Largest Book Ever Published

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The NUC, Largest Book Ever Published


The National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints. A Cumulative Author List Representing Library of Congress Printed Cards and Titles Reported by Other American Libraries. Compiled and Edited with the Cooperation of the Library of Congress and the National Union Catalog Subcommittee of the Resources Committee of the Resources and Technical Services Division, American Library Association. London: Mansell 1968-1981, first and only edition, 754 heavy folio volumes, complete with supplements, publ’s stout green cloth with gilt lettered spines, in remarkably fine condition, no library markings or defects, pages and text block clean and bright.

Begun in 1909 and only finished in 1981, this is the largest printed catalog of books ever produced, comprising not just all the books in the Library of Congress, the second largest library in the world (after the British Library which is now slightly larger but for long was second only to the LC), but also the records from all other reporting North American libraries. A monumental and historic achievement, certainly never to be repeated again in print. This may as well be the largest and longest book of any kind ever published, (I’ve not found comparable contenders). It takes up 130’ on the shelf, weighs three tons, contains c.530,000 pages, and c.12 million titles.

B.H. Breslauer, in the preface to his and Roland Folter’s commemorative exhibition catalogue, Bibliography, its History and Development (Grolier Club 1984) notes: “This exhibition marks the completion of the National Union Catalogue Pre-1956 Imprints. This catalogue runs to 754 huge folio volumes and lists more than twelve million titles, many of them represented by numerous copies in libraries all over the country. These are figures which defy the imagination. This is an achievement, a feat of organization, ingenuity and research without equal in the annals of bibliography. It is almost idle to discuss or enumerate the uses of this edifice, so apparent are they and so manyfold. Seven hundred and fifty-four volumes, twelve million works — what would Callimachus, what would Trithemius, what would Gesner say? But this monument to itself is also something else, something even greater. It stands witness to the unquenchable thirst for knowledge, to the irrepressible and eternally optimistic belief in progress on the entire front of human endeavour through the acquisition of knowledge, and the certainty that books are the ultimate source of all progress.”

For those like me who feel a need, driven by some unknown force or agency, to know about ALL printed knowledge, this then is the Holy Grail, ‘the place of beginnings.’ So many rich veins buried in this goldmine, for example the 63,000 titles on the Bible, (separately indexed), and the massive author sections on Shakespeare and Plato. Much also must be said of the completeness and usability of these records compared to the transcribed, often error filled and truncated records that cripple the largest online library catalog, the OCLC WorldCat, whose records are, according to the Library of Congress “…not as complete or accurate as those created by the Library.” This is because the NUC is made up of photocopies of the library cards in LC’s unique card catalog, (here very well reproduced) i.e. the factual information recorded from the physical books by librarians, with all kinds of minutiae and additional notes added over the decades, as opposed to the OCLC records transcribed by semi-literate hacks. It is the closest experience you can have to physically being in the Library of Congress, which has kept their oaken card catalog. Most libraries threw out their LC card catalogs in the 1980’s, some even burning them in pathetic, hubris fueled bonfires of ‘celebration’ and had shooting parties where they blew them away with shotguns, (read Nicholson Baker on that ugly chapter in librarianship). Excellent details on the NUC can be found in College & Research Libraries (2008),, and also the LC’s own comments on internet discrepancies here:, (they advise checking the printed catalog for any thorough research). Rarely do sets come on the market, in 2018 there was one set, on Abe, a branded ex-lib set for $12,500, (now apparently sold or removed). NB: When published nearly every set was destined for libraries, so ‘ex-lib’ is the state they are almost always found in.