Gutenberg's Apprentice: A Novel

by Alix Christie | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0062336029 Global Overview for this book
Registered by over-the-moon of Lausanne, Vaud Switzerland on 10/3/2015
Buy from one of these Booksellers: | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT |
10 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by over-the-moon from Lausanne, Vaud Switzerland on Saturday, October 03, 2015
Noticed it in FNAC, looks interesting.

Journal Entry 2 by over-the-moon at Lausanne, Vaud Switzerland on Thursday, April 27, 2017
The author is an experienced letterpress printer; this is her first novel. I enjoyed it particularly because I have always been interested in printing and publishing: other readers without these interests might find it a little stodgy and unexciting (which explains some of the negative reviews I've seen).

The story unravels quire by quire, relating how Peter Schoeffer, a copyist, was apprenticed at a young age to a very surly and fiery Gutenberg who has just invented a wooden press and movable type, in great secret. We take things so much for granted nowadays: in those early times in Mainz they had to work out how to forge each metal letter (300 of them needed for the Bible), each mould, what alloy to use, how to file down each letter to get them all even, how to make the ink, how to get the ink onto the lines of letters, how to justify the text, to space the lines, make hyphens and other signs, making proofs (with soot), how to use two colours. All this with a background of industrial espionage, the disapproval of the Church of such heretical practises (identical pages could only be the work of the Devil), and the crucial moment of the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks and their incursions into Europe, followed by the organization of the Crusades, the beginnings of the Reformation. It took them years to produce 180 copies of their Book of Books, in two volumes - with spaces left for individual illumination by hand, bespoke for each purchaser.
Also in the background we see Peter's courtship of the girl he eventually married, his family life and later success (he is considered the founder of the publishing trade, and of the Frankfurt Book Fair).

I always appreciate information on the typeface chosen for a book and here is no exception: an explanation is given of the Historical Fell Type used, and the initial caps at the beginning of each chapter, as well as the floriated initials for the Sponheim Abbey chapters, where the old Peter Schoeffer is conversing with Johannes Trifemius about how they created and set up the movable type.

At the beginning of the book, there's a useful map of medieval Mainz illustrated by Laura Hartman Maestro; however I spotted typos (Franfurt instead of Frankfurt, Heidleberg instead of Heidelberg), and regret that the publisher has not taken account of the central gutter by leaving extra space, so the middle of the map disappears into the fold. Also the left-hand frame does not match the right. (This is why I gave a rating of 8.) There is some useful biographical information at the back and an interview with the author.

Also recommended, in the same vein and typographically more pleasing, Le Maître de Garamond by Anne Cuneo.

Journal Entry 3 by over-the-moon at Lausanne, Vaud Switzerland on Thursday, May 25, 2017
Proposing this as a bookray; maybe we can all get it finished before the Convention in Mainz!
Order for mailing:

Earthcaroleanne (UK) - here (11.6), read and sent on
TrojanHorse (UK/Europe) - here (27.07)
Boekentrol (Europe) - here (23.08)
over-the-moon (Switzerland) - here (09.10)
Olivia Lo (Taiwan/international)
Billbooks (Australia - post worldwide) (skipped)
elizardbreath (US) <-- now here (Jan 26)
Rhythmbiscuit (US/Canada) <-- now here (Feb 25)
azuki (US/Canada) <--here minus a bit of the cover (May 31)
Bookgirrl (Canada) <-- here now (good timing!) Jan 22

Note: you might find this hard-going at first - I know I did, but later thought the story of how Gutenberg designed and made the type quite fascinating...

Journal Entry 4 by earthcaroleanne at Falkirk, Scotland United Kingdom on Saturday, June 10, 2017
It's arrived.

Journal Entry 5 by earthcaroleanne at Falkirk, Scotland United Kingdom on Sunday, July 23, 2017
I’m afraid this is another one that has taken me a long time to read and I think it was because the actual story didn’t really grip me, it was a bit slow and long and I really got fed up with the bickering between the guilds. Don't get me wrong, I did find it fascinating, a lot of the bits to do with the first press and everything they faced was interesting/mind boggling/stupendous, and so on, but for the most part I did find it hard to get in to and to actually concentrate on and come back to it if I left it, I also couldn't get a connection to the characters, the characters lacked depth in themselves and their relationships, I'm not too sure if this was on purpose or not. I actually found the afterward just as interesting.

