Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie

The suspense, thrill, the secrecy of the printed word!

About Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie: An enthralling literary debut that evokes one of the most momentous events in history, the birth of printing in medieval Germany—a story of invention, intrigue, and betrayal.

Youthful, ambitious Peter Schoeffer is on the verge of professional success as a scribe in Paris when his foster father, the wealthy merchant and bookseller Johann Fust, summons him home to corruption- riddled, feud-plagued Mainz to meet “a most amazing man.”

Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary—and, to some, blasphemous—method of bookmaking: a machine he calls a printing press. Fust is financing Gutenberg’s workshop, and he orders Peter to become Gutenberg’s apprentice. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in the “darkest art.”

As his skill grows, so too does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: printing copies of the Holy Bible. But when outside forces align against them, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures—the generous Fust and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery.

Caught between the genius and the merchant, the old ways and the new, Peter and the men he admires must work together to prevail against overwhelming obstacles in a battle that will change history . . . and irrevocably transform them all.

My two cents

"Books everywhere .. Imagine how the world would look if anyone could buy one."
And so that has come to pass. I know little about Gutenberg other than the commonplace knowledge that he invented the printing press. Being a bibliophile, I naturally have a love affair with the printed word, so why not read this book about Gutenberg?

This read more like a suspense-thriller to me than historical fiction! In this day of instant-everything, who could have ever imagined that printing a book (and the Bible at the that!) would demand much innovation, expense, time, and so much secrecy? It's mind-boggling, it's humbling, and we should be so lucky to be benefiting from an invention that has such a lasting impact on humanity.

The breadth and depth of this novel is quite ambitious and I found each facet fascinating.

First, the personalities: the egocentric and explosive Gutenberg, the longsuffering and painstaking scribe Peter Schoeffer, the good-willed financier and Schoeffer's father-figure Johann Fust -- and don't forget the women in their lives. Then there are the lesser characters who make up the crew that did all the dirty work. Their lives so entwined in this venture and so entwined in this group.

Second is that this highlights the five critical years of trial-and-error of developing the printing process. The author is a letterpress printer and this novel lovingly describes the nuts-and-bolts (literally) of book printing. While some may find the detail a bit much, I devoured it: I loved hearing about things that make up printing -- the script behind the type, the individual letters that were individually shaped, the painstaking job of typesetting, and the backbreaking work of pressing metal to vellum or paper.

Third, I thought this was an especially intriguing piece because of the details of medieval politicking and machinations. Taking place in Mainz, Germany, I was fascinated with the shroud of secrecy that surrounded this new process, the buying off of guilds to protect this secret, and moreso the profound influence of the church with the very idea a process like printing would be viewed as as heretical.


I got pretty hooked on this novel and found it highly informative, engaging, and extremely readable. I loved how the layout of the book celebrates the beauty of old typography in each of its opening chapter pages.

Verdict: I recommend this to anyone who loves their printed books or those who love a good meaty historical fiction read. Find out in this homage to the famed Gutenberg, the lesser known Schoeffer and Fust, and all the people involved in this fictional recounting of how the Gutenberg Bible, and consequently all books, were birthed into this world.

Alix Christie apAbout Alix Christie

Alix Christie was born in California, spent her childhood summers in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, and has lived in Paris, San Francisco, and Berlin. She has been a widely published journalist for thirty years, with work featured in the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, The Guardian, Salon, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her short fiction has been published by Southwest Review and Other Voices. A letterpress printer since her youth, Alix Christie currently lives in London, where she reviews books and the arts for The Economist.

Connect with her through her website, Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in order to participate in this tour. Don't forget to check out the rest of the tour here
Hardcover: 416 pages, Publisher: Harper (September 23, 2014)


  1. I love old typography and the history of books. I'm so looking forward to reading this book!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

    1. There was also a lovely letterpress (or at least mimics it) postcard that came with the book and I thought it captured the essence of the book so well. Thanks for having me on the tour, Heather!

  2. This book sounds quite good. I love historical fiction, and if it is also a thriller that makes it even better.

    It amazes me how inventors did such wonderful work with the little they had to work with.

    THANKS so much for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved November Edition. I am in the list as #5.

    My book entry is below.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry


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