Fewer than 50 copies remain of the Gutenberg Bible, the 15th century tome that marks the era of printed books. Davis here tells the story of what's known as "Number 45" of those remaining Bibles, tracing its history through the lives of the fanatical few who owned it.
Margaret Leslie Davis' The Lost Gutenberg, which traces one Bible's 500-year journey, is an informative, superbly researched book that explores the lives of those who were in contact with the best example of Gutenberg's work ... Davis meticulously chronicles five centuries in the life of this special copy and those who owned it ... The depth of Davis' research cannot be understated. The writing in this book is straightforward and, at times, even heartbreaking, but outstanding reporting lies at its core ... The book can be seen online, but Davis describes it with beauty and accuracy, interweaving the descriptions throughout the book in a way that gives readers a sense of knowing, of having experienced Number 45 themselves ... This makes it a book about not only Number 45 and its owners but also a narrative that explores our collective obsession with art, technology, change, and history.
It’s an addictive and engaging look at the 'competitive, catty and slightly angst-ridden' heart of the world of book collecting ... The Lost Gutenberg reads like a comedy of manners starring the cast of an Ayn Rand novel ... It’s improbable and riveting. You learn a lot about the world when you see what it takes to both make and own something as precious as a Gutenberg Bible ... Davis has an extremely wry hand, often sliding in jokes so subtly you don’t even notice they’re there until you’re done laughing. By far, she has the poshest toilet pun I’ve ever read. My only complaint in her writing is a confusing mixture of past and present tenses that sometimes makes the scattered chronology of the book hard to follow, especially as it begins in the middle of the story. Beyond that, the journey of one of the most important books in human history is daring and endearing, a fitting period on the sentence Gutenberg himself began with his world-changing invention.
Book collecting might seem a preoccupation of a limited cadre of obsessive, pedantic academic wannabes, but Davis makes bibliographic history utterly page-turning and absorbing, with intrigues, devastating tragedies, vast fortunes, embezzlement, a seductively voiced telephone operator, the Teapot Dome scandal, murder-suicide, earthquake, and even Worcestershire sauce. Davis’ brilliantly told story features outsize characters[.]