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The Book in the Renaissance (edition 2010)

by Prof. Andrew Pettegree

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157376,038 (3.92)4
Member:SalemAthenaeum
Title:The Book in the Renaissance
Authors:Prof. Andrew Pettegree
Info:Yale University Press (2010), Hardcover, 440 pages
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The Book in the Renaissance by Andrew Pettegree

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This award-winning book covers the early history of the printed word from 1450 to 1600. Although at times a lengthy read, the book is well worth the price of purchase for some of the fascinating mini-histories Professor Pettegree writes. For instance, his multi-chapter look at how Luther and his controversies fueled the early printing industry in Germany is fascinating, as is his discussion of how the first printers decided what to print and how to distribute their products. His chapters on the later 16th century print industry include such gems as a discussion of the development of fiction and how printers and the reading public dealt with the explosion of observable science.
Professor Pettegree’s most important contribution, however, is his insistence on the important of ephemera to the printing industry. Hand bills, posters, city ordinances, one-page publications of popular songs, news sheets full of monsters and portents all helped pay the printers’ ways. Although most of these everyday print objects were used until they disintegrated or were destroyed by wind and weather, they were quick to produce and usually profitable. Without them, many regional printers could not stay in business.
The book itself is quite readable, full of interesting stories and sidelights, and very suitable for college students. It is an important contribution to both cultural and intellectual history. ( )
  barlow304 | Oct 24, 2012 |
To start with an understatement, I will state that this book covers a lot. Pettegree covers a lot of history. More interestingly, though, is the amount of geography he presents. This is not a "Renaissance" centered in Italy, England, or France. Pettegree gives examples from eastern Europe, Scandinavia, England, and everything in between. This will be particularly useful to readers who have otherwise focused on a single region.

The biggest drawback to the book is the lack of depth required of such a broad project. More examples would always be welcome. There is a heavy emphasis on the book market, rather than exhaustive explanations of production in itself. There is a great deal of information on book movement, especially between 'centers of print.' These centers shifted, which Pettegree makes clear, though it can be difficult to keep these movements straight between sections. Notes are advisable, since some context overlaps. The book is divided into thematic sections. Thus, a detail about book production centers will inform another section, but the detail may or may not be repeated.

Image reproductions are clear and generally linked to the text. There are places in which more examples would be useful. There are also places in which examples are not available, but would be very welcome.
There are many notes, though they mostly give citation information only. There are few discursive notes.
There is a table giving the data on printed outputs in Europe through the 16th century. There is an index and a list of common abbreviations.

Pettegree's style is accessible without sacrificing rigor. He covers many topics, making this an excellent introduction to major themes of the 'Renaissance.' Every topic is discussed in relation to books and their production. Pettegree points out areas where research is yet to be done or where materials are unavailable.
If there is any overweening emphasis, it is on business. However, medicine, religion, politics, and 'mundane' items (e.g. calendars) are covered well. There is less about literature, though there is a section on "polite recreations." This might surprise some readers, especially literary scholars, who may be most familiar with the Renaissance as a literary period.

Overall, Pettegree's book is an excellent addition to the body of work on early modern books. It does not negate any others that I've yet read, but it certainly covers a great deal and thus presents a large number of directions in which to move.

I would recommend this book for readers interested in the early modern period, any of the countries/regions covered, book history, or any of the subtopics of the book. There are many uses for this book beyond the obvious. ( )
  rheaphine | Sep 13, 2011 |
Andrew Pettegree's The Book in the Renaissance (Yale University Press, 2010) examines the first century and a half of print culture in Europe, surveying its origins, its spread, its characters, and its impact on the western world. Straight away he makes the key point, that early print culture was shaped "less by the idealism of scholars than by pragmatic businessmen for whom the only books that mattered were those that turned a profit" (p. xiv) - and these weren't (for the most part) the great folio tomes we know and love, but cheap, short, disposable pieces of news, controversial literature, popular science and medicine.

Many of these productions, which Pettegree correctly describes as the bedrock of the nascent printing industry, have failed to survive at all, or if they do, it's in a strikingly small number of copies (his example, p. 333, that of all the sixteenth-century books published in French more than half are known in a single copy, was certainly enough to raise my eyebrows). Using the new technologies now available to us, Pettegree suggests that we can, "for the first time chart a coherent narrative of print, from the first experiments of the 1450s to the dawn of a mass information society" (p. xv).

Pettegree's opening chapters describe the early trials and tribulations of the printing trade, as processes of coordination were developed and commercialization schemes were launched (it became immediately clear, he notes, that jobbing work was going to be an absolute necessity when printing large projects, since the capital outlay for materials, &c. had to be made long before profits from book sales could be expected). He then chronicles the not-always-positive reaction to printing's spread, as readers adapted to the new medium and printers sought niches within which they might operate successfully. A survey of print networks follows, as Pettegree uses several case studies to chart the geographic connections between authors, printers, booksellers, collectors and others connected with the book world.

Given the author's personal research interests and previous works, it's not too much of a surprise that much of the book focuses on the Reformation's impact on the book world and print culture. While there are chapters centered around literary publications, news-sheets, schoolbooks, and other genres (medical works, emblem books, &c.), these (while good) didn't feel as strong to me as Pettegree's treatment of the religious conflict that engulfed Europe and played a major role in shaping certain aspects of the book world during the sixteenth century. The struggle led to the first decisive steps toward censorship, geographic shifts in printing centers, disruptions of the international book market, &c.

While portions of this book felt a bit scattershot (as if certain elements were added in an attempt to make the coverage comprehensive), for the most part it's a fascinating and readable exploration of European print culture in its early years. It, as well as the project Pettegree directs at the the University of St. Andrews, the Universal Short Title Catalogue, deserve wide notice.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2010/07/book-review-book-in-renaissance.html ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Jul 10, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030011009X, Hardcover)

The dawn of print was a major turning point in the early modern world. It rescued ancient learning from obscurity, transformed knowledge of the natural and physical world, and brought the thrill of book ownership to the masses. But, as Andrew Pettegree reveals in this work of great historical merit, the story of the post-Gutenberg world was rather more complicated than we have often come to believe.

The Book in the Renaissance reconstructs the first 150 years of the world of print, exploring the complex web of religious, economic, and cultural concerns surrounding the printed word. From its very beginnings, the printed book had to straddle financial and religious imperatives, as well as the very different requirements and constraints of the many countries who embraced it, and, as Pettegree argues, the process was far from a runaway success. More than ideas, the success or failure of books depended upon patrons and markets, precarious strategies and the thwarting of piracy, and the ebb and flow of popular demand. Owing to his state-of-the-art and highly detailed research, Pettegree crafts an authoritative, lucid, and truly pioneering work of cultural history about a major development in the evolution of European society.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:46 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"The dawn of print was a major turning point in the early modern world. It rescued ancient learning from obscurity, transformed knowledge of the natural and physical world, and brought the thrill of book ownership to the masses. But, as Andrew Pettegree reveals, the story of the post-Guttenberg world was rather more complicated than we have often come to believe. The Book in the Renaissance reconstructs the first 150 years of the world of print, exploring the complex web of religious, economic and cultural concerns surrounding the printed word. From its very beginnings, the printed book had to straddle financial and religious imperatives, as well as the very different requirements and constraints of the many countries who embraced it, and, as Pettegree argues, the process was far from a runaway success. More than ideas, the success or failure of books depended upon patrons and markets, precarious strategies and the thwarting of piracy, and the ebb and flow of popular demand. Pettegree crafts an authoritative, lucid and truly pioneering work of cultural history illuminating one of the greatest developments in the evolution of European society."--Book jacket.… (more)

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