Summit or Abyss

Andrew Pettegree’s The Book in the Renaissance and John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century share a number of striking similarities. Both are ambitious and accomplished works of scholarship, handsomely bound, competently designed and edited, a pleasure to hold and read. Hefty in intellectual vigor yet eloquent and accessible to an audience beyond a narrow field of research, they are what Thompson describes as “high-quality books with a scholarly content, often (but not always) written by scholars, [that] have the capacity to sell into a general trade market if they are developed and marketed properly” (page 182). They represent the apogee of the types of scholarly works prized by collectors in the early era of print, collectors such as Fernando Colón, the son of Christopher Columbus, whom Pettegree describes fondly, with praise for his remarkable catalogues and annotations about his book purchases, now nearly as invaluable as the works themselves. While Thompson’s previous book, Books in the Digital Age, focused on university presses and other academic publishers exclusively, in Merchants of Culture they are discussed at the margins of the field of trade publishing, the locus of Thompson’s lens in his present volume. In the early days of print, these works of scholarship were the trade.