Largest Book Ever Made on View in Minneapolis

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, May 13, 2005 (ENS) - A copy of the largest book ever made has been donated to the University of Minnesota Libraries and was unveiled during a special presentation Thursday in Willey Hall Auditorium, Minneapolis. It took a roll of paper longer than a football field and more than a gallon of ink to produce the book, “Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Himalayan Kingdom.”

The book was created by Michael Hawley, director of special projects at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At the presentation, Hawley explained the process of developing the book and presented slides from his expeditions to Bhutan.

An anonymous donor gave the book to University of Minnesota Libraries. Nearly the size of a ping-pong table, the book is now on permanent display to the public in the university’s Elmer L. Andersen Library, 222 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis.

According to Guinness World Records, the book is the largest ever made. It weighs more than 130 pounds and measures five feet by seven feet.

Hawley created the 112 page book in 2003 after conducting several research expeditions to Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom situated in the Himalayas between Nepal, India and Tibet.

Roughly the size of Switzerland but with a population of 600,000, Bhutan has been called “the last Shangri La” because of its rich ecology and unspoiled culture. The Bhutanese government restricts tourism. Only about 5,000 tourists are allowed to visit each year.

Hawley, a technology pioneer at the Media Lab and founder of pathbreaking research programs like "Toys of Tomorrow" and "Things that Think," fell in love with the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan while leading several MIT field expeditions there.


Michael Hawley and a friend photograph a Buddhist monk in Bhutan. (Photo courtesy MIT)
With seed funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and from the MIT/Microsoft iCampus initiative - a five-year alliance between MIT and Microsoft Research - Hawley led four expeditions to Bhutan over the course of four years.

Hawley conceived of the book as a way to advance the field of digital photography and showcase images of Bhutan, where, along with students and photographers from MIT and Bhutan, he captured more than 40,000 color photographs of the people, architecture, dance festivals, native costumes and daily life.

Teams of MIT and Bhutanese students, officials and staff flew by helicopter, rode mountain ponies, trekked with packhorses and yaks, and journeyed by caravan on roads and foot trails across the Bhutanese Himalayas. They had extraordinary assistance from the Royal Government of Bhutan and from Chhundu Travel and Tours.

Each photographic image is more than two gigabytes in size, stretching the limits of traditional digital printing techniques, and each edition of “Bhutan” uses a roll of paper longer than a football field and over a gallon of ink.

“Bhutan” is more than a technological innovation. The project has also allowed Hawley to share the beauty of Bhutan with a broad audience.

“We thought we could allow readers to literally step into this beautiful corner of the world - one which so few people will be blessed to visit,” Hawley said.

The completed book was originally unveiled on December 15, 2003 at the Explorers Club in New York. It was shown at invitation-only events at National Geographic in Washington, Seattle's Asian Art Museum, the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, and the exclusive Harry Winston Salon in Ginza, Tokyo.

Printed in a limited edition of 500 copies, the book is only available to patrons who make a contribution of $15,000 or more to Friendly Planet, Inc., a nonprofit educational charity that Hawley founded.

Contributions to Friendly Planet benefit the Ministry of Education in Bhutan, providing resources for the kingdom’s schools. As a result of such contributions, editions of the book have been given to libraries, schools and museums across the world.

For Hawley, opening the book is a visceral experience, he says. "We pushed technology hard, and for a higher purpose, and the images give a taste of an inspiring way of life in a truly special part of the world. All of us feel fortunate to have had the chance to work on this, and the fact that the funds raised will help young students gain an education makes us awfully happy."

Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries total more than six million print volumes, making it the 16th largest research library in North America.