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The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge…

The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (1998)

by Adrian Johns

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OMG, I am so exhausted. But in a good way. ( )
  jdanforth | Jul 10, 2013 |
We think of books as distilled artifacts of knowledge, immutable, capable of speaking across time and space, the same in the US and in France. But that wasn’t always true—books did differ, printing was a move in a larger game rather than a source of independent artifacts that could be removed from their contexts--and Johns tells the story of how books, and printing, came to be understood as a standard of fixation: how they became trustworthy. For example, “the first folio of Shakespeare boasted some six hundred different typefaces, along with nonuniform spelling and punctuation, erratic divisions and arrangement, mispaging, and irregular proofing. No two copies were identical. It is impossible to decide even that any one is ‘typical.’” Any book could find itself called a “piracy,” because authors and books were part of a struggle for authority. Also challenges the idea that copy-right as initially developed by the Stationers covered only exact copies; Stationers claimed rights against condensed versions, paraphrases, and translations; they even claimed control over entire genres. Stationers and licensers alsohad a complex relationship beforelicensing was abandoned; somelicensors were quite compliant, others didn’t read the books they licensed,and many fell prey to politics for allowing or not allowing certain books through. Long but very interesting, especially given that reliability of print is once again in question now that we have all these revision histories on Wikipedia and so on. ( )
  rivkat | Mar 14, 2010 |
I'll keep this until I read it!
  wfzimmerman | May 5, 2007 |
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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)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.… (more)

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