"Scribes and Scholars" has become a classic. Now in the 3rd edition, it is a standard university textbook. It has also been translated into French with an additional bibliography by the great French scholar Pierre Petitmengin.
This books sets out to tell the story of how ancient literature travelled down the ages from the original authors to arrive in printed form in our hands. The focus is on the era to 1500, when printing takes over.
Everyone knows that before printing was invented, the only books were individually hand-copied. Reynolds and Wilson discuss the book trade of antiquity. The materials available - papyrus, parchment, leather and eventually paper - affect the story. The types of bookhand available in each era are discussed. When the Roman empire in the West collapsed, with it went not merely its military and political structures, but in fact every area of society, including the language itself. In the Greek East the picture was different, as Greek progressed on the long journey from Pericles to Papadopulous. Syriac and Arabic manuscripts are also mentioned. Each chapter has an interesting bibliography in the form of additional notes, which acts as a gateway into the literature.
The renaissance rediscovery is covered, in the only decent account in English.
Limitations? It would be very nice to have yet more footnotes. However this is hardly a criticism. Almost any section could easily be twice the length. I admit that I hanker for a longer book - yet this would probably be much less useful to most people.
One thing that becomes very quickly apparent is just how little material there is in English on this subject. The reader who seeks further information will find himself faced with non-English journals fairly quickly.
This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to get a real idea of just how our ancient heritage survived. Its easy reading too! Unreservedly recommended.