Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Wordsby John Man
In 1450, western Europe's books were all handcopied and amounted to no more than a single modern library. By 1500 they were printed and numbered in the millions, bringing about the biggest changes in human culture since the invention of the alphabet. The man responsible for this was Johann Gutenberg. This absorbing book explains how this technical genius struggled against a background of plague, religious upheaval, and legal battles to bring his remarkable invention to light.
Compared to the printing press revolution, the Internet one is small potatoes. Before Europe's first printed book in 1455, information was carried in hand-copied volumes so expensive they could be owned only by priests and aristocrats. Then in "a historical eyeblink," John Man writes, a book that took two months to copy by hand could be turned out at the rate of 500 a week. Little is known with certainty about Johann Gutenberg, the man behind the change, not even his year of birth (traditionally given as 1400). But Man suggests that Gutenberg may have developed printing technology while trying to cash in on a craze in the 1430's for small mirrors, used by pilgrims to capture the healing powers of relics at Charlemagne's tomb. The mirror-making venture bogged down in legal disputes between Gutenberg and his partners, but surviving court records contain mysterious references to "another secret art" perhaps the hand-held mold that could mass-produce metal type. Gutenberg intended to make a fortune publishing the first universal missal, but when clerics could not agree on an authorized text, he settled on his second choice, the Bible. By 1500, more than 15 million books had been printed in Europe. At the heart of Man's enchanting narrative is Gutenberg's place as an early capitalist, an entrepreneur, deprived of patrician status by his mother's modest background, who set out to strike it rich in business. MICHAEL DONOHUE (New York Times Book Review, August 18, 2002)
- MJF Books
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- 5.94(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.12(d)
Meet the Author
JOHN MAN is a historian with a background in German studies and the history of science, with a special interest in Mongolia. He also wrote Gobi: Tracking the Desert and The Atlas of the Year 1000. Gutenberg is a natural successor to his previous book, Alpha Beta, also published by Wiley, which explores the origins and impacts of the alphabet. He lives in London.
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