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Word Count: 965
The font of all wisdom The Gutenberg Revolution John Man 312pp Review Subtitles are becoming ridiculously long-winded The one attached to John Mans little book claims that it is The story of a genius and an invention that changed the world This is true enough though it says much about our increasingly semi-literate society that the name Johann Gutenberg alone is no longer assumed to be instantly recognisable And yet the western father of printing has influenced cyberspace as much as anything that followed from his exertions in 15th-century Germany the computer on which Im composing this piece offers me 36 different typefaces in an assortment of sizes from 9- to 72-point That fact alone signifies a very remarkable form of evolution It really began not with Gutenberg but in the Orient where the Chinese were printing books with wooden blocks 700 years earlier and where the Koreans had proceeded to moveable metal type by 1234 There were drawbacks that prevented much development of either however Chinese paper was too delicate for anything but calligraphy or block-printing and the Koreans had to contend with over 40000 characters which didnt lend itself to the particular benefit of metal type comparatively speedy setting for a print run as big as you like A manageably short alphabet was the main reason the west took a lead in printing that it would never relinquish though there have been other factors Until the 19th century Islam which gave so much to civilisation virtually ignored printing because its most vital traditions had always been transmitted orally Koran means recitation Nor was Gutenberg as is often assumed a man driven by a passion for the written word and its widest possible circulation He was a businessman doing quite well out of making mirrors who saw printing as a means of enriching himself even more just as William Caxton would move from diplomacy and cloth-trading in Bruges to set up
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