Book Review - Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words

PrintWeek India looks at four books from varied genres which are informative, based on true events and inspirational, with print and its power as a medium central to all of them.

05 Dec 2013 | By Mihir Joshi

Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words

Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words is a biography about the Father of the Printing Press by John Man, who usually writes non-fiction, mainly exploring interests in Asia and the history of written communication.

For all that Gutenberg did for the profusion of the words, he left behind precious few of his own. Little is known about him until the 1440s, by which time he was somewhere in his 40s. John Man concentrates on Gutenberg's printing press. There is not really enough known about his life to make it full-fledged biography, but Man's book tries to summarise what we do know about Gutenberg's comings and goings; more importantly, it reveals much of the history of his time and place, and explains how very quickly printing took over Europe.

Most of the documents we have on Gutenberg come from his business dealings (and court suits). His first business venture involved pressing out mirrors, and perhaps there was a spark that inspired his more famous product. Somehow, and we will never know how, Gutenberg had the idea of making multiple cheap copies of the metal punch that stamps out letters. Man can't show the process of invention, but he can show the invention, the "hand held mould" which was not replaced until mechanical typesetting came along.

Those expecting a biography of the inventor will not be satisfied by this book. This is less the fault of the writer than the lack of documentary evidence about the subject. What the reader is given in great detail is a description of history before during and after the printing press became a reality.