Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Eli Whitney are readily noted inventors of tools that have been ubiquitous for generations or centuries, and most can figure Gutenberg as the inventor of the printing press. But what of the humble book?
The answer, or at least a well overdue exploration comes in the form of Bound in Venice, a new book from the Italian journalist Alessandro Magno.
The book explores the bustling Venetian state when it was both a cultural and financial powerhouse in the late 15th and early 16th century. It follows Aldus Manutius, a noted printer, statesman and dilettante, who basically invented the modern notion of distributing newly bound books to what passed for the middle class of his day.
The entire idea of books as portable portals of knowledge, as storehouses for both important and forgettable information and as a source of cheap entertainment, as well as everything that books have made or done, can be traced to Manutius and his luck, foresight and ability to work around the fractious and paradoxical nature of marrying art and commerce – something that still keeps publishers (and booksellers) up at night.
Everything from reading for pleasure, to the paperback book, to the illuminated manuscript, came on Manutius’ watch and it’s time he got the nod for this.
Magno has done a great job getting the feel of the time right. Bound in Venice reads like a travel memoir, a political thriller, and a love letter to the durability and power of the book.
With e-book sales leveling off, and indeed dropping in some genres, it would seem that the humble book would be around awhile yet and Bound in Venice is a great look at where it found its start.