The Nature of the Book
In The Nature of the Book, a tour de force of cultural history, Adrian Johns constructs an entirely original and vivid picture of print culture and its many arenas—commercial, intellectual, political, and individual."A compelling exposition of how authors, printers, booksellers and readers competed for power over the printed page. . . . The richness of Mr. Johns's book lies in the splendid detail he has collected to describe the world of books in the first two centuries after the printing press arrived in England."—Alberto Manguel, Washington Times"[A] mammoth and stimulating account of the place of print in the history of knowledge. . . . Johns has written a tremendously learned primer."—D. Graham Burnett, New Republic"A detailed, engrossing, and genuinely eye-opening account of the formative stages of the print culture. . . . This is scholarship at its best."—Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor"The most lucid and persuasive account of the new kind of knowledge produced by print. . . . A work to rank alongside McLuhan."—John Sutherland, The Independent"Entertainingly written. . . . The most comprehensive account available . . . well documented and engaging."—Ian Maclean, Times Literary Supplement

The Nature of the Book Details

TitleThe Nature of the Book
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 15th, 2000
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
ISBN-139780226401225
Rating
GenreHistory, Writing, Books About Books, Nonfiction, Philosophy, Theory

The Nature of the Book Review

  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    This is a giant tome of a book. Six hundred and thirty pages of text and then another hundred plus pages of two bibliographies (which are surprisingly incomplete, one two accounts books I was curious about after being cited I couldn't find in either bibliography, but maybe I just didn't look hard enough) and an index. The book covers printing in England during the 17th and early 18th century (roughly), and focuses specifically on the use of books in the history of scientific thought for that per This is a giant tome of a book. Six hundred and thirty pages of text and then another hundred plus pages of two bibliographies (which are surprisingly incomplete, one two accounts books I was curious about after being cited I couldn't find in either bibliography, but maybe I just didn't look hard enough) and an index. The book covers printing in England during the 17th and early 18th century (roughly), and focuses specifically on the use of books in the history of scientific thought for that period. This is something I know nothing about. My knowledge of the 1600's is weak, and about early Modern science I'm even weaker. Out of the whole cast of characters who pop-up in this book (of which there are many), I know only John Locke with any kind of depth, and the names of Newton and Halley are familiar to me, but I'd be hard pressed to give you much information except that apple fell on Newton (am I even right about this?) and that Halley discovered a comet that last passed by us in 1986, exactly at the same time that George Lucas re-released all of the original Star Wars films to be watched one right after another. I thank Mad magazine for that knowledge, and the sort of strange memory of not being allowed to go see Halley's Comet by my dad on a Boy Scout trip, but that is another story all together, and one I should probably keep to myself or else share with my shrink. Gratuitous diversion aside, I'm trying to say I am not the ideal audience for this book, I love books and I'm fascinated by the history of them, but I don't have the background for this book. If I had the background to really get into the events going on I'm sure this would have been utterly fascinating because even with my ignorance I found this to be quite interesting. The story of early English printing is not what I would have expected. I've never thought about it, but this book basically takes as it's premise, why do we trust a book to be an authority? I'm not meaning this necessarily in why do we put more trust in books by one author than another, but why do we even believe that say this book that the cover says is written by Adrian Johns, an historian with credentials and everything, is actually written by him, or that it is even the text that he meant for us to be reading and not something other than what the title page and cover proclaim it to be? The story of how this kind of trust was built up is one of quite a bit of stealing, lying, deception, fraud, back-stabbing, piracy along with co-operation, alliances both formal and informal, laws, royal edicts and various techniques to preserve the authority of the original text against all kinds of dubious means of profiting off of someone else's work. A lot of the questions over legitimacy and Authorial control (the author being a concept that I didn't realize didn't even exist really at this point in history, the writer of the words being actually less important that the Stationers, such as the printers and booksellers of a given volume) are the same as we see now in questions about the internet and how can one trust the writings one finds there. More specifically the questions that haunt the accuracy and validity of wikipedia are similar to the questions people faced back in the 17th century about how can one believe what a text says that has been mechanically reproduced in a way that avoids the reader from knowing if corruption has occurred. Very interesting stuff written in a narrative style that lets the author give a shit load of information and details but in a way that flows nicely and informs the ignorant reader, such as myself, with enough to background so he doesn't get completely lost in this distant land of history and science.
