Bound in Venice

Written by Alessandro Marzo Magno Gregory Conti (trans.)
Review by Helene Williams

Moveable type may have been invented in Germany, but the Renaissance-era business of producing and selling books belonged purely to Venice. A political and economic powerhouse, 15th- and 16th-century Venice was a hub of culture and commerce; printers with technical abilities and fine craftsmanship skills converged from all over, building storefronts and warehouses, published and sold titles from the religious to the erotic. The increasing literacy of all classes contributed to what seems to have been an insatiable hunger for the printed word, and carefully kept records of the printers and booksellers reveal inventories and sales records that would be enviable today. Aldus Manutius revolutionized the idea of the book as entertainment, and the concept of the bestseller was born (who would have thought the 16th-century market would bear, much less sell, 100,000 copies of Petrarch?). Hundreds of tidbits like this fill the pages of Magno’s book, all footnoted and documented for the reader wanting to investigate the original (mostly Italian) sources. At times, facts seem rushed together at the expense of the narrative, but if one can keep pace with Magno’s breathlessly delivered discoveries, there’s much in here to excite the imagination, with many connections made between human nature, history, religion, geography, and commerce.