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The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (1998)
by Adrian Johns
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0226401227, Paperback)Weighing in at 750-plus pages, Adrian Johns's sturdy tome is several books in one. At one level, it is a close study of print culture in early modern England, a time of civil war in which social and civic relations were being remade from the mores of feudal monarchy to a politics approximating modern democracy. In this transformation, the printing press was an essential vehicle for empowering the common people, and control over the publishing industry was contested among several parties--the government, authors, booksellers, the printers themselves. At another level, Johns's book is a study of the role of printing in the formation of scientific knowledge, a means whereby scientific discoveries could be widely circulated and codified. At another, it is a contribution to the sociology of communication, concentrating on changes in English society thanks to the press, through which a literate but remarkably isolated people who, an 18th-century writer observed, knew no more of the city and countryside outside their immediate neighborhood than they did of France or Russia, could become aware of the larger world--often over the objections of power-makers like Sir Francis Bacon, who urged that the people not be given access to information that did not immediately concern them.
Johns's book is dense with facts and quotations from the contemporary literature, but his prose is lightened by keen observation and telling anecdotes. (In one, Benjamin Franklin tried to make his way across Europe as a journeyman printer but grew so disgusted at the copious drinking of his fellow tradesmen that he switched careers, an accident that would change the course of history.) The Nature of the Book will be especially useful to those now tracking the communications revolution of the late 20th century, in which new technologies are once again changing power relations and supplanting old media. --Gregory McNamee
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:36 -0400)
In The Nature of the Book, Adrian Johns transports his readers back to early modern England and the cauldron of creative and commercial forces in which print culture was formed. His uncanny eye for detail allows us to visit booksellers' shops and the Royal Society, paper manufactories and type foundries. We can eavesdrop on the often-bitter disputes between authors and printers, printers and booksellers, clerics and intellectuals as they debate and resolve the meaning and rights attached to the creation of ideas, their appearance in written form and then in print, and the opportunity to sell, buy, and read printed work. Johns focuses on the interplay between the scientific and print revolutions and on their roles, both complementary and antagonistic, in the production and dissemination of knowledge.
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