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The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Canto) Paperback – 26 Feb 1993

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New edition edition (26 Feb. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521447704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521447706
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 801,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


'This is a good and important book. The author's clear and forceful style makes it a pleasure to read.' D. P. Walker, The New York Review of Books

'Eisenstein has an intimate familiarity with the great narrative of modern history since the fifteenth century. She boasts an unsurpassed feeling for the strengths and weaknesses of the ways in which historians have explained great changes.' Commonweal

Book Description

This illustrated and abridged edition of Professor Eisenstein's major work, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, gives a stimulating survey of the communications revolution of the fifteenth century.

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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book to read if you are interested in the history of printing. Eisenstein's thesis is that the advent of the printing press is the most logical point at which the medieval period of European history ends and the Renaissance begins. She shows how many so-called innovations in science, religion, and politics were directly related to the ready availability of books - not necessarily to increased brilliance on the part of mankind.
Eisenstein disagrees with scholars who point to the lag between the press and the beginning of the Renaissance as proof that the press did not make an appreciable difference. Books, Eisenstein says, had to accumulate in order to make their presence felt. The lag was due to a sort of scholarly catch-up. First the printers rushed to issue the volumes that many people wanted but had been unable to afford previously. Once those were printed, disparities could become apparent. Scribes freed from the tedious process of copying books had the leisure to notice errors and disagreements among authors which had not been apparent when books were scattered and rare. This process caused a deceptive lag between the advent of the press and real improvements in cartography and science.
The last two chapters of the book were the most interesting to me. Among other things, Eisenstein talks about the way early Protestant printers beefed out their catalogues by referring to the Catholic Index (the list of books forbidden by the Pope). Once Europe became split into Catholic and Protestant nations, the Index had the unexpected effect of boosting sales for books listed on the Index, making some protestant printers their fortunes.
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Interesting read
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars 13 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely useful for understand both Reformation and Renaissance 12 Dec. 2010
By James Huffman - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Eisenstein's book details how printing changed our world. Not only the way ideas and information were communicated, but how we think, how we do research, how we interact, and even how censorship in one area (e.g., censorship of Protestant writings in Catholic areas inadvertently curtailed scientific publishing as well). She has recognized implications and trends that have not even yet been fully worked through in our culture, and this necessarily limited survey doesn't even touch on other technologies through the centuries since the printing revolution: movable type, telegraph, telephone, computer technology, and the net.

The book can be dry at times (even in this relatively short book, she's covering a lot of material) but it is well worth the reading. To get an idea of how she thinks, this is a useful video featuring her as well:

5.0 out of 5 stars A good read 20 Feb. 2015
By Dean Booth - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is one of the most insightful books I've read recently.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 23 Feb. 2015
By Danielle McGregor - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good condition. Worked out well.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful analysis of the mother of all communications revolutions and its implications 2 Sept. 2011
By Dave Kuhlman - Published on
Format: Paperback
The sections of this book that interested me the most were the sections on the effect of
printing on the scientific revolution. Eisenstein argues that the scientific revolution
either would not have happened or would have been impeded without printing. And, she
prevents plenty of examples to make this a convincing claim. In general the ability to
publish and print affected the progress of science in the following ways:

- Tools -- Scientific research was enabled and facilitated by printed materials. For
example, logarithm tables were needed to enable astronomers to make the accurate
measurements and observations needed so that they could compare results.

- Communicating results -- Printing enabled scientists to publish and distribute their
results. This enabled them to compare and discuss their results, then to subject those
results to verification and to tests of consistency with proposed theory and claims.
All this enabled scientists and their avid fans to revise and correct their claims and
the observations that they recorded in support of those claims in ways and at a speed
that had never before been possible.

Eisenstein, in effect, is arguing that the scientific revolution would not have happened
when it did, if it were not for the rapid increase in the availability of printing and the
ability of scientists and those who support them to publish their results and materials.

It's especially fascinating because Eisenstein does not ignore the need for explaining
motivations. In particular, her account makes clear how the profit motive played a
significant part in the drive to publish scientific materials. She even describes how the
listing of banned materials in the Catholic church's Edict or Index of 1616 and 1633 was
used to promote published books and to drive sales. Excitement drives sales and profits.

One of the astonishing aspects of this story about the effects of printing on science and
the scientific revolution is how modern it seems, perhaps more modern than we, in the
U.S., are today. Apparently, in spite of the religious conflicts, they in the 17th and
18th centuries, were able to resolve the issues around a sun- centered solar system and an
earth-centered solar system. But, in our age, in the U.S., at least, we are still arguing
about creationism. We actually have nationally know politicians who advocate teaching
creationism in U.S schools, along side of the theory of evolution. For those of you in
more enlightened countries, please forgive me for being obsessed over this.