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  • Rae
    January 1, 1970
    RTC
  • Joy
    January 1, 1970
    This is a must-read sort of book for anyone interested in media history. Here Adrian Johns tackles, and in my view carefully unravels, the mythology surrounding the "print revolution" and the existence of "print culture." The mythology is one familiar to anyone who has thought about printing and its effects on knowledge in the early modern era--namely, that printing enabled other sorts of revolutions in human knowledge, such as the scientific revolution. In this model, print stabilizes texts so This is a must-read sort of book for anyone interested in media history. Here Adrian Johns tackles, and in my view carefully unravels, the mythology surrounding the "print revolution" and the existence of "print culture." The mythology is one familiar to anyone who has thought about printing and its effects on knowledge in the early modern era--namely, that printing enabled other sorts of revolutions in human knowledge, such as the scientific revolution. In this model, print stabilizes texts so that they can be disseminated to broader publics, who can in turn develop that knowledge further. These texts themselves acts as agents of change, and the historical actors reading them participate in the shared community of "print culture."Not so, says Johns. In fact, the modern notion of "print culture" did not exist until hundreds of years following the invention of printing (actually, Johns says this notion finds its roots in late 18th/early 19th century associations with the French Revolution). In this book, Johns argues that the stability and fixity of print had to be constructed over a long period of time, through political and social means--not merely technological. In this way, the early modern reader picking up an edition of Shakespeare would have no idea as to whether it was faithful to the author's original version. Printers themselves took great pride in their editing abilities and often greatly altered texts for their own purposes-- all this aside from widespread "piracy." In fact, readers sought out particular printers or booksellers in particular areas of London to ensure that their editions could be trusted. Authors found themselves either sharing credit or blame with printers, or maintaining a strict watch over them. In short, printed materials were not trusted because they were printed as they are today; rather, people built relationships and societies of trust that determined the use and meaning of the texts themselves. Moreover, Johns challenges the notion that reading publics can be characterized as passive consumers of information. Instead, we (and they, too) read fancifully, connecting the ideas to things we already know, using and citing texts in creative, unintended ways. Readers have agency, and the power to transform the meaning of texts.The behemoth book can best be summed up as a "cultural history of print" and NOT a "history of print culture." The second description assumes the existence of print culture, taking it as the starting point, while Johns' book ends with the historical achievement of the mythology of print culture. If you're into this sort of thing, you must not miss the delightful and heated exchange between Johns and Eisenstein in the American Historical Review Vol. 107, No. 1, February 2002 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/5...). Academic warfare at its best!
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  • Meghan
    January 1, 1970
    This lengthy and discursive tome is certainly an effective corrective to a facile schema of the history of the written word, where modern print culture is envisioned arising from the invention of the Gutenberg press like Botticelli's Venus and contrasted with the most ridiculous and over the top caricature of manuscript culture imaginable. The actual story of print culture in early modern England is vastly more contingent and idiosyncratic, and this account is densely fascinating.
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  • Hollis Jack
    January 1, 1970
    A great read on the history of the book. It was a crucial part of my research when it came to my undergaduate thesis.
  • Brackman1066
    January 1, 1970
    The publisher's blurb does a nice job recapping this, so I won't bother. My interest in this book is the topicality (which Johns touches on in the last chapter) of this kind of book history to contemporary debates about electronic media and information. Since books are often posited as the repository of "stable" knowledge, the True Way to Wisdom under siege by the evils of "technology," it's good to be aware that 1. if we think that books are somehow stable and authoritative it's because people The publisher's blurb does a nice job recapping this, so I won't bother. My interest in this book is the topicality (which Johns touches on in the last chapter) of this kind of book history to contemporary debates about electronic media and information. Since books are often posited as the repository of "stable" knowledge, the True Way to Wisdom under siege by the evils of "technology," it's good to be aware that 1. if we think that books are somehow stable and authoritative it's because people made a deliberate attempt to convince us of that and 2. that books are a technology. The Books vs. Technology binary is utterly false.The ways that information anxiety played out in the past has haunting resonances in the present (wikileaks, anyone?). It's hard not to read this anachronistically just for those moments. In any case, this is a necessary read for anyone who thinks that eReaders, smart phones, twitter, et al. are inherently and morally wrong and that books are inherently virtuous and right. The very putting of such arguments in terms of morality is itself a relic of the past, in ways that Johns makes very clear.
