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The French Book

The French Book

Religion, Absolutism and Readership, 1585-1715

The book as the subject of a distinct historical discipline dates from the landmark publication of L'Apparition du livre by Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin in 1958. In this further contribution to his pathbreaking work with Febvre, eminent French historian Henri-Jean Martin explores the role of the book and book industry in early modern France. Martin begins with a sweeping look at the revolutionary role played by the new technology of printing in Europe of the Renaissance and Reformation. Shifting the focus to France, he then examines the political implications of publishing in the reign of Francis I, including such topics as the founding of royal and university libraries, the role of church-state relations, Richelieu's cultural program, and censorship.

In revealing case studies of Rouen and Grenoble, Martin pinpoints precisely which books were sold and to which social groups, and explains why the initially successful printers of Rouen were eventually forced out of business by the Parisian courts. Martin also casts a discerning eye on early graphic design—from the first illustrated "coffee table" books purchased by the newly rich to the invention of the paragraph to facilitate reading. And he shows how attempts by the French government to suppress and control publication were eventually thwarted by free market forces from Amsterdam and Neufchatel. This is a book that will be of interest to those who study the history of the book, intellectual history of early modern Europe, and the relation between politics and ideas.