What interests me about Eisenstein's account of the effect of printing on the scientific
revolution in particular is how it can help us understand the effects of recent changes in
communication technology the progress of science and the development of technology, today.
For example:

- Researchers can now make huge volumes of research data available on public (or not so
public) data bases. That means that some scientists can concentrate on analysis rather
than data collection and that the amount and range of data that they have to work with
is potentially huge.

- Researchers can make their results public and available to others doing research in the
same or related fields almost immediately and at low cost. That enables these
researchers to compare results, to criticize findings, and to offer suggestions and
ideas leading to improved experiments, results, and findings.

- Collaboration -- Scientists can work together even from widely separated locations.
There are several ways that this provides leverage. First, and most obviously, it
enables teamwork among workers who may not be able to travel to a common location. And,
in instances where equipment and facilities are required, it enables a scientist to stay
where her/his equipment is and still work as part of a team.

And, this technological and communications boost to scientific research and technological
development has only just begun. I suspect that we are still learning how to exploit the
following particular aspects of communication technology:

- Self-publishing -- It is now extremely easy and cheap to publish your own book. Search
the Web for "print on demand" and you will find links to Web sites where you can upload
your copy/content, create and cover and title page, and make your book available so that
you and others can order single or multiple copies.

- Blogs and Wikis -- Although different in significant ways, both of these Web application
or Web site styles lower the barrier for creating content on the Web. In most cases, no
technical, Internet/Web knowledge is required, though typing skills are helpful. See
the entries for "Blog" and "Wiki" at Wikipedia for details about these two Web app
styles. And, by the way, not only is the *use* of these Blogs and Wikis possible
without detailed know-how, but, in addition, there are now software packages and Web
hosting services that enable even non-techies to create Web sites that implement Blogs
and Wikis.

- CMS -- Content management systems are yet another Web application style that supports
the creation of Web content. What's special about CMS is the control it provides over
the process of creating, reviewing, editing, and approving (for visibility and
publishing) content, and the control over who is allowed to do what.

We are a long way past the printing revolution, and I have not yet even mentioned cloud
computing, which is likely to put collaboration (or wasting time, take your pick) into

So, we need to ask ourselves whether now things are really much that different. Are we
experiencing a revolution that is as dramatic as the one described by Eisenstein? Or, are
we in the midst of a more incremental change. Remember that Darwin was receiving snail-
mail twice daily. Yes, email is a bit faster than that, but when you are as determined as
Darwin was, does that increase in speed make much difference? And, if so, what sort of
difference? If you believe that electronic communication forms like email will make
significant differences in how we work, the ways we think, and what we know, then you will
need to answer questions about whether mobile phone texting and instant messaging will
also make significant differences? But why stop there? Will we do things differently
when everyone has a Web cam on their computer and we are also routinely doing n-way video

Or, ... will we just use more time? Will we spend more time on our social networks
(whatever those are) than we did before we had anything *but* paper? And, will we spend
more time with our devices than we do with the work they were meant to save us from?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Printing triggered a communication revolution 17 Jan. 2008
By James Hoogerwerf - Published on
Format: Paperback
Eisenstein, in the absence of literature on the consequences of the fifteenth-century shift from script to print, sees her work as a preliminary effort. She presents the advent of print, which triggered a communication revolution, in two parts. The first discusses the main features of the communication revolution and the second relates to developments that occurred during the transition between medieval literate culture and that of early modern times. This second point is very important and Eisenstein emphatically states: "I regard printing as an agent, not the agent, let alone the only agent, of change."(xiii)

Part I.: Eisenstein identifies and discusses some of the features of the print culture. These are: a changing pattern of cultural diffusion, standardization, reorganized texts and reference guides, correcting errors and data, preservation of knowledge, and how print cultures helped perpetuate "stereotypes and sociolinguistic divisions." Another feature, discussed at length, is the pervasiveness of silent scanning. In this way the reading public became more individualistic and nationalistic. The author suggests "the disjuncture between the new mode of production and the older modes of consumption is only one of many complications that need further study."(92)

Part II: Eisenstein selects three particular developments, each interacting with print, "which seem strategic in the shaping of the modern mind."(106). These are the Renaissance, the Reformation, and print's effect on science.

The problem with defining the Renaissance as a period marking the advent of modernity, according to Eisenstein, is whether "the period contains a major historical transformation and hence should be set apart."(111) In her opinion the advent of printing is something specific that can be discussed objectively rather than using the more subjective meanings of "medieval" and "modern." She proposes redefining the term Renaissance as a two phased movement to include the cultural changes brought on by print.

With print technology, Church leaders lost their monopoly on reading and interpreting the Bible. The Bible could be read privately and interpreted more fundamentally when printed in the vernacular and more widely distributed. Martin Luther's words were spread farther and carried greater weight with printing. The Catholic Church responded by resorting to censorship.

The scientific revolution is less revolutionary when studied contemporaneously according to Eisenstein, then retrospectively. That way we see the effect of Copernican and other ideas on science going forward. Print helped to disseminate and perpetuate scientific ideas for later consumption.
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