That was the moment it all changed...
The ink was as black as Heaven's vault, the letters sharp and gripping. He stared, transfixed. In their austerity, their density, the letters made a page of extraordinary beauty...
The eponymous apprentice of the story is Peter Schoeffer, a lowly scribe who is entirely familiar with the beautiful calligraphic illuminations done by hand, but when Schoeffer becomes apprenticed to Johannes Gensfleisch, the man we know better as Gutenberg, the whole concept of mass printing starts to come alive in an entirely believable way. To have a printing machine with ink and type is a gift beyond measure and Schoeffer embraces this new technology with enthusiasm. The task of printing the Holy Bible, normally the work of scribes, was considered sacrilegious and the work of blasphemers and is not without controversy. The story starts in 1485, when Schoeffer older and wiser, starts to recount the narrative of his life to Abbot Trithemius at the Spondeim Abbey in Germany and an awkward truth of petty jealousies and driving ambition, starts to emerge.
There is no doubt that Gutenberg’s Apprentice is impeccably and realistically researched. The author clearly knows and loves this subject; her writing is accomplished and authoritative. In many ways it’s a rather a slow read, and perhaps not one that you can lose track of time whilst reading it, as there are parts of the book that require a certain level of concentration. However, I have to acknowledge that it’s an undeniably good historical study and really brings to life the background into the mystery,magic and alchemy which led to the mass production of books for the very first time.
The whole spectre of fifteenth century life is laid bare, and as all the petty jealousies and squabbles come alive, a story emerges of fierce ambition coupled with intense arrogance and overwhelming ambition. To have a book about books is appealing and to have one from such a unique historical perspective offers a whole new insight into the printing process and emphasises our continuing fascination with the printed word.