World of the book

Explore a world of ideas and imagination in this exhibition showcasing the history of book design, production and illustration.

01 January 201931 December 2019
Location Dome Galleries, Level 4
The Dome
Accessibility Has wheelchair access

About the exhibition

Explore a world of ideas and imagination in this one-of-a-kind exhibition showcasing the history of book design, production and illustration from the Middle Ages to today.

See rare medieval manuscripts and sacred texts, magnificent natural history and botanical illustration, stunning modern artist books and fine press editions, as well as pioneering Australian classics, children’s books, graphic novels and comics. 

From books that break the mould to books that changed the world, World of the book celebrates the unique place books have in our hearts and minds.

More than 250 new items dating from 2050 BC to the present day are now on display. Thematic sections cover:

  • Books and ideas – medieval manuscripts and early printed books, sacred texts from around the world and from different religious traditions, alongside books that changed the world, including key works of philosophy and political thought
  • Books and imagination – famous works from the literary canon (such as the legends of King Arthur and the works of Geoffrey Chaucer), modernist classics by Gertrude Stein, children’s books, Australian authors, 1930s sci fi magazines, and Australian pulp fiction
  • Exploring the world – atlases, maps and travel journals from European voyages of discovery from the 16th century onwards, with a special focus on Australia and the South Pacific region; and richly illustrated works of natural history
  • Art and nature – botanical art and landscape design from the 16th century to today, drawing on works by key artists, designers and botanists, such as Pierre Joseph Redouté, John Sibthorp, Humphry Repton, Edna Walling and Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Artist and books – including fine bindings from the John Emmerson Collection, Japanese woodblock printed books, magnificent engravings of ancient Rome’s ruins by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and contemporary Australian graphic design and artist books. 

More for kids

Don't forget to pick up your Young explorers' trail booklet from the entrance to the exhibition so that children aged 5-12 can discover World of the book for themselves.

Plan your visit

The World of the Book exhibition is open Friday to Wednesday 10am–6pm, and Thursday 10am–9pm, except for public holidays.

Captions from World of the book design

Ron King, ‘Squire’ from The Prologue from The Canterbury Tales: Text Based Mainly on the Ellesmere MS (London, Circle Press, 1967) Reproduced by kind permission of Ron King.

Alison Forbes, cover design for Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (Melbourne, Cheshire Press, 1967) Reproduced by kind permission of Alison Forbes.

Tara McLeod, F & X TYPO Design (Auckland, Pear Tree Press, 2011), Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria. Reproduced by kind permission of Tara McLeod.

Phillip Franz Von Siebold, Nippon: Archiv zur beschreibung von Japan und dessen neben- und Schutzlandern … [Nippon: A Description of Japan and Its Neighbouring and Protected Lands] (Lyden, Der Verfasser, 1852) Detail. 

Pierre D’Hancarville, Antiquites Etrusques, Grecques et Romaines [Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities], (Naples, William Hamilton, 1766–67.)