The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance

Atlantic Monthly. Apr. 2021. 496p. ISBN 9780802158529. $30. HIST
When 11-year-old Vespasiano da Bisticci arrived in Florence in 1433, his first job was in a bookshop, binding manuscripts. He became, during his 40-year career, “the king of the world’s booksellers,” as one client described him. With customers who included Italian nobility and the wealthy literati of Germany, France, and England, he not only witnessed the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Latin philosophers and the arrival of the moveable-type printing press, but also the transition in book printing from papyrus to parchment to paper. In this fascinating biography, Canadian author King (Brunelleschi’s Dome) weaves Vespasiano’s story into the fabric of the tumultuous times in which he lived. Although the details about the history and mechanics of early Renaissance book production, such as ink manufacture and distribution supply chains, might be tedious in another work, here they add to the depth and enjoyment of the story. The result is a narrative about a man and his books, and so much more, including the origins and history of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the influence of Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press on the arc of history.
VERDICT Standout narrative nonfiction that will engage bibliophiles and readers who enjoy historical nonfiction.
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