suggestions for primers on book history

In response to an emailed question about foundational texts on the history of the book, I wrote the following response, and I would be glad to hear other suggestions readers might have:
I would recommend that you start with Robert Darnton’s “What Is The History of Books?” in his collection of essays entitled The Kiss of Lamourette. (There is a reply to Darnton in the first essay of A Potencie of Life: Books in Society.) If you’re the journal browsing type, take a look at Book History, an annual that has been produced by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing for the last several years.
As the starting point with foundational texts, go with Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, which is an abridgement (accessible, but with the footnotes removed!) of her much longer work, The Printing Press As An Agent of Change. If you have time and/or are a fast reader, go with the longer work.
Appearing earlier than Eisenstein’s work, Marshall McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy was influential for a time, but I have found his work unsatisfying. Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy is a good synthesis of the extant work on a topic tangential to book history proper; the study of orality and literacy is a different field, although there are significant intersections.
D. F. McKenzie’s Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts is an important set of essays arguing for the importance of considering not only the material nature of texts themselves but also the environment in which they are produced, circulated, and received.
Most recently, Adrian Johns’ The Nature of the Book is seen as, in part, a reconsideration of many of Eistenstein’s assertions. Not everyone agrees, however, that he has really successfully refuted what she has to say. A relatively recent issue of American Historical Review has an interchange between the two scholars.
You might also check out The Book History Reader (ed. by Finkelstein and McCleery) and A Dictionary of Book History by John Feather.
The field has tended to take slightly different directions depending on the area of specialization, but the above are pretty important texts. If you were to tell me that 19th-century America is what you’re most interested in, for example, I might make a different (or additional) set of recommendations.

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  1. History of the Book recommendations

    I asked a newly pseudonymous blog-friend for a reading list on the History of the Book, and he obliged me. And then he blogged it so I can link it! And other people can respond! If you happen to be…

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