Once upon a time only rich people could read books. They were luxury items handwritten and lavishly decorated, as befits a high status object. Then along came Gutenberg and changed all that. Now, the future of books themselves is in doubt and you will be reading this on electronic media just as I read ‘Gutenberg’s Apprentice’ on a Kindle. Alix Christie takes real people and real events and imagines how the first information revolution might have started.
Peter Schaeffer was happy to be learning how to be a scribe in a prestigious Parisian monastery when his uncle summoned him back to plague ridden Mainz. Johann Fust is a Goldsmith by guild and training but he also has a thriving book selling business. He wants his nephew back home to oversee an exciting new and secret investment. Johann Gutenberg has an idea that will bring books into the hands of the masses but needs capital. The Roman Catholic Church and its powerful Prince Bishops want to keep control of the means of production.
Alix Christie hurls us into the busy streets and the bitter rivalry between Guildsmen and Church of medieval Germany. A printing press is not as simple as moveable letters and ink. What kind of metal do you need to produce the letters, what kind of a type face, which ink recipe? All these issues I could have guessed at, but the need for complete secrecy in the face of a Church anxious to keep control of books was an aspect that I had never thought of before.
Woven in through the gripped technical and political tale is a love story. Boy meets girl, they fall in love and there are barriers to be overcome. Will they or won’t they? Every year the book trade meets in Frankfurt. At the end of the fifteenth century twice a year merchants and crafts people travelled to Frankfurt from all over Europe to buy and sell goods. It was here that the Gutenberg bible was first put on display and sale, in effect starting the ball rolling for the Book Fair which still goes on today.
Gutenburg’s Apprentice is an excellent retelling of the story of how the printing press came into being. Mr CW and my Mother have both rested my Kindle out of my hands and read the book from cover to cover too. Whether you select a paperback or electronic version it will be a worthy addition to your holiday luggage.
Disclaimer: NetGalley sent me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie. Published by Headline Review.