books · libraries

The Enigma of the Giant Book


A minor mystery has been on the internet since 2013, and it revolves around the above image. This photograph, attributed to M. Peterka ca. 1940, seems to lack all provenance. One day an image of a man (or woman) kneeling in front of a giant book simply appeared. Though the image is often said to have come from the Archives of Prague Castle, the Librarian Shenanigans blog has chatted with the head archivist there who claims it is not from their archives.

To put the book’s size in context, it is not out of the realm of possibility that it exists. The Codex Gigas,”Giant Book” in English, from the 12th century is 36 inches tall, 30 inches wide when shut, and 8.7 inches thick. It weighs 165 pounds. The book in the mysterious Peterka image doesn’t appear to be quite that large, but it is odd that so many books in the image are “books of size”. Large books are fairly rare.

Alternately, the photo could simply be the result of photoshop. I am distinctly not an expert in the software, but the image’s shadows look odd, and this could very well be a composite image of 2-4 other photos. The photo manipulation theory is furthered by the fact that this image looks like it could belong in an archive, but if it had been digitized, the librarians certainly would have put out more information on it. (They really like providing background data, those librarians.)

So what do you all think? Is this a lost image that the internet has rediscovered? Or is it simply a clever use of modern technology? The romantic in me likes to think that the image came from a secret society and that the large books hold all answers to all of the world’s enigmas. The realist in me, however, has seen enough photoshopped images of cats in space to wonder.


15 thoughts on “The Enigma of the Giant Book

  1. I think it’s real. it’s definitely a woman (skirt, necklace) and an elderly one at that, so back in 1940 it would be quite possible for her to have been tiny by today’s standards – 4 ft 6 or so. Which would mean the books aren’t quite as huge as they would have to be if she was a foot or more taller. Plus it’s too good an image for me to want believe it’s fake… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that it’s a woman – she seems to be in a skirt, with a necklace and hair pulled back. The bit where she’s leaning on a massive book doesn’t seem to be photoshopped, but the background maybe could be. As you say, we would probably know about a library or archive that had books of such size (and so many). I’m actually wondering if maybe this was a set piece? It is very romantic and would be a lovely setting for a film/play? Especially the way the shelves are sort of tiered; it isn’t really practical but looks whimsical, as if created to set a scene.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know, but I think it’s fake. There’s something about it that doesn’t seem quite right. But I’d LOVE for it to be real. Because then it would be absolutely amazing and such a beautiful image to be remembered.

    Liked by 1 person

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