ATG Book of the Week: Inky Fingers: The Making of Books in Early Modern Europe

by | Sep 22, 2020 | 0 comments

Title: Inky Fingers: The Making of Books in Early Modern Europe
Author: Anthony Grafton
Hardcover: ISBN: 978-0674237179, $39.95
Imprint: Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2020

From Francis Bacon to Barack Obama, thinkers and political leaders have denounced humanists as obsessively bookish and allergic to labor. In this celebration of bookmaking in all its messy and intricate detail, renowned historian Anthony Grafton invites us to see the scholars of early modern Europe as diligent workers. Meticulously illuminating the physical and mental labors that fostered the golden age of the book―the compiling of notebooks, copying and correction of texts and proofs, preparation of copy―he shows us how the exertions of scholars shaped influential books, treatises, and forgeries.

Inky Fingers ranges widely, tracing the transformation of humanistic approaches to texts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and examining the simultaneously sustaining and constraining effects of theological polemics on sixteenth-century scholars. Grafton draws new connections between humanistic traditions and intellectual innovations, textual learning and craft knowledge, manuscript and print.

Above all, Grafton makes clear that the nitty-gritty of bookmaking has had a profound impact on the history of ideas―that the life of the mind depends on the work of the hands.

Reviews

“Grafton describes magnificent achievements, storms of controversy and sometimes the pure devilment of scholars and printers, from the 15th to the early 17th centuries…Captivating and often amusing.”Wall Street Journal

“The essays…repopulate the world of high scholarship with participants of all social ranks, dragging the most rarefied ideas down to earth…For all his own intellectual daring, Grafton’s sympathies lie with gruntwork. Originality is upstaged by transmission, inspiration by logistics. Ideas, in this vivid telling, emerge not just from minds but from hands, not to mention the biceps that crank a press or heft a ream of paper.”Leah PriceNew York Review of Books

“Grafton’s sweeping erudition and meticulous scholarship are on display in Inky Fingers, which offers us a look over the shoulders of theologians and humanist scholars. His case studies illuminate how ‘traditional’ historical skills―the careful reading of texts, the deciphering of marginalia, and the tracing of arcane references―still hold countless possibilities for new readings and revelations.”Daniel Jütte, author of The Strait Gate: Thresholds and Power in Western History

Inky Fingers directs our attention to the inky realities of book production and the messiness of everyday life. To erase urban contexts, correspondence networks, financial burdens, and other human factors from the early modern narrative, Grafton shows us, is to distort how new ideas―both famous and obscure―came into being. An excellent and thought-provoking book!”Ada Palmer, author of Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance and the Terra Ignota series


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