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The Nature of the Book. Print and Knowledge in the Making

Published in 1999

Adrian Johns

Historians often turn to study the past of institutions - the family, or the state, for example - when they are at a moment of crisis. And there can be no doubt that it is talk of the end of print in the age of electronic media that has given impetus to the new history of the book and of reading. Johns's study is the most ambitious and fullest account yet of the role of the book in early modern English society and culture. And it has an important thesis to argue - for the present as well as about the past. Contrary to earlier scholars, notably Elizabeth Eisenstein, who posited that a printing revolution brought uniformity, fixity and reliability into the world, Johns argues that printed works were diverse, unstable, and untrustworthy. Insisting rightly on a proper historicising of all aspects of print, he seeks to show that the means by which the printed medium acquired authority were complex and a cultural process rather than a simple story of technological progress. 'The sources of print culture are to be found in civility' as much as behaviour was scripted by print.

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