Journal Entry 6 by earthcaroleanne at Petersfield, Hampshire United Kingdom on Monday, July 24, 2017

Released 1 yr ago (7/24/2017 UTC) at Petersfield, Hampshire United Kingdom


Posting on in the bookring.

Journal Entry 7 by wingTrojanhorsewing at Petersfield, Hampshire United Kingdom on Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Thank you earthcaroleanne for sending this on to me. I received it safely in the post this morning. I'm just finishing a book from another ring and will then start this one to get it on its way swiftly.

Journal Entry 8 by wingTrojanhorsewing at Petersfield, Hampshire United Kingdom on Friday, August 18, 2017
I really enjoyed reading this novel although it was a bit of a slog at times. The story of Gutenberg's bible and all the associated characters has been cleverly written intertwining fact and fiction. The 15th Century way of life is well described and provides a perfect backdrop to the story.
As a calligrapher myself, I can sympathise with Peter's initial reaction to the printing press. Although I fear he coped better with the inevitable changes than I may have done had I lived at that time!

For those interested, the British Library have digitalised their 2 copies: one on vellum and one on paper and you can compare the two page by page. I'm sure Gutenberg would be delighted with there being digital versions but Peter (certainly in his early days) would be turning in his grave at the prospect!

Journal Entry 9 by wingTrojanhorsewing at A BOOKRAY , -- By post or by hand/ in person -- United Kingdom on Friday, August 18, 2017

Released 1 yr ago (8/19/2017 UTC) at A BOOKRAY , -- By post or by hand/ in person -- United Kingdom


Sending this on to the next person in the bookray.
Happy Reading!

Journal Entry 10 by wingBoekentrolwing at Leeuwarden, Fryslân (Friesland) Netherlands on Tuesday, August 22, 2017
This book arrived safely in my mailbox today. Thank you so much for sending it on, Trojanhorse!
There's one book I'm reading that I will finish before I can start reading this one. Look forward to it very much :-)

Journal Entry 11 by wingBoekentrolwing at Leeuwarden, Fryslân (Friesland) Netherlands on Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Hesitating what rating to give this book. Looking at how interesting I found it, it deserves 7, but taking into account how loooong it took me to read it and how boring I thought it was from time to time, I'm not giving it more than 6.
The book didn't sparkle, it didn't make the characters come to life while I was reading.
I did finish it, first of all because I dislike not finishing a book and secondly I wanted to know how it ended. And then the real end: what happened after the dedicated time they said it would take to print, the settling of affaires. I could have read the afterword, but then there would have been holes in my knowledge of the book.

Ready to go back to over-the-moon and start the rest of its journey from there.
I am happy to have come across this book. Thanks for making it available!!

Journal Entry 12 by wingBoekentrolwing at Leeuwarden, Fryslân (Friesland) Netherlands on Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Released 1 yr ago (9/27/2017 UTC) at Leeuwarden, Fryslân (Friesland) Netherlands


Back to over-the-moon, to continue the rest of its journey.

Journal Entry 13 by over-the-moon at Lausanne, Vaud Switzerland on Monday, October 09, 2017
back with me, am happy to read your reactions, similar to mine...
Now waiting for Olivia Lo's address.

Journal Entry 14 by Olivia_Lo at Xinzhuang 新莊, Taipei County Taiwan on Friday, October 27, 2017
The book arrived today. Thank you so much for sending it!

Journal Entry 15 by Olivia_Lo at Xinzhuang 新莊, Taipei County Taiwan on Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Released 1 yr ago (1/16/2018 UTC) at Xinzhuang 新莊, Taipei County Taiwan


Enjoy the book and don't forget to journal it so that people have an idea of where it is going :)

Journal Entry 16 by elizardbreath at Bella Vista, Arkansas USA on Friday, January 26, 2018
The book has arrived. Thank you for posting overseas, OliviaLo!

Journal Entry 17 by elizardbreath at Bella Vista, Arkansas USA on Monday, February 12, 2018
I read a ways into this and decided not to finish. It's just not capturing my attention. I feel like I could come up with a similar playout of events by reading something nonfiction about the subject and filling in with what I know about the cultural scene. I'll contact the next in line and get this sent out asap.

Sending to rhythmbiscuit. Enjoy!

To the finder of this book:

This book is gift, no strings attached, from me to you. You may keep it forever, pass it along to a friend, or release it into the wild to be found by someone else.

If you are new to BookCrossing, welcome! Enjoy the site, the book, and the BookCrossing community. I hope you'll join's free! If you do, please consider using me, elizardbreath, as your referring member. You can even remain anonymous if you wish!

