Description of the World - Part 44
Consumer Reports, How to Clean Practically Anything (Belongs in the kitchen.)
The Baffler #19 (You often hear that the political left has no new ideas and if you mean it lacks some overarching new theoretical foundation comparable to Marxism in either scope or seductiveness, that’s quite true. There’s been plenty of less grandiose, more empirical thinking, however.
The problem is that when an accurate diagnosis of political and social problems doesn’t result in actions that either ameliorate the problems or at least create new ones, the repetition of the diagnosis is just depressing. Which is probably why I didn’t subscribe to the Baffler after reading this issue even though the contributors are mostly people I respect or at least think are usefully wrong.)
Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (I first read this book in a library copy when it first came out and was delighted to acquire my own copy when it was reissued in a single-volume paperback I could mark up. This is my favorite scholarly book, bar none. A great deal has been written about the advent of the book and its consequences since; and, of course, the idea that printing “altered the face and state of the world” [Bacon] is hardly new. Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin wrote a notable work on the subject. In my opinion neither the old nor the new works on this topic compare to Eisenstein—I noticed that David Wooton, the British historian, came to the same conclusion in his recent Invention of Science. For Eisenstein’s larger findings, you really need to read the book, which is hardly an unpleasant assignment; but little observations and facts lend her work much of its richness. For example, she points out that Gutenberg’s first print job was not the Bible, but an indulgence and in another place that when “ they handled manuscript books copied by eleventh and twelfth-century scribes, quattrocento literati thought they were looking at texts that came right out of the bookshops of ancient Rome.”)