The Holman Christian Standard Bible has been in an awkward spot. Unfortunately named, it has struggled to gain traction among advocates for either a literary or literal approach, to say nothing of that smaller (but very devoted) subset looking for bibles with a better build than is commonly found in an era of mass production. Which is a shame - because while not perfect, the UltraThin Reference BibleCowhide edition of the HCSB merits consideration.
Admittedly, it may take a while for the UltraThin Reference Bible to grow on you. There are a few things that aren't initially palatable and take some getting used to. No, printing in China is not one of them - in fact, the paper quality and print job is acceptable. However, when reading the bible, one cannot avoid the occasional eccentricities of the HCSB translation itself. The editors would like the audience to believe this is a result of "optimal equivalency" translation. Having familiarity with the original languages, I tend to think it is more a matter of the HCSB translation trying to find its legs, as it were. Settling on either Yahweh or Lord for the translation of the divine name would help in this regard.
Translation eccentricities aside, the main knock against this edition is the typeface. Holman selected 2K in Denmark to produce the typesetting and layout for the UltraThin Reference Bible. In doing so, the followed the course of a number of other publishers, including those in the premium bible market, who selected the firm. Most notably, Schuyler's Quentel series garnered uniform acclaim for the clarity and readability of the typesetting and layout done by 2K. Sadly, the results in the UltraThin Reference Bible fall far short of nearly perfect job in the Quentel series. Where the Quentel typesetting is crisp, clear and pulls the reader in - even those of us who "have sworn off of" double column text in favor of single column. The UltraThin Reference Bible's typesetting is, by comparison, cold, sterile, and a more than a little off putting by the proximity of the font to the typical inter-office memo or text message. The theory behind this font selection, and hence the decision of go with 2K on it, was to have a text block that was immediately clear and easy to read. To this extent, mission accomplished. The trade off is a text block that frankly doesn't look like it belongs in a book, least of all a bible. It is understandable what Holman was aiming at, but the attempt itself fails to completely hit its target.
The bad news out of the way (and it may take a while to get over that hurdle depending upon the reader), the UltraThin is a really well built bible.
The leather is smooth, and limp almost to the point of feeling like it would melt in your hands.
There a five raised hubs on the spine. All things considered, they are nicely done.
Of course an important hallmark of a cowhide binding is flexibility.
This one, as can be seen, has flexibility in spades.
The bible has gold gilding. Admittedly, this is nothing to write home about. There are some better examples of plain gold gilding out there (JongBloed, LEGO, etc.) and there is sufficient demand for more art gilding.
Similarly, there is nothing too notable (either which way) about the ribbons. They are functional, but not silky smooth (if that is your thing). However, after a year of use, there is no indication they will fray in the immediate future.
This bible excels at the "Genesis-Revelation" test. It opens with no help from the reader...
The UltraThin Reference Bible does a good job at packing in text notes.
Aside from single column, an optimal bible will have detailed notes on the manuscript variants out there - providing the reader with a good appreciation of the full breadth of the textual tradition. Check out those notes in 1 Kings.
Note: Special thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this edition.