I hope you'll make a brief journal entry so all the previous and future readers can track this book's journey.

Thanks, and Happy BookCrossing! :)

Journal Entry 19 by rhythmbiscuit at Northglenn, Colorado USA on Sunday, February 25, 2018
I'm excited to read this book! I'm hoping to make it to the Mainz 2019 convention.

Journal Entry 20 by rhythmbiscuit at Northglenn, Colorado USA on Saturday, April 28, 2018
Like readers before me, I had to slog through this book, especially in the middle. I did find the craft of printing interesting, from the forging of the letters to the setting of the type to the exhausting labor they endured for years. But it was those years that wore me out in the novel, too. I appreciate the author's research and representation of the history, but I didn't really follow the politics and the problems.

All in all, I'm glad I read this book. I'm especially glad I learned about Peter Schoeffer and his central role in the creation of the Gutenberg Bible.

Mainz 2019!

Journal Entry 21 by wingAzukiwing at Miami, Florida USA on Thursday, May 31, 2018
Book has arrived. Did a dog get to it? Part of the cover was gone, though the rest of the pages are fine. It better survives till the next BC con.

I am in the middle of reading a couple of books for an upcoming book box. Should be able to start on it in a couple of weeks.

Journal Entry 22 by wingAzukiwing at Miami, Florida USA on Friday, July 20, 2018
Just to report in that I'm almost half way through it. My apologies. It was very slow going; according to the author, she tries to reflects how medieval people think and talk. No wonder this 21st century girl has such a hard time. But now I've gained some momentum so it should go faster from here on. Just want to say the book hasn't been forgotten.

Journal Entry 23 by wingAzukiwing at Miami, Florida USA on Thursday, August 09, 2018
Finished this book at last last week. As said, it wasn't an easy read, and despite the author's best effort, I don't really understand the political situation of the time, nor the details of a printing press so the challenges, achievements and setbacks go over my head.

I feel glad that the author has novelized the story of Peter Schoeffer, the man who invented publishing as Gutenberg invented printing. Schoeffer also found the event known today as the Frankfurt Book Fair. I really love books who reintroduce us to interesting people or events that are forgotten with the passage of time, so this book is right up my alley.

The author also has a website,, that provides some extra information.

I have contacted Bookgirrl; as she is the last participant, she is okay with me sending it slow, so this book is going to take a leisurely ocean cruise (it's cheaper to send it from half way around the world than directly up and down the continent!)

Journal Entry 24 by wingBookgirrlwing at Acton, Ontario Canada on Monday, January 21, 2019
Another karmic situation with Bookcrossing! (It seems to be a very karmic-filled thing, this BX'ing.) I have decided to go to the Mainz convention, and just yesterday was talking to someone about Gutenberg, and how exciting I thought it would be to visit his birthplace. Then, this book arrived in the mailbox! I did notice the chewed up cover, and will do a little fix-up. Speaking of Gutenberg, I have worked in the publishing business since the 1980's, so I guess this book is right up my alley. Thanks, Azuki. I had no idea it was you, with the HK postmark! This book has truly travelled a long way to little old Acton, Ontario! (Where it is currently -18C/0.4F) I think this would be a very appropriate book to bring to Mainz!

Journal Entry 25 by wingBookgirrlwing at Acton, Ontario Canada on Saturday, March 16, 2019
'Finally finished this book! 'Must admit, as Trojanhorse did, it was a bit of a slog at times (so much detail, and sometimes I was confused about the business dealings, what with the old language, and I'm hopeless at business in the first place! Also, all the battles with guilds, aristocracy, clergy) - BUT, well worth sticking with it. The character of Peter was so well developed - I really could relate to him and all his joys, challenges, disappointments. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see a movie made from this book? Imagine the gorgeous cinematography with the making of the letters, the old tools, the presses, the candlelight, all the religious observances (a truly God-Bible driven society), the colourful characters - Fust brothers, Anna, Gutenberg, Grede, Hans...etc. For a first novel, this is an exceptional book! And, I will be bringing it to Mainz in April. Who's next? (On that note, I must add....reading this book makes me even more excited about Mainz!)

Journal Entry 26 by wingolagoriewing at Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg Germany on Sunday, April 28, 2019

Thank you so much for bringing this book to the World Convention in Mainz, where I won it in MissMarkeys hilarious booksweep game.

I am looking forward to reading it!

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