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Customer Review

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Primarily Historical Secondarily Biographical, July 9, 2002
This review is from: Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words (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. The Bible that is so routinely associated with the name of Gutenburg has certain volumes that are not only exceptional for the type but also for the decoration that was produced. The fragment of the picture on the cover only hints at the beauty of these books.
And this is the greatest criticism I have of this book. The work of Gutenburg was visual, and in many examples exceptionally beautiful. I cannot reconcile these facts with a book that offers a single black and white photograph of one page of this historic Bible. The invention of the press that Gutenburg created is exceptional, and exceptionally complicated. All the reader is offered is a brief description on how complicated it is, and two pages with a handful of drawings that raise more questions than they answer. The author should have let readers decide how much effort they wished to invest to understand this invention rather than presuming readers would be pleased with the barest of details.
If you have never read anything about this topic, the book will serve you better than if you already have knowledge in excess of the name of the man and what he created. The author also makes note of the idea that someday all books could be in electronic form and stored in, "hyperspace". I hope he meant cyberspace.
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