STARRED REVIEW
October 2014

Behind one of history’s most important inventions

By Alix Christie
Peter Schoeffer has no choice. Johann Fust raised him as his own son, and Peter owes him everything—even if that means he must do the work of the devil.
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Peter Schoeffer has no choice. Johann Fust raised him as his own son, and Peter owes him everything—even if that means he must do the work of the devil.

This is how Peter feels about Fust’s request that Peter abandon his promising career as a scribe to apprentice to Johann Gutenberg. The cunning inventor’s rote technique of making books seems blasphemous to all who learn of it. Anxious that the Church will feel the same, Gutenberg and his financial backer Fust vow to keep their press a secret until they complete a massive undertaking: the printing and binding of nearly 200 copies of the Holy Bible, a book with well over a thousand pages.

At first, the clandestine workshop in Mainz is just as Peter imagined it would be—a brutal, spirit-crushing, suffocating place full of molten metal and jet-black sludge. But as Peter devotes all his waking hours to the task of printing with movable type, he slowly discovers printing’s beauty, its power and its art.

Gutenberg’s Apprentice is, in large part, a depiction of the creative process. It highlights the ingenuity, patience and skill that often shape seemingly lifeless mechanisms, but it also examines the interdependent and often rocky relationships that exist between individuals involved in collaborative, creative activities. Those with ideas, skill and funding all depend upon each other to make their vision a reality—which makes betrayal all the more brutal, as the novel shows.

Letterpress printer Alix Christie’s debut novel also asks profound questions. How do we determine whether the work we’re doing is good or evil? Is a greater dissemination of knowledge through mass production worth the creative touches and soulful variations it often loses? Gutenberg’s Apprentice is an imaginative recounting of history that, despite a 15th-century setting, reflects many of today’s chief matters of concern. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the ever-changing art of publishing.

RELATED CONTENT: Read Alix Christie's behind-the-book essay.

This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Gutenberg’s Apprentice

Gutenberg’s Apprentice

By Alix Christie
Harper
ISBN 9780062336019

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