cover image Gutenberg’s Apprentice

Gutenberg’s Apprentice

Alix Christie. Harper, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-233601-9

This detailed historical novel takes readers into Gutenberg’s 15th-century Mainz workshop to experience the frustration and exhilaration of designing, typesetting, and rolling the first printed Bible off the press. Focusing on contributions made by Gutenberg’s associates, the story follows the apprenticeship of future publishing pioneer Peter Schoeffer from the day Peter’s adopted father, merchant-investor Johann Fust, tells him to give up life as a Parisian scribe in order to learn a new trade using Gutenberg’s secret technology and techniques. For unhappy Peter, printed texts seem less sacred, and certainly less artistic, than hand-copied manuscripts. Demanding and sometimes devious, Gutenberg proves a difficult boss; worst of all, the equipment still has bugs to work out. Only when Peter comes up with his own innovation does he appreciate print’s artistry and power. Despite obstacles posed by the Church, guilds, family, and friends, Fust, Gutenberg, and Schoeffer’s tenuous collaboration culminates in the Gutenberg Bible. Contemporary readers suspicious of digital texts will sympathize with Peter’s mixed feelings towards print. History buffs will savor the moment the inventor, the scribe, and the merchant make a decision that leads them out of the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. Journalist Christie’s fiction debut descriptions of technical processes and medieval society are enthralling; the romance and personal melodrama are less compelling. At her best, she demonstrates a printer’s precision and a dogged researcher’s diligence in her painstakingly meticulous account of quattrocento innovation, technology, politics, art, and commerce. (Sept.)