John Man

Read February-March 2003

I bought this book in Frankfurt, in preparation for a trip to Mainz; sadly, the Gutenberg museum was closed (yet again!), so it was a bit for naught.

Given the somewhat spotty historical record on Gutenberg, Man has to make the most of what he has. He cobbles together mildly interesting trivia (such as where the name Gutenberg comes from), some historical analysis (the intertwined lives of some notable people in those interesting times), some social history (his portrait of Mainz is rather compelling), and the mingling of economics, religion and politics (such as an extended bit about Catholic liturgical material, and Martin Luther). But much of this doesn't really go anywhere. Having made the man, rather than the invention or its effect, the focus of his story, the author realizes he's compelled to make us think the world of Gutenberg—an unnecessary and pointless exercise.

The one thing I did learn to appreciate from this book is just how remarkably beautiful Gutenberg's Bibles are. The author points us to the details, and we can only marvel. For once, reality does justice to his hype.