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The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe [Paperback]

Elizabeth L. Eisenstein
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 26, 1993 0521447704 978-0521447706
Although the importance of the advent of printing for Western civilisation has long been recognised, it was Professor Eisenstein, in her monumental, two-volume work, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, who provided the first full-scale treatment of the subject. This illustrated and abridged edition of Professor Eisenstein's study gives a stimulating survey of the communications revolution of the fifteenth century. It begins with a discussion of the general implications of the introduction of printing, and then explores how the shift from script to print entered into the three major movements of early modern times: the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of modern science.

Editorial Reviews


'This is a good and important book. The author's clear and forceful style makes it a pleasure to read.' D. P. Walker, The New York Review of Books

'Eisenstein has an intimate familiarity with the great narrative of modern history since the fifteenth century. She boasts an unsurpassed feeling for the strengths and weaknesses of the ways in which historians have explained great changes.' Commonweal

Book Description

This illustrated and abridged edition of Professor Eisenstein's major work, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, gives a stimulating survey of the communications revolution of the fifteenth century.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (February 26, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521447704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521447706
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #685,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astute, insightful scholarship on a crucial topic. September 28, 1998
Professor Eisenstein has answered a question I have been asking myself for thirty years. I knew that "modern" Europe consisted of institutions based upon the "individual" -- protestantism, capitalism, universal education and modern science -- and that these first arose in Europe about 500 years ago. But I could not answer why then? And why Europe? I suspected that it had to do with the rise of stranger experience but could not locate a convincing historical cause for it. Print literacy first occured to me as the cause when I read Walter Ong's book, "Orality and Literacy," which also happily cited Prof. Eisenstein's work. Her book convincingly implicates the print revolution with the rise of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and Modern Science.Her thesis made it easy for me to see how the other three institutions could be included as well and to see the role of print in spreading "individuation" and assumptions associated with it, such as the idea of progress. It is remarkable that historians have apparently ignored for so long the role of print literacy in creating modernity. Scholars, including myself, sometimes seem to find the obvious the most inscrutable. Anyway, my personal and heartfelt thanks go to Professor Eisenstein for answering my nagging question.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The printing press = the World Wide Web February 8, 1998
By A Customer
Occasionally, a book has initial, unseen qualities that must wait many years before society reaches a point where it can fully appreciate it. Dr. Eisenstein's wonderful work is actually an abridged version for the lay historian of her much longer, more scholarly and definitive two-volume work on how the printing press changed civilization.
Our transition from an industrial to a knowledge-based civilization will probably create the most extensive and radical transformation of our civilization since the printing press. Knowledge of how the printing press changed European civilization may help us understand the changes resulting from the Internet today.
As Dr. Eisenstein explains, the Protestant Reformation would almost certainly never have occurred without the printing press. Will there be an equivalent movement today? Dr. Eisenstien highlights how the printing press defined the linguistic and cultural borders of present-day Europe, encouraged the use and teaching of the vernacular, and eliminated Latin as the international tongue of the educated classes. I wonder, will the WWW again reconstitute our current Babel of languages into a single language, English, as it once atomized the common language of Latin among literate people?
Eisenstein illustrates the printing press' role as the chief cause of the elevation of the individual over the social unit during the Enlightenment. For the first time, individual authorship could exist in a way that was impossible in the age of scribes. It brought the kind of immediate personal fame and recognition that was inconceivable in the Dark Ages. Galileo's Siderius nuncius, for example, made him an overnight sensation.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read the *unabridged version*| October 10, 1999
This book is fine, but it doesn't really capture the full power of the unabridged version: "The Printing Press as an Agent of Change" (2 vols in 1; Cambridge Univ. Press -- possibly currently out of print). The unabridged version (which is still much too short!) is one of the great books of the 20th century. I just didn't see the abridged versino as really "bringing home" the significance of Eisenstein's theses about the effects of print technology on Western civilization.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the last 2 chapters were my favorite July 31, 2003
This is an excellent book to read if you are interested in the history of printing. Eisenstein's thesis is that the advent of the printing press is the most logical point at which the medieval period of European history ends and the Renaissance begins. She shows how many so-called innovations in science, religion, and politics were directly related to the ready availability of books-not necessarily to increased brilliance on the part of mankind.
Eisenstein disagrees with scholars who point to the lag between the press and the beginning of the Renaissance as proof that the press did not make an appreciable difference. Books, Eisenstein says, had to accumulate in order to make their presence felt. The lag was due to a sort of scholarly catch-up. First the printers rushed to issue the volumes that many people wanted but had been unable to afford previously. Once those were printed, disparities could become apparent. Scribes freed from the tedious process of copying books had the leisure to notice errors and disagreements among authors which had not been apparent when books were scattered and rare. This process caused a deceptive lag between the advent of the press and real improvements in cartography and science.
The last two chapters of the book were the most interesting to me. Among other things, Eisenstein talks about the way early Protestant printers beefed out their catalogues by referring to the Catholic Index (the list of books forbidden by the Pope). Once Europe became split into Catholic and Protestant nations, the Index had the unexpected effect of boosting sales for books listed on the Index, making some protestant printers their fortunes.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful analysis of the mother of all communications revolutions...
The sections of this book that interested me the most were the sections on the effect of
printing on the scientific revolution. Read more
Published on September 2, 2011 by Dave Kuhlman
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
This book was very informative, but was able to avoid the dryness that weighs down many otherwise interesting history books. Read more
Published on May 8, 2011 by Dylan
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely useful for understand both Reformation and Renaissance
Eisenstein's book details how printing changed our world. Not only the way ideas and information were communicated, but how we think, how we do research, how we interact, and even... Read more
Published on December 12, 2010 by James Huffman
4.0 out of 5 stars Printing triggered a communication revolution
Eisenstein, in the absence of literature on the consequences of the fifteenth-century shift from script to print, sees her work as a preliminary effort. Read more
Published on January 17, 2008 by James Hoogerwerf
5.0 out of 5 stars groundbreaking history of printing
Little was understood about the relationship of printing to the social movements of the Early Modern period before Elizabeth Eisenstein seized on the opportunity to give an in... Read more
Published on June 28, 2005 by Louisa Charlene Vacon
1.0 out of 5 stars Less then invigorating
I found Eisensten's book to be less then invigorating. She manages to contradict herself within the first five pages and is quite set on the fact that nobody seems to document the... Read more
Published on November 8, 2001
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