ATG Quirkies: So, Gutenberg Didn’t Actually Invent Printing As We Know It

by | Jul 7, 2021 | 0 comments

So, Gutenberg Didn’t Actually Invent Printing As We Know It appears on the Literary Hub website and is by M. Sophia Newman, writer and medical editor from Chicago.

Korean movable type, 1447 – Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you heard one book called “universally acknowledged as the most important of all printed books,” which do you expect it would be?

If you were Margaret Leslie Davis, the answer would be obvious. Davis’s The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book’s Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey, released this March, begins with just that descriptor. It recounts the saga of a single copy of the Gutenberg Bible—one of the several surviving copies of the 450-year-old Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg, the putative inventor of the printing press, in one of his earliest projects—through a 20th-century journey from auction house to collector to laboratory to archive.

Davis quotes Mark Twain, who wrote, in 1900, a letter celebrating the opening of the Gutenberg Museum. For Davis, Twain’s words were “particularly apt.” “What the world is to-day,” Twain wrote, “good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg. Everything can be traced to this source. . . .” Indeed, Gutenberg’s innovation has long been regarded an inflection point in human history—an innovation that opened the door to the Protestant Reformation, Renaissance, the scientific revolution, the advent of widespread education, and a thousand more changes that touch nearly everything we now know.

“The only problem?

“The universal acclaim is, in fact, not so universal—and Gutenberg himself is a, but not the, source of printing. Rather, key innovations in what would become revolutionary printing technology began in east Asia, with work done by Chinese nobles, Korean Buddhists, and the descendants of Genghis Khan—and, in a truth Davis acknowledges briefly, their work began several centuries before Johannes Gutenberg was even born…”

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