"The Renaissance in Florence conjures images of beautiful frescoes and elegant buildings-the dazzling handiwork of the city's skilled artists and architects. But equally important for the centuries to follow were geniuses of a different sort: Florence's manuscript hunters, scribes, scholars, and booksellers, who blew the dust off a thousand years of history and, through the discovery and diffusion of ancient knowledge, imagined a new and enlightened world. At the heart of this activity, which bestselling author Ross King relates in his exhilarating new book, was a remarkable man: Vespasiano da Bisticci. Born in 1422, he became what a friend called "the king of the world's booksellers." At a time when all books were made by hand, over four decades Vespasiano produced and sold many hundreds of volumes from his bookshop, which also became a gathering spot for debate and discussion. Besides repositories of ancient wisdom by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and Quintilian, his books were works of art in their own right, copied by talented scribes and illuminated by the finest miniaturists. His clients included a roll-call of popes, kings, and princes across Europe who wished to burnish their reputations by founding magnificent libraries. Vespasiano reached the summit of his powers as Europe's most prolific merchant of knowledge when a new invention appeared: the printed book. By 1480, the king of the world's booksellers was swept away by this epic technological disruption, whereby cheaply produced books reached readers who never could have afforded one of Vespasiano's elegant manuscripts. A chronicle of intellectual ferment set against the dramatic political and religious turmoil of the era, Ross King's The Bookseller of Florence is also an ode to books and bookmaking that charts the world-changing shift from script to print through the life of an extraordinary man long lost to history-one of the true titans of the Renaissance"--
It's an interesting idea, tracing how certain books were influential in the Renaissance through the lens of a Florentine bookseller*, and how the coming of the printing press affected him.
The book is long, just over 400 pages, and it could and should have been shorter. The
The book would have been better and more enjoyable if it had had a strong editorial hand.
* slightly inaccurate term, but we have today nothing equivalent to the person who not only sold books, but arranged for them to be made, hiring the scribes, binders, etc.
Golden Age Florence was a a republic, a literate city that educated
It was also an age of cruel acts of vengeance, political intrigue and family wars, a time of plague, while the Ottoman empire threatened from the East. The church was in turmoil, powerless girls were married off or sent to an abbey, either way locked away from the world.
While some sought truth in Plato and Aristotle, others rejected anything but the Holy Bible and traditional Christian beliefs.
As one bookseller in Florence wrote,"All evil is born from ignorance, Yet writers have illuminated the world, chasing away the darkness." He was Vespasiano da Bisticci. He started life as an eleven-year-old assistant in a book shop, a stationer and bookbinder, doing manual work that required great strength. He went on to be renowned as the "king of the world's booksellers", a trusted friend to the wealthy and powerful and the scholar.
The Bookseller of Florence is the story of Vespasiano's career, set against the story of bookmaking during the shift from hand written and illuminated manuscripts bound in velvet and jewels to the mass production of the printing press. And it is the history of Florence and Italy during the early Renaissance.
Saving ancient manuscripts, copying them, and distributing them for scholarly study did not protect the texts. Without libraries to store and protected them, many sat neglected or where destroyed by fire and warfare, or carried off to disappear.
King covers a lot of territory! I was only vaguely familiar with Italian and Catholic history previously---and found it fascinating. I will read more! (Such as King's Brunelleschi’s Dome, on my Kindle TBR shelf.) I learned about every aspect of book making, the switch from papyrus to parchment to paper, the advances in writing fonts, how printing presses work.
Yes, the book is filled with a huge cast of historic people and events, but my interest never flagged. I was swept up in this epic history.
I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
I highly recommend this to readers who enjoy history and want to read it in an engaging and thoughtful form.
Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
I recognize that this is a personal interest Publish or Perish for Dr Ross King, but I really enjoyed it anyway. This is despite a few pages that I felt I was
I requested and received a free temporary ebook copy from Kensington Books via NetGalley. Thank you!
Too bad that I missed the Zoom at the Cuyahoga Library yesterday!
Although filled with details of Florentine intellectual
For someone interested in the transition from manuscript to printing, this book will prove illuminating. Ross also crams in details of many important intellects from the period.