History, Literature, Reviews

Review: Sher, The Enlightenment and the Book

jacket imageWe’re catching it a little late, but last month the London Review of Books ran such an interesting review of Richard Sher’s The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America that we thought it worth a mention. Sher brings to light the forgotten role of the publishing industry on the explosion of intellectual activity in Scotland during the eighteenth century, as reviewer James Buchan—a Scotch writer himself—explains:

For Sher, whether a piece of paper was folded into four to make a big square volume (quarto) or eight like a modern hardback (octavo) or 12 like a livre de poche (duodecimo), who printed a book and who sold it and for how much, how many editions a book went through and how much money the author or publisher made, whether there were engravings, frontispieces or printed advertisements—all those have important things to tell us about works such as Hume’s Essays and Treatises, his country and his age [and] as befits such an argument Sher’s book is beautifully illustrated.

“Even among bibliographers and book historians who specialize in the 18th-century book trade,” Sher writes, “relatively little work has been done to connect publishers and the conditions of publication with the authors and their books. One of the primary tasks of this book is to re-establish that connection.” For Sher, the Scottish printers and booksellers of the second half of the century … were not ‘mechanicks’ … but collaborators in a London-Edinburgh publishing enterprise that put Scotland on the literary map.

Read an excerpt from the book.