The Justification of Johann Gutenberg by Blake Morrison

The justification of johna gutenberg

First Published:  2001 by Vintage
My copy: Borrowed from the Library where I work

Memorable quote: “But first let me say that when men shout ‘Eureka!’ I mistrust them. I have heard that cry too often round the streets. It proceeds from hunger and mushrooms. Those that bawl it are not scientists, but mystics. To invent a thing, to bring novelty into the world is nine-tenths practice and labour. An idea is like a child: it does not burst fully formed on the world but grows slowly from within.”

An interesting historical novel exploring the life and times of the man who revolutionised the culture of Medieval Europe through his invention of printing, and production of the first printed Bible. Hard biographical evidence about Gutenberg’s life is sketchy to say the least and in his afterword Morrison admits he had to make up a lot of the action, but nonetheless this novel captures the sights, sounds and (often unpleasant) smells of Medieval Germany brilliantly and there’s no doubt that Morrison’s version of Gutenberg  is a fascinating figure. In his single-minded pursuit of his dream of ‘mechanical writing’ Gutenberg stakes everything and is not afraid to mislead or betray others – including the woman he loves – to bring his invention to life. He cannot be said to be a fully likeable narrator but its hard not to admire the force of his drive and the calibre of his mind. More than anything else, this is a story about the double-edged sword of obsession. The novel is a melancholy one in many respects because, like many of the greatest revolutions, the effects of Gutenberg’s work were not fully recognised or understood in his own life time. Illuminating stuff.

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