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Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words Hardcover – March 29, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The invention of writing, the alphabet, and the Internet: these are three signal events in the history of human culture, joined by a fourth: Johann Gutenberg's introduction of movable type and the printed book to the West, the subject of this illuminating study. Of Gutenberg himself little is known, at least not until the 1440s, when the native of Mainz, Germany, began to apply techniques he had learned in the coin-making trade to the development of the printing press. (He had observed the work of men "who could carve a letter in steel that had at least six, and perhaps sixty, times the resolution of a modern laser printer.") His genius, writer John Man tells us, lay not only in the invention of the handheld mold for making type but also in developing a reliable technique for binding that type into a form, all of which required years of trial and error. The result, in time, was Gutenberg's famous Bible--not a "pretty book," Man allows, but one that would have a revolutionary effect. Full of details on the art of printing and the context of Gutenberg's time, this is a sparking detective study that will bring much pleasure to fans of books about books. --Gregory McNamee

From Booklist

In the fifteenth century, when Europe was not long out of the medieval age, the two halves of the Roman Empire were spiritually divided. Within Europe, the church was plagued by infighting among different factions of the clergy. The Renaissance had just begun. Europe was on the brink of a cultural revolution when a catalyst named Gutenberg invented the printing press. In this study, Man puts Gutenberg and the printing press in historical context by giving detailed pictures of the political situation in Europe at the time, on an international scale all the way down to a city level. He gives technical details on how a printing press works, and how to craft the movable type. In addition he gives a biography of the man, and attempts to construct a chronology of his publications. Man offers much speculation to fill holes in the historical record, but is very clear about what is generally accepted fact, and what is not. A heavily detailed account, but still accessible to a general audience. Gavin Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471218235
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471218234
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #525,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


I usually write non-fiction, mainly exploring interests in Asia and the history of written communication. So 'The Lion's Share', available only on Kindle, is something different - a new edition of a thriller written some 25 years ago when I wasn't sure what I wanted to focus on. It's about the 'real' - in quotes, i.e. fictional - fate of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia.

Most of the time, I like to mix history, narrative and personal experience, exploring the places I write about. It brings things to life, and it's a reaction against an enclosed, secure, rural childhood in Kent. I did German and French at Oxford, and two postgraduate courses, History and Philosophy of Science at Oxford and Mongolian at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (to join an expedition that never happened).

After working in journalism and publishing, I turned to writing, with occasional forays into film, TV and radio. A planned trilogy on three major revolutions in writing has resulted in two books, 'Alpha Beta' (on the alphabet) and 'The Gutenberg Revolution', both republished in 2009. The third, on the origin of writing, is on hold, because it depends on researching in Iraq. (On the fourth revolution, the Internet, many others can write far better than me).

My interest in Mongolia revived in 1996 when I spent a couple of months in the Gobi. 'Gobi: Tracking the Desert' was the first book on the region since the 1920's (those by the American explorer Roy Chapman Andrews). In Mongolia, everything leads back to Genghis. I followed. The result was 'Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection', now appearing in 20 languages. Luckily, there's more to Mongol studies than Genghis. 'Attila the Hun' and 'Kublai Khan' came next.

Another main theme in Asian history is the ancient and modern relationship between Mongolia and China. 'The Terracotta Army', published to in 2007, was followed by 'The Great Wall', which took me from Xinjiang to the Pacific. 'The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan' (combining history, character analysis and modern leadership theory) and 'Xanadu: Marco Polo and Europe's Discovery of the East' pretty much exhausted Inner Asian themes for me.

So recently I have become interested in Japan. For 'Samurai: The Last Warrior', I followed in the footsteps of Saigo Takamori, the real 'Last Samurai', published in February 2011. After that, more fiction, perhaps.

I live in north London, inspired by a strong and beautiful family - wife, children and grand-children.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I have had the privilege of seeing pages of a Gutenburg Bible. There is only one complete Bible that remains in a private collection, and the balance are part of the inventories of museums or places like The Library of Congress. An exceptional example can be found at The Morgan Library in NYC, and thanks to a special group of people the work can also be viewed on the internet. To give an idea of the value of one of these Bibles, the last single page I saw at an antiquarian book show was priced at $30,000. If an entire book were to come to auction the price it would bring would be measured in many millions of dollars. William Gates, CEO of Microsoft, paid in excess of $35,000,000 for the Leicester Codex, a one of a kind notebook from the pen of Leonardo Da'Vinci. That is the record ever paid for a single, "book".
As momentous a contribution that Gutenburg gave the world details about his life are few. Even when he had established himself as a printer of some renown, there are many years, and even groups of years that are blank, or filled by only supposition. There are times that the recording of a lawsuit is all that are available to document where he was at a given point in time. And as with many inventions that have changed the course of history, there are the usual arguments over who actually invented what, and then there are the pretenders that history had accepted for centuries.
Those expecting a biography of the inventor will not be satisfied by this book. This is less the fault of the writer than the lack of documentary evidence about the subject. What the reader is given in great detail is a description of history before during and after the printing press became a reality.
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By A Customer on August 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
One of the most delicate tasks when writing about history is to remain rigorous as to the facts while transporting the reader into scenes that feel like they are happening right now, just outside the door, the two-team oxcarts as real as today's FedEx trucks.
As his compatriots have before him, Mr. Man had relatively little hard fact to work with. For all that Gutenberg did for the profusion of the word, he left behind precious few of his own. Little is known about him until the 1440s, by which time he was somewhere in his 40s. He already was renowned for merging the techniques of the coinage trade with the casting of convex mirrorlike buttons, producing thereby countless medallions then in great demand by the trinket trade along pilgrimage routes. One of grander versions of these mirrors is depicted in Jan Van Eyck's "Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini." Think of Gutenberg as having devised the latest thing in 15th century Sai Baba buttons. Frippery perhaps this was, but it led to the development of modern type casting, the key element in the evolution of moveable type.
Neither Gutenberg nor even the Western devotion to practical technique were the first at this. At the other end of the Silk Road, as far on it one could get without walking into the sea, a genius surpassing even Gutenberg, Sejong by name, devised both moveable type *and* a written alphabet where "even the sound of the winds, the cry of the crane and the barking of the dog-all may be written." Fate-blessed Sejong was given not merely his intellect and inventiveness, but also the title "Emperor" before his name. This gave him no end of advantage over the average type founder and alphabet inventor.
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Format: Hardcover
Few people know much about Johann Gutenberg, but everybody profits from the gadget he invented. And the book _Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words_ (John Wiley) by John Man has to concentrate on Gutenberg's printing press. There is not really enough known about his life to make a biography, but Man's readable book makes a stab at summarizing what we do know about Gutenberg's comings and goings; more importantly, it reveals much of the history of his time and place, and explains how very quickly printing took over Europe.
Most of the documents we have on Gutenberg come from his business dealings (and court suits), for as Man portrays him, he was nothing if not a determined businessman. His first business venture involved pressing out mirrors, and perhaps there was a spark that inspired his more famous product. Somehow, and we will never know how, Gutenberg had the idea of making multiple cheap copies of the metal punch that stamps out letters. Man can't show the process of invention, but he can show the invention, the "hand held mould" which was not replaced until mechanical typesetting came along. The other revolutionary idea was binding the type produced by the mould into a "forme," which seems a simple procedure, but is full of complexities detailed here. Before tackling the Bible, whose printing for common folks was controversial, Gutenberg wisely printed a standard Latin grammar, astrological and fortune-telling pulp, and forms for selling indulgences, quick tickets to heaven. When it came time to print the Bible, he produced a stunner. Man rhapsodizes over its type, layout, and the invention of right justification.
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