I read Alix Christie’s Gutenberg’s Apprentice in hard copy. As I read, it seemed appropriate.
We take the printed word for granted now, forgetting at times how very remarkable it was at the time to see words produced this way. This process has had an incalculable impact on our civilisation.
I still recall the thrill of seeing one of only about 20 complete Gutenberg Bibles in the Treasures from the World’s Great Libraries exhibition at the Australian National Library in 2001, and another in the British Library. Alix Christie guides us through the machinations and intrigues of Church and State in mid 15th Century Mainz, with inside knowledge of the processes gained through an apprenticeship to a letterpress printer. I realised as I read this book that I hadn’t really stopped to think how many people were involved in its production, or how many years the 180 copies of the ‘Gutenberg Bible’ took to produce.
The scribe Peter Schoeffer, through whose eyes the narrative is told, his step-father, Johann Fust, who was largely responsible for funding this epic production, Johanes Trithenius, to whom Peter Schoeffer related the epic struggle, are all historical figures. And of course Gutenberg himself, who had the vision and inventive mind to start the process. After the first two chapters I turned to Christie’s notes to confirm that the main characters were not fictitious, and the processes involved were also factual.
The Gutenberg Bible was seen as heresy. Until this point scribes, usually monks, had traditionally written the Bible and other sacred texts. Because of this heresy label the process of moveable type, and the production of a printed Bible, had to be kept as secret as possible.
If I have any criticism, it is that towards the end Christie’s imaginary lives of the main characters takes over somewhat. Knowing that Gutenberg and his team were eventually successful, I grew impatient to see the Bible in the marketplace. However, I found the descriptions of the processes fascinating, and the lives of all concerned and the enormous difficulties they faced were brought to life.
Reviewed by Guest Blogger Barbara, a Co-op Member since 2012.