Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press

Friday 1 August 2008

This is a great hour-long documentary about a technology start-up. It’s got all the classic elements: the spark of an idea, the quest for funding, the need for secrecy, the ups and downs of investors, the early products that fuel the drive to the big dream, the disruptive technology winning in the marketplace, and so on. The only difference is this one happened 500 years ago.

The Machine That Made Us is Stephen Fry’s telling of the story of the Gutenberg press. It’s a good overview of the whole story, inclduding all the technology that went into it. The Youtube link is to a search page because the videos get taken down, but new copies crop up eventually.


I just watch the first 15 minutes or so. Seems interesting but what annoyed me from the start was that Stephen Fry was always talking of Johannes Gutenberg as the "inventor of the printing press". This is misleading, to say the least. The printing press was in use in Europe decades before Gutenberg. His important contribution was the invention of mass production of movable types. Before, people printed with carved wood stocks (yes, also with carved letters) and even single types made of wood. Gutenbergs revolutionary achievement was to make it possible for the printer to cast lead types in great quantity with a simple hand-device. He also enhanced the press and the whole process from laying out the page to the actual printing and experimented a great deal with different inks.

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