Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Bookseller of Florence

The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance

by Ross King

The bestselling author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling captures the excitement and spirit of the Renaissance in this chronicle of the life and work of “the king of the world’s booksellers” and the technological disruption that forever changed the ways knowledge spread

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 496
  • Publication Date April 13, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5852-9
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $30.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date April 06, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5853-6
  • US List Price $30.00

The Renaissance in Florence conjures images of beautiful frescoes and elegant buildings—the dazzling handiwork of the city’s skilled artists and architects. But equally important for the centuries to follow were geniuses of a different sort: 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, which bestselling author Ross King relates in his exhilarating new book, was a remarkable man: Vespasiano da Bisticci. Born in 1422, he became what a friend called “the king of the world’s booksellers.” At a time when all books were made by hand, over four decades Vespasiano produced and sold many hundreds of volumes from his bookshop, which also became a gathering spot for debate and discussion. Besides repositories of ancient wisdom by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and Quintilian, his books were works of art in their own right, copied by talented scribes and illuminated by the finest miniaturists. His clients included a roll-call of 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, whereby cheaply produced books reached readers who never could have afforded one of Vespasiano’s elegant manuscripts.

A thrilling chronicle of intellectual ferment set against the dramatic political and religious turmoil of the era, Ross King’s brilliant 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.

Praise for The Bookseller of Florence:

“Magnificent . . . King’s meticulous research provides an immersive reading experience as he expertly weaves the political intrigue of families vying for power and currying favor with the pope into a riveting intellectual history covering the evolution of books, Renaissance Italy, classical philosophy and literature, and the invention of the printing press. A profoundly engaging study of a time when books were considered essential to a meaningful life, and knowledge and wisdom were cherished as ends in themselves. For readers of Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve.”—Booklist (starred review)

“A richly detailed portrait of 15th-century Florence and the important role booksellers played in disseminating ancient Greek and Latin texts that were vital to the Renaissance . . . This expert account shines a new light on the Renaissance.”—Publishers Weekly

“A fascinating, thoroughly engrossing book. ‘. . . All lovers of learning—popes in Rome, ecclesiastics, kings, princes and all learned men—made tracks to his door.’ We join this illustrious group at the door of Vespasiano da Bisticci’s bookshop with Ross King as our guide. He has written an account of the men and events of Renaissance Florence and the books they loved and collected. He brings alive the process of book making and the transition from meticulously produced manuscripts to mass printing. The details and connections that Ross has so artfully put together are simply fascinating . . . A book that will make book lovers swoon! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and eagerly look forward to talking about it.”—Rene Martin, Events Coordinator, Quail Ridge Book (Raleigh)

“I loved it! I have always admired Ross’s ability to make complicated subject matter understandable and love the way he puts it all in social, political, and economic context. There are many parallels to bookselling through the years—that was particularly interesting.”—Marygay Shipley, former owner, That Bookstore in Blytheville (Blytheville, AR)

“Ross, you are to be congratulated on giving insights into histories of classic literature, writing processes, Florence, Italy, and one amazing bookseller named Vespasiano. Weaving all the information into a readable volume is quite an endeavor. And bringing things full circle was an additional salute to the power of the reading, study, and open discussion of the written word. Then there were the wars, the politics of wealth and religion. Timely look at world history.”—Barbara Theroux, former owner, Fact and Fiction (Missoula)

Praise for Ross King:

“King has made a career elucidating crucial episodes in the history of art and architecture.”TIME

“Ross King has a track record when it comes to turning such art stories into gripping narratives . . . His method is expansive, including personal, political, social and cultural context.”Sunday Times (UK)

“King has the gift of clear, unpretentious exposition, and an instinctive narrative flair.”Guardian

“King gives us a gripping account of how that painting was created . . . [and] deftly situates the painting in a historical context—against political events in Italy at the time, religious attitudes of the day and contemporaneous developments in art—and also places it in the context of Leonardo’s career . . . A fascinating volume.”New York Times, on Leonardo and the Last Supper

“One of architecture’s great tales.”Newsweek, on Brunelleschi’s Dome

“Ross King expertly wipes away such smudges from the story of this great painting, only to uncover a truth even exciting and improbable . . . Now that art lovers can see the painting as it was originally conceived, this fabulous and eminently readable history will help them appreciate that it was no immaculate conception.”San Francisco Chronicle, on Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling

“Sensitive, deeply researched and altogether delightful.”Newsday, on Mad Enchantment

“A tour de force.”New York Times Book Review, on The Judgment of Paris

“So thorough is King’s grasp of the Second Empire’s cultural politics, so ironic his wit and choice of detail, his text remains a page-turner throughout.”Los Angeles Times Book Review, on The Judgment of Paris