The author of Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling chronicled the life and work of 'the king of the world's booksellers' and the technological disruption that forever changed the ways knowledge spread.
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.
...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.