If you visit the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street you will, no doubt, find yourself in the magnificent McGraw Rotunda which is famous for its huge four-panel mural called The Story of the Recorded Word. One of these panels, Gutenberg Showing a Proof to the Elector of Mainz, depicts Johannes Gutenberg, the German printer and publisher whose introduction in Europe of movable type printing and the invention of the printing press helped to usher in what we think of as the modern world. His most famous production was, of course, The Gutenberg Bible, which first appeared on or around February 23, 1455. Communication, including the dissemination of knowledge, was changed forever. The fact that books printed in this way were inexpensive and widely available led to controversies throughout the continent but there is no denying that Gutenberg’s invention was one of the most important in history.
For more about the Gutenberg Bible (the New York Public library owns a copy!) check out Mankind’s Greatest Invention and the Story of the First Printed Bible by John M. Fontana.
For more about Gutenberg himself, try Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World With Words by John Man
If you’re interested in how the existence of books, and libraries, has often been challenged, and defended, throughout history check out Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles.
For an interesting fictional take on a controversial printing project in Renaissance Venice try The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric.
As far as revolutionary ideas go, few would argue that the Internet continues to change the way we communicate…and think. The February 14th issue of The New Yorker features an article by Adam Gopnik in which he addresses this phenomenon with his characteristic humor by profiling a series of new titles that are, as he describes them, “books explaining why books no longer matter”. Provocative and definitely worth checking out.