The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making Adrian Johns. pdf ebook
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press
ISBN: 0226401219, 9780226401218
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
By and large, our trust in the veracity of books goes unquestioned, a tacit assumption made possible by virtue of the concerted efforts of writers and printers at the dawn of print culture. Believing that attaining an understanding of this crucial legacy, and the complex nexus of knowledge and print, is key to appreciating many of the subtleties of modern civilization, Johns tracks the evolution of the book by focusing on the book trade as practiced in one hugely influential locale, London. In his exacting and often pioneering narrative, Johns chronicles the complexity of the craft, politics, and economies of printing and book publishing, with profiles of seminal individuals, discussion of the physiology of reading, and penetrating scrutiny of the rather shaky foundations of scientific, philosophical, and historical discourse. There has been a noticeable surge in new research into the history of reading, a line of inquiry inspired, no doubt, by the spread of electronic technology, a communications frontier begging for exactly the sort of rigorous standards that were applied to print four centuries ago. Donna Seaman