A sweeping survey of the first 150 years of the European printed book ("book" here covers all printed texts including pamphlets and single leaf broadsides), from its invention by Gutenberg in 1450-55 to the end of the sixteenth century. During that time, printing spread from a single location in southern Germany to every corner of Europe and beyond, resulting in an estimated 350,000 different editions. The focus of the book is on the book as a business - "Printers were businessmen, and books were a commercial venture" (p. 129) - and, as the book progresses, on the Reformation (which resulted in an explosion of printing of Luther's pamphlets) and the subsequent wars, political conflicts and intrigues. Pettegree discusses what was printed, where and why; how the books were distributed and marketed, etc., tying this to the important historical and religious events of the sixteenth century. Along the way, he covers the expansion of printing to provide news and entertainment, the increase in printing in the vernacular, the birth of literary salons and women authors, the early printing of popular music, renaissance schools, emblem books, scientific works, botanical illustration, maps, printing in England, Scotland, Spain, Scandanavia, Eastern Europe, and Mexico, censorship and the Index, and a variety of other topics. Seemingly, nothing significant is omitted.
In his analysis, Pettegree provides numerous important and new insights into the history of the early printed book. The book is dense with facts and specific examples. It includes many excellent illustrations of early printed books, including fine title pages. It contains extensive footnotes to sources, although unfortunately they are not at the bottom of pages of text, but at the back, indexed by page runs.
Surprisingly, the author starts off the book with a significant error. He states that Gutenberg may have based his invention on the "model" of block books, short religious works in which both the text and images were printed from single woodcuts (p. 23). In fact, scholars have rejected the idea that block books were precursors of movable type books and have confirmed (through analysis of watermarks and owners' annotations) that virtually all surviving block books had been printed in the 1460s and later and none predate work on the Gutenberg Bible (1450). (See Allan Stevenson's "The Problem of the Blockbooks" and the other articles included in Blockbücher des Mittlealters, Gutenberg-Museum, Mainz (1991)). The illustrated "block book Bible" shown in fig. 4 and supposedly printed "c. 1430" actually is known as an "Apocalypse" and was printed c. 1465-70. The author also suggests that work on mechanical printing may have begun in the 1430s (p. 21), without mentioning that the early sources on which that is based are problematic and have been the subject of lengthy and inconclusive debate.
Although I saw no other major errors, I did note a few minor ones. For example, type was inked using stuffed leather balls or pads with attached handles, and not "soft sponges" as the book states (Fig. 6). (See, e.g., Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (1972), p. 126.) The statement that the sixteenth century Giunta printing business in Florence "was a branch office of the family's Venice business" (p. 254) is incorrect; the two businesses were separately formed in the fifteenth century by a pair of brothers from Florence and were independently operated by them and their respective heirs following distinct strategies, devotional works in Venice and humanistic works in Florence. Although the two businesses entered into several partnerships, "direct participation of the Florentine firm in partnership with the Giunti of Venice ended in 1517." (Pettas, The Giunti of Florence, p. 112.) The reference to "Bohemia (now the Czech Republic)" (p. 112) is awkward, seemingly suggesting that Bohemia simply changed its name; something like "Bohemia (roughly the western part of today's Czech Republic)" would have been more accurate. And, although he discusses Aldus' famous small octavo editions (p. 61), he neglects to mention that Aldus began their printing in 1501, leaving their chronology unclear to the reader.
Notwithstanding these small imperfections, this is a major addition to the early history of the book and clearly the most comprehensive study (in English at least) of the inter-relation of sixteenth century printing with the Reformation and religious turmoil of that period Pettegree's work will be indispensable to those fields.