Monday, August 16, 2010

Unmaking the Myth of Print ... from Gutenberg On

I just stumbled across Robert Pinsky’s recent New York Times Book Review piece on The Book in the Renaissance by Andrew Pettegree (read it here). It’s an interesting look at Pettegree’s demythologizing of the early years of print (now so revered as the modern iteration wheezes on in the sick ward) in the aftermath of Gutenberg’s revolutionary invention.

Turns out, despite his trailblazing ingenuity, Gutenberg “died bankrupt and disappointed.” Either he hadn’t quite figured out how to monetize his “hi-tech” creation (remember, everything is relative) or it simply took a few decades for the market to catch up to his idea. Apparently, piracy was problem right from the start, too.

And, in further evidence that human nature doesn’t change much, even over half a millennium, the first successful runs on the early printing presses were not what we would later come to know as the classics, but rather Renaissance pulp (albeit religious) and vanity (certificates of papal indulgences).

I doubt I have the time to dedicate to wading through Pettegree’s lauded scholarship, but I did enjoy Pinsky’s enticing summary ... and you might, too.

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