Gutenberg's Apprentice

Gutenberg's Apprentice

A Novel

Book Club Kit - 2014
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When his foster father, a wealthy merchant and bookseller, finances Johann Gutenberg and his printing press, Peter Schoeffer is ordered to become Gutenberg's apprentice and begins his education in the "darkest art" as they print copies of the Holy Bible, drawing the wrath of the Church.
Publisher: New York : Harper, [2014]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780062336026
0062336029
9780062336019
0062336010
9780062345301
9780062362124
9780062336033
Characteristics: 10 books + reader's guide in a cloth bag
Call Number: BCE

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LakeHouseJoe
Nov 07, 2016

This is a fascinating story, well researched and well written. In a few places I found the story line and conversations just a bit difficult to follow but that didn't detract from the overall great read that the novel is. If Gutenberg's personality and focus are accurately portrayed, it's fascinating to learn that God used this kind of character to accomplish His will.

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fandrgut
Apr 20, 2016

Invention of printing and early Church reform
I enjoy a novel with understated history, where the reader is left to fill in the blanks. This one is the best that I've read in a long while. The story is told by Gutenberg's star apprentice, Peter Schoeffer, to Trithemius, polymath Bishop of Sondheim, in 1485, some 35 years after the events. It's an account of the start of printing technology and business and its impact on the early Reformation (before Luther). The book traces Schoeffer's career, first as scribe and then as a master printer and publisher following Gutenberg. The business aspects center around Johann Fust, Schoeffer's adoptive father who acted as promoter and financier for Gutenberg's great innovation. Later the firm of 'Fust and Schoeffer' became a prime beneficiary of the Gutenberg legacy.
As well as history the book is a great introduction to the early technology and business of printing including German church and local politics, guilds and forlorn attempts at secrecy to forestall both competition and taxation. There's an especially good depiction of Gutenburg's personality, whose arrogance and hubris Schoeffer considers to have spoiled a great innovative effort. In that regard, I occasionally had trouble following the action. I'm not sure whether that's the fault of the writer or the reader.
Schoeffer, who became crew foreman, developed carving and type setting techniques essential to “the master.” The book involves technology business and a history of the times particularly as it applies to the Catholic Church of this Jubilee era that resulted in development of the new industry of publishing. The book is a fine depiction of the prelude to the Reformation under reforming popes Nicholas V and Pius II as aided by Cardinal Nicholas Cusanus with opposition led by Archbishop Dietrich, Elector of Mainz, and to some extent the guilds. It's a great history of pre-Reformation Germany under HRE Friedrich III, a reminder of reform struggles that predated Luther.
In between technology of printing, centering on printing of the first bible, and Reformation history there is some comic relief with a bit of romance. There were psalters and missals before taking on the bible printing that forms the centerpiece of the novel. We are reminded that the first reform centered around bringing the bible to the German populace. Continuation of the struggle, as taken up by Erasmus and Luther, would make a great sequel. Besides Gutenberg and his associates, Christie does an intriguing job of putting personalities on some under publicized historical figures like Trithemius (best known for the Trithemius cypher method) and Nicholas Cusanus, an early reformer. Why did Christie pick 1485 as the date for telling the tale? The year of Luther's birth, 1483, would have added a neat touch of irony. Perhaps an afterword separating fact from fiction would help. I would be interested in her sources. Curiously, the concluding account of the spread of printing from Germany via Switzerland and France omits William Caxton in England.
It's the best view of the Reformation, pre-Luther, that I've seen. The after events parts from 1485 read like Shoeffer's reminisces of Gutenberg's irascible personality excuse the theft of his ideas. A glossary, index and perhaps a chronology would enhance readability. Otherwise, this author's first novel doesn't leave much room for improvement.

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Einer2
Feb 24, 2016

Not an easy read for sure!! I think the tale could have been told in about half the words and perhaps with a bit more clarity.

ChristchurchLib Dec 04, 2014

Summoned home to Mainz, Germany, by his adoptive father, master scribe Peter Schoeffer becomes the apprentice of Johannes Gutenberg, who's covertly developing a system of movable metal type. Charged with keeping an eye on the wily, unpredictable Gutenberg, Peter initially chafes at his father’s orders but soon recognizes the world-changing potential of Gutenberg’s press when they begin work on an ambitious project: a printed Bible. But in a 15th-century Europe characterized by economic troubles, political unrest, and religious reform, bringing their masterpiece to completion will require back-breaking labor, utter secrecy, and (most importantly) preventing the reckless Gutenberg from sabotaging his own life’s work. Historical Fiction newsletter November 2014.

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WijayaG
Jul 27, 2015

"If the pope, the cardinal, the prior, could not have given Gutenberg a text to print, then they would choose and print their own"

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