The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance by Ross King

Once, years ago, I spent a week at a monastery outside Rome with a group of Dominican scholars who were trying to complete the definitive Latin edition of the works of Thomas Aquinas. I was writing about their efforts, and during meals in the refectory they would unloose on related topics. One of them was the nature of the publishing industry—in essence, the copying industry—in the era of the illuminated manuscript, before the advent of the printing press.

To hear them tell it, “publishing” back then was a white-hot center of the culture. A high-end bookseller would have known everyone who was anyone: the 1 percent of that time, humanist and arriviste alike. Imagine the clientele of a gallery owner, criminal lawyer, cosmetic surgeon, private banker, interior decorator, and hot restaurateur in today’s New York or London, rolled into one, and throw in a few warlords and clerics. Under the umbrella pines, from the quiet seclusion of a monastery in the Alban Hills, the scene was hard to visualize.