A Literary Tour de France: The World of Books on the Eve of the French Revolution

Oxford Univ. Feb. 2018. 376p. photos. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9780195144512. $34.95. LIT
OrangeReviewStarOver the course of many years preceding the French Revolution, French authorities had set up a system of cultural control and censorship by establishing boundaries of legally acceptable forms of publication and a government-mandated licensing system, which regulated the book industry. Although the French attempted to close their borders to both piracy and all forms of illegal trade, book smuggling from neighboring countries was rampant and the public in turn filled its shelves with books produced outside of France. Based on extensive fieldwork and archival research, Darnton's (Carl H. Pforzheimer Univ. Professor, Emeritus; Harvard Univ.; The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History) work explores underground networks of the book trade in France and surrounding countries. Specifically, how titles were produced, distributed, and sold; which authors were popular; and the changing patterns of demand and reading tastes across Europe over time. In the process, readers also learn about different writers, publishers, printers, type founders, smugglers, warehousemen, traveling salesmen, literary agents, reviewers, and booksellers in prerevolutionary France.
VERDICT Deftly written, this thoughtful and well-researched work will appeal to a wide variety of readers; scholars and casual fans of printing history will enjoy this insider's look that is both informative and entertaining.

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