The bestselling author of Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling captures the excitement and spirit of the Renaissance in this chronicle of the life and work of "the king of the world's booksellers" and the technological disruption that forever changed the ways knowledge spread.
The Renaissance in Florence conjures images of beautiful frescoes and elegant buildings—the dazzling handiwork of the city's skilled artists and architects. But equally important for the centuries to follow were geniuses of a different sort: Florence's manuscript hunters, scribes, scholars, and booksellers, who blew the dust off a thousand years of history and, through the discovery and diffusion of ancient knowledge, imagined a new and enlightened world.
At the heart of this activity was a remarkable man: Vespasiano da Bisticci. Born in 1422, he became what a friend called "the king of the world's booksellers." At a time when all books were made by hand, over four decades Vespasiano produced and sold many hundreds of volumes from his bookshop, which also became a gathering spot for discussion and debate. Besides repositories of ancient wisdom by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, his books were works of art in their own right, copied by talented scribes and illuminated by the finest miniaturists. His clients included a roll-call of popes, kings, and princes across Europe who wished to burnish their reputations by founding magnificent libraries.
Vespasiano reached the summit of his powers as Europe's most prolific merchant of knowledge when a new invention appeared: the printed book. By 1480, the king of the world's booksellers was swept away by this epic technological disruption, whereby cheaply produced books reached readers who never could have afforded one of Vespasiano’s elegant manuscripts.
A thrilling chronicle of intellectual ferment set against the dramatic political and religious turmoil of the era, including the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, Ross King's The Bookseller of Florence is also an ode to books and bookmaking that charts the world-changing shift from script to print through the life of an extraordinary man long lost to history—one of the true titans of the Renaissance.
About the author
Ross King, born in Estevan, Saskatchewan, is the Canadian author of three books on Italian history and Art: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power and Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, which won the 2001 Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Adult Nonfiction. His study of French Impressionism, The Judgment of Paris, won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction in Canada. He lives in England, near Oxford.
"If you want to celebrate the place that bookmaking and bookselling still have in our lives . . . immerse yourself in Ross King's rich history of Vespasiano da Bisticci, 'the king of the world's booksellers,' in 15th-century Florence. . . . 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 New York Times Book Review
"A marvel of storytelling and a master class in the history of the book. The Bookseller of Florence is a dazzling, instructive and highly entertaining book, worthy of the great bookseller it celebrates." —The Wall Street Journal
"Throughout, 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. . . . A treat for book lovers." —Kirkus Reviews
"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." —Booklist
"A richly detailed portrait of 15th-century Florence and the important role booksellers played in disseminating ancient Greek and Latin texts that were vital to the Renaissance. . . . This expert account shines a new light on the Renaissance." —Publishers Weekly
"In this fascinating biography, Canadian author King weaves Vespasiano's story into the fabric of the tumultuous times in which he lived. 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." —Library Journal (starred review)
"The scope of King's knowledge is staggering and his book bulges with facts. . . . Remarkable as these feats of factual exposition are, King's supreme ability is to imagine himself into the past . . . Spectacular." —The Times (UK)
"An eloquent biography." —The Economist
"The fascinating account of a 15th-century bibliophile who revered hand-lettered tomes." —Washington Independent Review of Books
"Delightful, immersive . . . engrossing and meticulously researched." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
Other titles by Ross King
The Story of Painting
How art was made
The Definitive Visual Guide
Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
Their Lives and Works
Score One for the Dancing Girl, and Other Selections from the Kimun ch'onghwa
A Story Collection from Nineteenth-Century Korea
A Geography of Metaphors
The Vatican: All the Paintings
The Complete Collection of Old Masters, Plus More than 300 Sculptures, Maps, Tapestries, and other Artifacts
Leonardo and the Last Supper
The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven