- Paperback: 794 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (September 30, 1980)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521299551
- ISBN-13: 978-0521299558
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #153,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Trans (Complete in One Volume)
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Originally published in two volumes in 1980, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change is now issued in a paperback edition containing both volumes. The work is a full-scale historical treatment of the advent of printing and its importance as an agent of change. Professor Eisenstein begins by examining the general implications of the shift from script to print, and goes on to examine its part in three of the major movements of early modern times - the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of modern science.
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this amazing book not only showed me the impact of print culture human learning, it, perhaps more importantly, showed me what human learning was like BEFORE the ability to standardize texts through printing.
be warned: it's dull as dirt.
I will caution, however, that this is a very academic book. She spends a fair amount of time refuting people who disagreed with her. It is also designed for historians. I'm no dummy, but some stuff went over my head. (If you know the following phrases and people, you'll be fine: Plutarch, incunabula, Tridentine, Rabelais, Marlowe, the _Digest_, Cujas.)
I gave it five stars because it was definitely worth slogging through, but I wish I had gotten the abridged version instead.
Excellent history and philosophy reading when you look at it from the right angle. It ranks up there with Drahos - Philosophy of IP, Kuhn's, Sorensen's thought experiments, Thoreau's selected journals, Dewey's how we think and Einstein's ideas and opinions.
Eistenstein spends almost all of her energy commenting on what other historians have had to say about the effect of the printing press, and only very rarely does she state an actual effect that it had, or, really, any important fact of history. Again and again she says that the subjects she really cares about have not been addressed by anyone, but this does not inspire her to address these subjects. Instead, she reviews the literature -- oh, how she reviews it! This book consists almost entirely of Eisenstein's vague comments on assertions of other writers about the effect of the printing press. Since she doesn't feel anyone has written anything of great interest about the subject, this obviously does not go well. There's is lots of on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand here: Eisenstein warns us not to make too much of the differences between scribal culture and printing culture -- and also not to make too little! Only after much careful reading will you catch her describing those differences and their impact, and they are described only a very general way. There are no interesting stories about print shops, libraries, clerics, scholars, or printing technology. There are no stories about interesting people. There are no descriptions of the geographic spread of particular ideas. She does not bring to life the effect of having thousands of copies of a book available. There are no numbers for how many books a given person might have had access to before versus after the printing press. There are no numbers about changing literacy rates. We can go on naming interesting subjects all day -- the first 190 pages of this book have nothing interesting to say about any of them.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Eistenstein's book is its treatment of the Reformation. One reaches page 163 (the end of the "introductory" chapters) without her saying what she thinks the effect of printing on the Protestant Reformation was. The Reformation is widely considered by people who write about printing to be the most important cultural event influenced by printing, so this seems, at best, very poor organization. Does she have anything interesting to say about the Reformation at all? Looking ahead to page 303, where her chapter about the Reformation begins, I slogged through four pages, again with very little to say, until she raised a number of questions -- e.g. "How did it happen [so quickly that Luther's Theses] won top billing throughout central Europe?" Perhaps she is about to say something interesting? Instead, she concludes "These questions cannot be answered in detail here." And that, my friends, was the end of my patience.
Finally, this book compares very poorly to John Man's The Gutenberg Revolution. Man's book is mainly about the activities of Gutenberg himself, but along the way it does say a bit about the effect of the printing press. There's much more information to be had there than here.