Book Review: The Bookseller of Florence by Ross King

Genre: History, nonfiction
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Pub date: 13 April 2021
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

The Renaissance in Florence conjures images of beautiful frescoes and elegant buildings – the dazzling handiwork of the city’s artists and architects. But equally important were geniuses of another kind: 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 bookseller: Vespasiano da Bisticci. 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 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.

A thrilling chronicle of intellectual ferment set against the dramatic political and religious turmoil of the era, 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.

I’ve recently been intrigued by the Renaissance and how it came about so this book really appealed to me. I hadn’t heard of Vespasiano so this provided a wealth of information.

Vespasiano came from humble origins and rose to become the king of the booksellers, providing manuscripts to Kings, nobility and wealthy patrons such as the Medici.

Not only does this book explain the findings of old classics like Aristotle and Plato but also discusses events in Italy throughout the time and the introduction of the printing press and how this affected people like Vespasiano.

I can honestly say this is one of the best books I have ever read, I have learnt so much and it has encouraged me to learn more especially about the classics.

It is so interesting to know where and when the classics were found, who translated them and who commissioned manuscripts. It’s also wonderful learning how these beautiful works were created, often taking a team to create a single manuscript.

King also gives an overview of the remainder of Vespasiano’s life and career after retiring from book selling. This book had me so fascinated I’ve marked several passages for further reading and King has kindly provided me with advice on seeking out a copy of Vespasiano’s biographies on the men he provided his works for. King has provided an exceptional narrative of literature during the Renaissance and the men who made it possible.

If you are interested in learning about the classics and the Renaissance as well as events in Italy I truly recommend this and it is a book I will reread in the future.

The Bookseller of Florence is available on kindle, paperback and hardback.

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