The scope of King’s knowledge is staggering and his book bulges with facts. They are at their most enticing when they relate to physical processes such as the details of Vespasiano’s manuscript production ... The author is equally circumstantial when describing the rival process of printing. Anyone who has set up a page using moveable metal type will be impressed by the vividness and precision of his account ... A persistent fault of King’s book is irrelevance. He devotes a whole chapter, for example, to the loopy sage Ficino, who believed he had found a treatise (a fake, of course) by a seer more ancient than Moses, called Hermes. This has nothing to do with Vespasiano, and such spiced-up digressions suggest that King fears his subject is not interesting enough. That is understandable. The other Renaissance figures he has written about — Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Leonardo — created artworks known to every tourist, and Vespasiano’s dusty manuscripts cannot compete in that league. Yet, as King’s spectacular book shows, Vespasiano deserves to be remembered, if only because shortly before his death, aged 76 in 1498, he lost faith in the ability of the classics to illuminate the world. As King puts it, he came to see them as 'the light that failed', and to see that it is not what you know but what you are that matters. Even now that is a truth easy to forget.
... as this is a book about books, Ross wrangles myriad details about their creation, including producing parchment, inks, illuminations, bindings, movable type and paper (sometimes from the wardrobes of Black Death victims!), as well as innovations in typography and layout. And for bibliophiles who are also word nerds, there's lots of juicy etymology.
...if you want to celebrate the place that bookmaking and bookselling still have in our lives, notwithstanding all those hours captive to the digital glimmer, you could do a lot worse than immerse yourself in Ross King’s rich history of Vespasiano da Bisticci ... the real pleasure of King’s book is its detailed evocation of the physical grind of bookmaking ... King rightly resists any simplified chronology of the transition inaugurated by the arrival of print from the German north that prompted scribes to lay down their quills ... The Bookseller of Florence doesn’t pretend to wade into debates in the sociology of culture ... What you will find in abundance here is a historical celebration of the Greek humanist Cardinal Bessarion’s belief that books 'live, they converse and speak with us, they teach us, educate us, console us.'
The Bookseller of Florence brings us back to a world 'haunted by the thought of all the ancient knowledge lost to the world' and those who strove to recover and share as much of it as possible, shaping the modern world in the process. Mr. King is the writer of several acclaimed books of historical nonfiction, including Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling. His latest work is a marvel of storytelling and a master class in the history of the book, explaining sometimes arcane bookmaking processes in clear and coherent language while lending an easy touch to otherwise confounding historical turmoil. The Bookseller of Florence is a dazzling, instructive and highly entertaining book, worthy of the great bookseller it celebrates.
... [a] fine work ... Bibliophiles will enjoy many of the stories King tells, which are often as much about the content of the books as those books’ actual form ... The book brims with historical context.
... magnificent ... King’s meticulous research provides an immersive reading experience as he expertly weaves the political intrigue of families vying for power and currying favor with the pope into a riveting intellectual history covering the evolution of books, Renaissance Italy, classical philosophy and literature, and the invention of the printing press. A profoundly engaging study of a time when books were considered essential to a meaningful life, and knowledge and wisdom were cherished as ends in themselves.
King effectively contrasts the drive to improve and learn to the frequently extreme violence in society at the time in the age of the Medici. The Bookseller of Florence has many anecdotes involving severed heads on stakes and other bodily mutilations ... If King’s account of Vespasiano and his era shows a weakness, it is one of overzealousness. Some of his explanations, especially about the process of creating a book, give more detail than many readers will want. But Vespasiano’s story is remarkable, and King does a meritorious job of telling it, along with many interesting detours.
Although the details about the history and mechanics of early Renaissance book production, such as ink manufacture and distribution supply chains, might be tedious in another work, here they add to the depth and enjoyment of the story. The result is a narrative about a man and his books, and so much more, including the origins and history of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the influence of Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press on the arc of history ... Standout narrative nonfiction that will engage bibliophiles and readers who enjoy historical nonfiction.
King deftly navigates Florence’s rich cultural and political history, painting intimate portraits of Vespasiano and others involved in the book world during these incredible times, including the man who would revolutionize it all, Johannes Gutenberg. Vespasiano’s fascinating and expansive story occasionally sags under the weight of the author’s desire to leave no detail unturned ... A treat for book lovers.