Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories From Book History

Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories From Book History, by J.P. Romney and Rebecca Romney. Published by HarperCollins in 2017, 353 pp.

You get a better sense of what this book is about from the subtitle than you do from the title. There are a few anecdotes about mistakes in printing or manufacturing books but the bulk of this book is a collection of fascinating stories about the people or events involved in creating books throughout history.

The authors, J.P. and Rebecca Romney, have interesting qualifications for writing such a book. Rebecca is the rare book specialist that appears on the TV show Pawn Stars. J.P. has written a YA thriller, The Monster On the Road is Me. Their writing style is very hip and entertaining, with very current cultural references and a lot of jokes.

The stories are all interesting – some are about very familiar names and some are about people better known in rare book circles. In the former category would be Johannes Gutenberg, Benjamin Franklin, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. In the latter category would be the forger of a Galileo book from 1610, an Arts and Crafts bookbinder, and the revolutionary printer of an English language Bible. But even the stories about familiar figures are full of surprising facts and the contributions of obscure individuals to their achievements.

The stories are almost all grounded in detailed descriptions of the various processes of bookmaking such as printing presses, making paper, creating type faces, mixing inks, copper relief illustrations, and other behind-the-scenes facets of the bookmaker’s art.

The authors’ ultimate theme is that many of these stories from the history of books can inform and shed light on issues that our society is going through right now, including copyright issues, the benefits of the physical book, censorship and fake news. While certainly not comprehensive, this sometimes snarky book on the history of the book is entertaining and informative, and will give the reader some perspective on the issues that continue to bedevil one of humanity’s most important inventions to this very day.