The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making

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In The Nature of the Book, Adrian Johns transports his readers back to early modern England and the cauldron of creative and commercial forces in which print culture was formed. His uncanny eye for detail allows us to visit booksellers' shops and the Royal Society, paper manufactories and type foundries. We can eavesdrop on the often-bitter disputes between authors and printers, printers and booksellers, clerics and intellectuals as they debate and resolve the meaning and rights attached to the creation of ideas, their appearance in written form and then in print, and the opportunity to sell, buy, and read printed work. Johns focuses on the interplay between the scientific and print revolutions and on their roles, both complementary and antagonistic, in the production and dissemination of knowledge.
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Editorial Reviews

Merle Rubin
A detailed, engrossing, and genuinely eye-opening account of the formative stages of the print culture we now take for granted....This is scholarship at its best.
Christian Science Monitor
Transports readers back to early modern England and the cauldron of creative and commercial forces in which print culture was formed, focusing on the interplay between the scientific and print revolutions and on their roles in the production and dissemination of knowledge. Looks at the culture and credibility of the printed book, the politics of printing, the mechanics of book production, and conflicts of intellectual property. Includes b&w illustrations. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A scholarly investigation of printing's early cultural history in England. In 1979 Elizabeth Eisenstein published a massively influential book entitled The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Books, she said, enabled a stable and fixed culture of learning that uniquely facilitated the rise of scientific knowledge-making. Now Johns (Sociology/Univ. of Calif., San Diego) aims to revise her findings in his own learned (if exaggeratedly contentious) study of books and publishing in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. In contrast to Eisenstein, he argues that a multiplicity of competing and idiosyncratic cultures of print emerged during that era and that the conditions of knowledge were far from uniform. While Johns concedes it to be true that printed books stabilized texts and led to a degree of fixity in available knowledge, he proposes that a variety of cultural contingencies undermined what in retrospect has seemed to be the objectivity of early modern scientific thought. Not least among these contingencies were the rampant and labyrinthine practices of book piracy, a circumstance that undermined the authority and authenticity of print. Johns also suggests that different printers and booksellers developed different models of accrediting and appraising the trustworthiness of books. Much is made of the lively rivalries among the various factions, and the fates of various scientific books and writers are explored in copious detail, including those of Sir Isaac Newton, Tycho Brahe, and others. It is Johns' overall strategy to emphasize the cultural and social factors that shaped the realm of the printed word, and in particular to underline the role that the mobile concept of "trust"(as opposed to verifiable fact) played in defining the culture of print that has come down to us. Relying on detailed knowledge of original texts and a magisterial view of the enormous secondary literature, Johns has written a fine-grained study with considerable force of argument.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226401225
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 754
  • Sales rank: 998,653
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 5.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
A Note on Conventions
1 Introduction: The Book of Nature and the Nature of the Book 1
2 Literatory Life: The Culture and Credibility of the Printed Book in Early Modern London 58
3 "The Advancement of Wholesome Knowledge": The Politics of Print and the Practices of Propriety 187
4 John Streater and the Knights of the Galaxy: Republicanism, Natural Knowledge, and the Politics of Printing 266
5 Faust and the Pirates: The Cultural Construction of the Printing Revolution 324
6 The Physiology of Reading: Print and the Passions 380
7 Piracy and Usurpation: Natural Philosophy in the Restoration 444
8 Histories of the Heavens: John Flamsteed, Isaac Newton, and the Historia Coelestis Britannica 543
9 Conclusion 622
Bibliography 641
Index 709
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