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  • David Todd
    January 1, 1970
    I picked this book up four or five years ago while on vacation, but just got around to reading it in the last month. I want to like this and recommend it, I really do. But alas, I cannot. It's 650 pages of small font text, very difficult to read. I love books about books and printing (my dad was a printer), but this is so difficult I can't read it. I struggled through to page 46 before quitting. On page 45, in close proximity, were the words interlocutors, prolix, and otiose. I'm not stupid, but I picked this book up four or five years ago while on vacation, but just got around to reading it in the last month. I want to like this and recommend it, I really do. But alas, I cannot. It's 650 pages of small font text, very difficult to read. I love books about books and printing (my dad was a printer), but this is so difficult I can't read it. I struggled through to page 46 before quitting. On page 45, in close proximity, were the words interlocutors, prolix, and otiose. I'm not stupid, but I only knew one of those words without looking it up. And other pages are pretty much the same.The introduction runs through page 58. I'm stopping at page 46. I read the words, try hard to concentrate, but the writing is so involved and the concepts so difficult to grasp, that I'm not comprehending.I shall put this on the shelf, and revisit it in my retirement, when, hopefully, my mind will be able to concentrate and, with The Nature of the Book and a good dictionary in the other, and with my mind less cluttered than it is now, I'll be able to make more sense of this. On to something else.
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  • Andy Oram
    January 1, 1970
    There are several insightful reviews of this book on both Goodreads and Amazon.com. I'll just say that I wish the author put in more than two paragraphs about the obviously relevant links between the seventeenth-century codification of print practices he describes and the modern upheavals caused by the Internet. Johns probably decided it wasn't his area of expertise and that he was offering enough by describing what he knew of the 1600s and 1700s in England. Furthermore, the question of what "fi There are several insightful reviews of this book on both Goodreads and Amazon.com. I'll just say that I wish the author put in more than two paragraphs about the obviously relevant links between the seventeenth-century codification of print practices he describes and the modern upheavals caused by the Internet. Johns probably decided it wasn't his area of expertise and that he was offering enough by describing what he knew of the 1600s and 1700s in England. Furthermore, the question of what "fixity" means, or trust in printed materials, probably seemed less pressing in 1998 when his book was published than it means in 2010 as I read the book in the middle of a revolution in journalism and publishing. Still, it means that this book stops short of addressing the issues that really concern us all today.
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  • Eben
    January 1, 1970
    This is an excellent history of the nature of the book. Johns wrights in an approachable style and is comprehensive in his coverage. An excellent companion to his history of piracy and copyright, Piracy: The Complete History.
  • Fletcher
    January 1, 1970
    For a 650 page book (with a 60+ page bibliography attached to it), this book is best comprehended by a reader who is already quite familiar with the English Stationers' Company of 17th C. London. Which is to say that some editor somewhere failed to do their job on this academic tome.That being said, this is a very insightful look into the evolution of textual authority in the Anglo-world.
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  • Julaine
    January 1, 1970
    DONe
  • Bonnie Jeanne
    January 1, 1970
    The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making by Adrian Johns (1998)
  • Gail Deery
    January 1, 1970
    A cultural history must. Excellent.
  • Mir
    January 1, 1970
    This book confirmed for me that no matter how much I love books I have no interest in the development of printing.
  • Jonathan
    January 1, 1970
    OMG, I am so exhausted. But in a good way.
  • Julaine
    January 1, 1970
    Printing - Social Aspects
  • Sharone
    January 1, 1970
    Currently reading...very quickly!
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