Often described as the man who knew everything, Athanasius Kircher (1602–80) was a German Jesuit polymath of international renown during his own lifetime. He was a prolific author with an astoundingly broad range of interests, writing about everything, from geology and geography to sinology and egyptology, biology, medicine, engineering, theology, anthropology, music theory and linguistics.
Born in December 1571 in southwest Germany, Johannes Kepler would go on to become one of the greatest observational astronomers of all time. He would also write books that forever transformed our view of the cosmos. He is best known for his three laws of planetary motion that describe the motion of planets around the sun and were expounded across two books, The New Astronomy (1609) and The Harmony of the World (1616). He also wrote about optics, chronology, sunspots and even published a treatise on how to accurately calculate the volume of wine casks. He combined a magnificent intellect with unbounded curiosity.
Within several decades of its invention in Europe, the printed or typographic book was already outselling handwritten or manuscript books. A very conservative estimate would be that 12 million books were produced from the publication of Gutenberg and Fust’s first printed Bible in about 1455 until the end of 1500. In those first decades, printing was an expensive business, and as a result, most early printers were risk averse, choosing to print Medieval staples (religious, educational and scholastic) and the classics of antiquity, recently revived by scholars of the Italian Renaissance.
Fashion is a global, multi-billion dollar industry. From haute couture to $5 tees, it is inescapable — at least for those of us who wear clothes, that is. It is supported and promoted by vast publishing enterprises of glossy magazines and books and million-dollar advertising budgets. And although, arguably, we might say that fashion got its start when humans began wearing clothes 170,000 years ago, fashion as an industry was only really possible after the Industrial Revolution. But centuries before Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, and long before the first fashion shows of the late nineteenth century, we find seeds of an industry in the very first fashion publications.
What people read began to change during the Renaissance. The continued expansion of schools and universities and better literacy was bolstered by the European invention of print in the mid-fifteenth century. The rediscovery of classical antiquity and of the New World, the cosmic shifts, temporal and terrestrial, affected by the Reformation and the Copernican revolution, a renewed interest in mysticism and symbolism — it is in this world-turned-upside-down climate that new and novel literary genres emerged.
Written by Niccolò Machiavelli in 1513, The Prince is undoubtedly the most famous political treatise of the Renaissance and a book that is, if not actually read, familiar to many even today. More than 500 years after its first publication, it still remains both popular and controversial, surviving in popular culture through the adjective Machiavellian, a by-word for political machination, amorality and that ultimately, virtue must bow to expediency.
Even prior to the completion of Gutenberg’s landmark Bible in about 1454, the print-run of 180 copies was already sold out. We know this because it was recorded in letters between Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (1405–1464) and his friend, the Spanish cardinal Juan de Carvajal. In an often quoted passage, De Carvajal writes to Aeneas in a letter dated 12 March 1455: