Gutenberg's Apprentice

Gutenberg's Apprentice

A Novel

Book - 2014 | First edition.
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An enthralling literary debut that evokes one of the most momentous events in history, the birth of printing in medieval Germany--a story of invention, intrigue, and betrayal, rich in atmosphere and historical detail, told through the lives of the three men who made it possible.

Youthful, ambitious Peter Schoeffer is on the verge of professional success as a scribe in Paris when his foster father, wealthy merchant and bookseller Johann Fust, summons him home to corrupt, feud-plagued Mainz to meet "a most amazing man."

Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary--and to some, blasphemous--method of bookmaking: a machine he calls a printing press. Fust is financing Gutenberg's workshop and he orders Peter, his adopted son, to become Gutenberg's apprentice. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in the "darkest art."

As his skill grows, so, too, does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: copies of the Holy Bible. But mechanical difficulties and the crushing power of the Catholic Church threaten their work. As outside forces align against them, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures: the generous Fust, who saved him from poverty after his mother died; and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery.

Caught between the genius and the merchant, the old ways and the new, Peter and the men he admires must work together to prevail against overwhelming obstacles--a battle that will change history . . . and irrevocably transform them.

Publisher: New York : Harper, 2014.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780062336019
Branch Call Number: FIC Chris
Characteristics: 406 pages : map ; 24 cm


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ArapahoeAnnaL Jan 29, 2018

Tons of fabulous reviews! ", exceptional work full of trickery, betrayal, and historical significance.”

Nov 07, 2016

This is a fascinating story, well researched and well written. In a few places I found the story line and conversations just a bit difficult to follow but that didn't detract from the overall great read that the novel is. If Gutenberg's personality and focus are accurately portrayed, it's fascinating to learn that God used this kind of character to accomplish His will.

Apr 20, 2016

Invention of printing and early Church reform
I enjoy a novel with understated history, where the reader is left to fill in the blanks. This one is the best that I've read in a long while. The story is told by Gutenberg's star apprentice, Peter Schoeffer, to Trithemius, polymath Bishop of Sondheim, in 1485, some 35 years after the events. It's an account of the start of printing technology and business and its impact on the early Reformation (before Luther). The book traces Schoeffer's career, first as scribe and then as a master printer and publisher following Gutenberg. The business aspects center around Johann Fust, Schoeffer's adoptive father who acted as promoter and financier for Gutenberg's great innovation. Later the firm of 'Fust and Schoeffer' became a prime beneficiary of the Gutenberg legacy.
As well as history the book is a great introduction to the early technology and business of printing including German church and local politics, guilds and forlorn attempts at secrecy to forestall both competition and taxation. There's an especially good depiction of Gutenburg's personality, whose arrogance and hubris Schoeffer considers to have spoiled a great innovative effort. In that regard, I occasionally had trouble following the action. I'm not sure whether that's the fault of the writer or the reader.
Schoeffer, who became crew foreman, developed carving and type setting techniques essential to “the master.” The book involves technology business and a history of the times particularly as it applies to the Catholic Church of this Jubilee era that resulted in development of the new industry of publishing. The book is a fine depiction of the prelude to the Reformation under reforming popes Nicholas V and Pius II as aided by Cardinal Nicholas Cusanus with opposition led by Archbishop Dietrich, Elector of Mainz, and to some extent the guilds. It's a great history of pre-Reformation Germany under HRE Friedrich III, a reminder of reform struggles that predated Luther.
In between technology of printing, centering on printing of the first bible, and Reformation history there is some comic relief with a bit of romance. There were psalters and missals before taking on the bible printing that forms the centerpiece of the novel. We are reminded that the first reform centered around bringing the bible to the German populace. Continuation of the struggle, as taken up by Erasmus and Luther, would make a great sequel. Besides Gutenberg and his associates, Christie does an intriguing job of putting personalities on some under publicized historical figures like Trithemius (best known for the Trithemius cypher method) and Nicholas Cusanus, an early reformer. Why did Christie pick 1485 as the date for telling the tale? The year of Luther's birth, 1483, would have added a neat touch of irony. Perhaps an afterword separating fact from fiction would help. I would be interested in her sources. Curiously, the concluding account of the spread of printing from Germany via Switzerland and France omits William Caxton in England.
It's the best view of the Reformation, pre-Luther, that I've seen. The after events parts from 1485 read like Shoeffer's reminisces of Gutenberg's irascible personality excuse the theft of his ideas. A glossary, index and perhaps a chronology would enhance readability. Otherwise, this author's first novel doesn't leave much room for improvement.

Feb 24, 2016

Not an easy read for sure!! I think the tale could have been told in about half the words and perhaps with a bit more clarity.

ChristchurchLib Dec 04, 2014

Summoned home to Mainz, Germany, by his adoptive father, master scribe Peter Schoeffer becomes the apprentice of Johannes Gutenberg, who's covertly developing a system of movable metal type. Charged with keeping an eye on the wily, unpredictable Gutenberg, Peter initially chafes at his father’s orders but soon recognizes the world-changing potential of Gutenberg’s press when they begin work on an ambitious project: a printed Bible. But in a 15th-century Europe characterized by economic troubles, political unrest, and religious reform, bringing their masterpiece to completion will require back-breaking labor, utter secrecy, and (most importantly) preventing the reckless Gutenberg from sabotaging his own life’s work. Historical Fiction newsletter November 2014.


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Jul 27, 2015

"If the pope, the cardinal, the prior, could not have given Gutenberg a text to print, then they would choose and print their own"

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