The Reformation and the Book

By Gow, Andrew Colin | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Reformation and the Book


Gow, Andrew Colin, The Catholic Historical Review


Early Modern European

The Reformation and the Book. Edited by Jean-Francois Gilmont. English edition and translation by Karin Maag. [St Andrews Studies in Reformation (Brookfield,Vermont: Ashgate. 1998. Pp. xxii, 498. $127.95.)

This English-language edition of a landmark 1990 volume, published in French as La Reforme et le livre: LEurope de limprime (1517-v. 1570) by Les Editions du Cerf at Paris, is faithful to the content and scope of the original. No one can doubt the centrality of printing and books to the Reformation, especially in Germany; but despite the grand synthesis attempted by Elizabeth Eisenstein in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge, 1979), relatively little sustained work on the topic has been done to test the consensus "no book, no Reformation," a view that reaches back to Luther himself. Gilmont, prudently, did not himself undertake the task of verifying the hypothesis on a grand scale, but a decade ago, drew together many of the foremost authorities on books, printing, and the Protestant Reformation to study the issue in as many regions and cultural areas as possible. Gilmont contributed an introduction and an intriguing but short piece on three border cities, Antwerp, Strasbourg, and Basel, places of exchange through which much of the book-trade passed and where printers and book-sellers had access to more than one market, which seems to have been an important factor in the spread of ideas that otherwise might have faced more serious obstacles.

The heart of the volume is the extensive and richly detailed essay on the book in Reformation Germany by John L. Flood, which runs to over eighty pages and is a small monograph in itself. Not only does Prof. Flood detail the central place of printing and of books in the German Reformation, he provides a useful analytic survey of the Reformation itself and engages critically with the more whiggish exponents of this topic, such as Elizabeth Eisenstein. Other highlights include Francis Higman's essay on books in the French-speaking regions (1520-1562), tracking both religious and broader cultural phenomena; Peter Bietenholz's erudite contribution on printing and the Basel Reformation (1517-1565), and a detailed chapter on the book and the Reformation in Italy by Ugo Rozzo and Silvana Seidel Menchi.

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