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  • Published: 18 April 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529920215
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 400

The Book-Makers

A History of the Book in 18 Remarkable Lives

Every book-lover's dream: a celebration of 550 years of the printed book, told through the lives of eighteen extraordinary men and women who took the book in radical new directions.

The Book-Makers is a celebration of 550 years of the printed book, told through the lives of eighteen extraordinary men and women who took the book in radical new directions: printers and binders, publishers and artists, paper-makers and library founders. This is a story of skill, craft, mess, cunning, triumph, improvisation, and error.

Some of these names we know. We meet jobbing printer (and United States Founding Father) Benjamin Franklin. We watch Thomas Cobden-Sanderson conjure books that flicker between the early twentieth century and the fifteenth. Others have been forgotten. We don't remember Sarah Eaves, wife of John Baskerville, and her crucial contribution to the history of type. Nor Charles Edward Mudie, populariser of the circulating library – and the most influential figure in book publishing before Jeff Bezos. Nor William Wildgoose, who meticulously bound Shakespeare’s First Folio, and then disappeared from history.

The Book-Makers puts people back into the story of the book. It takes you inside the print-shop as the deadline looms and the adrenaline flows – from the Fleet Street of 1492 to present-day New York. It’s a story of contingencies and quirks, of successes and failures, of routes forward and paths not taken. The Book-Makers is a history of book-making that leaves ink on your fingers, and shows why the printed book will continue to flourish.

  • Published: 18 April 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529920215
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 400

About the author

Adam Smyth

Adam Smyth is Professor of English Literature and the History of the Book at Balliol College, University of Oxford. He presents the LitBits podcast and is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and the TLS. He also runs the 39 Steps Press, a small printing press which he keeps in his barn in Oxfordshire.

Praise for The Book-Makers

A brilliant time-machine of a book. Each chapter feels like a party packed with old friends and new, and Smyth plays the gregarious host with aplomb

Joseph Hone, author of The Book Forger

Fascinating ... Should teach even serious book-nerds a heap of forgotten and precious information about the making of books. Adam Smyth’s lively prose and human touch puts to rest the idea that book-talk has to be dry and dull. On the contrary! The development of printing, papermaking, and book distribution, for example, are told in chapters as full of surprises as any novel

David Bellos, author of The Novel of the Century

I relished Adam Smyth's The Book-Makers: bursting with fascinating details and vividly-drawn characters, its stories will delight any book lover, and Smyth delivers them with an erudite brio

Roland Allen, author of The Notebook

Amazing. From typeface to papermaking to a whole new-to-me democratic world of book interaction like commonplacing and zines, this book is a soul-expanding celebration of the human spirit

Martin Latham, author of The Bookseller's Tale

Explores in compelling fashion the lives of these fascinating individuals and their roles in making the most powerful objects in human history - books

Richard Ovenden, author of Burning the Books

In Adam Smyth’s evocative prose, the stuff of print - type-punches, paper, presses, and fonts - all become newly fascinating. Come for the Gutenberg bible, stay for the cut-and-paste of seventeenth century women, Benjamin Franklin’s print adverts for a lost dog, and the revolutionary zines of the late twentieth-century. We tend to think about books from the point of view of readers: Smyth has written a new, personal history recovering and respecting those who got their hands dirty making them

Emma Smith, author of This is Shakespeare

Adam Smyth’s The Book-Makers is every bibliophile’s dream. Erudite, insightful and hugely enjoyable, it features an eclectic cast of oddballs, eccentrics and visionaries who have shaped the printed book. A fabulous, first-class read

Giles Milton, author of The Riddle and the Knight

Adam Smyth brings to life in delightful detail eighteen fascinating book makers, women and men, and their often-surprising books. Taking us from Wynkyn de Worde's early printed books in 1490s London to the zine creators of today, Smyth's wonderful book never ceases to captivate and enthrall the reader

Sarah Ogilvie, author of The Dictionary People

[An] exuberant celebration of the printed book … [with] a compelling human angle … Smyth is an engaging narrator, and his history is teeming with life, drama and a cast of vividly drawn pioneers

Homes & Antiques

Agile storytelling and chatty erudition evoke not just the physicality of the book but also its innate humanity


This really is the loveliest of books and you will never take for granted reading a physical copy again


Emphasising the human aspect in all its chaotic truth, The Book-Makers is far from your standard Gutenberg-to-Google history of the book… [Smyth] is almost uniquely well-qualified to convey what his 18 makers felt under their fingertips, and why it mattered to them so much. It is, in the truest sense, an enthusiast’s book; one that deserves to find enthusiasts of its own


A passionate paean to the book, in all its forms, as an object ... So interesting, so thought-provoking

Literary Review

Vivid and often-surprising … The charm of The Book-Makers comes from its interest in wear and tear, blunders and errata, the spontaneous and the scrappy, the residual and the recycled – and in edges, of pages and bindings, society and taste

Times Literary Supplement

Refreshing ... Smyth breathes both books-as-objects and their creators back into life

Financial Times

The Book-Makers breathes bibliophilia. It recalls Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘Unpacking My Library’. Like Benjamin, Smyth unpacks his contents lovingly … I cannot recommend it highly enough


Fierce scholarship and fascinating print nerdery come together here as he illuminates brilliantly a cast of printers, binders, artists, papermakers and library founders. There is a wonderful immediacy to Adam Smyth's narrative

Country Life

Bound to be brilliant ... There's no doubting the breadth of [Smyth's] knowledge and love of the business


Fun and informative ... The Book-Makers gives you a lively sense of the way in which books have been made and unmade, crafted, handled and spliced down the centuries