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The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe

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ISBN-13: 978-0521447706
ISBN-10: 0521447704
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Editorial Reviews

Review

'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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (February 26, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521447704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521447706
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,538,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 8, 1998
Format: Paperback
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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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Rolland H. Wright on September 28, 1998
Format: Paperback
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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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Brad McCormick on October 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
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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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
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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