael Hawley stands in front of his book.

Hawley said he's received about two dozen orders for the book, which includes an easel-like stand. Early customers include Brewster Kahle, the inventor of the Internet Archive project, who has known Hawley for years through his computer science work at MIT.

"You deal with a book in a fundamentally new way," Kahle said when asked about the appeal, adding he wasn't certain how he would display his copy. "You meet it eye-to-eye, like a person."

Processing and printing the images took enormous chunks of computing power, much of it donated by companies including Dell, Apple Computers and Kodak. Then there was the assembly. At this size, the normal physics of bookbinding simply don't apply.

"All my traditional techniques for binding books are impossible," said ACME Bookbinding President Paul Parisi. Zeff Hanower, a shop machinist, had to build an assembly line from scratch. ACME also used an "accordion" style of binding to ensure the book folded and held together properly.

Hawley said his research revealed that the biggest book in the Library of Congress was John J. Audubon's 19th century "Birds of America," which is 2.5-by-3.5 feet.



Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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