The book about the books. That’s how you can summarize the work of Adrian Johns owner of numerous prizes, i.a. the Louis Gottschalk Prize, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Award (1998-2009), the Professional / Scholarly Publishing Division’s Award for Best Book in the History of Science and Technology, the Association of American Publishers Award (1998), of the Book History Prize, the Society for the History of Authorship Award, Reading and Publishing (1998), the Leo Gershoy Award, the American Historical Association Award (1999).
The book “The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making” is an inspirational story of how writers, book printers, booksellers and readers compete for the power over the printed paper. Adrian Johns’ examples date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, but the questions he raised about the trusted relationship between a reader and a book are still valid today.
So what do we not know about the books, according to the author:
- Who invented the printing? Do you actually believe that is Gutenberg? Think again. The good man from Mainz certainly existed, but the evidence of his activity is controversial. No book has its name, nobody knows exactly how he looked like.
- The most prominent candidate for the inventor of printing is Faust, the legendary magician who sold his soul to Mephistopheles. A name confusion supports this story: Gutenberg’s accountant is a banker called Fust, which Latin name becomes Faustus. The relationship between the print press and the magical ability becomes attractive and soon begins to reproduce in a variety of forms.
- From its invention, typography aims to be both science and art. Following the tradition of classical architecture and mathematics, typographers believe that letters should only be created from combinations of geometric shapes – circles, squares or polygons.
- Piracy of Intellectual Property is not at all an invention of modern society. Long before modern hackers, the first “pirates” appeared shortly after the invention of the printing press. Around 1525, Martin Luther understood that unauthorized versions of his German Bible were printed at prices 90 times below those negotiated with his own printers. Piracy takes over the printing world and takes away the trust in any real book. Copyright is gaining popularity and aims to distance piracy from printing, as well as criminalize excessive printing.
- What is reading? Descriptions of reading experience – physiological and psychological processes – vary over time. In the Renaissance, physicists and philosophers turn to magic, theology and anatomy to explain the effects of reading. Today, we count on psychology. The truth is that when we start reading, we enter into an involuntary conversation with the men, women and children of the past.
Keep this all in mind the next time you open up the classical literature.