Originally published in two volumes in 1980, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change is now issued in a paperback edition containing both volumes. The work is a full-scale historical treatment of the advent of printing and its importance as an agent of change. Professor Eisenstein begins by examining the general implications of the shift from script to print, and goes on to examine its part in three of the major movements of early modern times - the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of modern science.
Preface; Part I. Introduction to an Elusive Transformation: 1. The unacknowledged revolution; 2. Defining the initial shift; some features of print culture; Part II. Classical and Christian Traditions Reorientated; Renaissance and Reformation Reappraised: 3. A classical revival reoriented: the two phases of the Renaissance; 4. The scriptual tradition recast: resetting the stage for the Reformation; Part III. The Book of Nature Transformed: 5. Introduction: problems of periodization; 6. Technical literature goes to press: some new trends in scientific writing and research; 7. Resetting the stage for the Copernican Revolution; 8. Sponsorship and censorship of scientific publication; Conclusion; Bibliographical index; General index.
'For fifteen years we have been waiting for a deep level-headed examination of the ways in which print transformed Europe. Elizabeth Eisenstein has written that book … Eisenstein has an intimate familiarity with the great narrative of modern history since the 15th century. She boasts an unsurpassed feeling for the strengths and weaknesses of the ways in which historians have explained great changes. No mania to find laws or principles of universal validity drives her. She is not afraid of detail. Her eye for the telling oddity, the crucial contradiction, in enviable.' Commonweal
'This is a good and important book … the author's clear and forceful style makes it a pleasure to read … Eisenstein is particularly illuminating and discriminating on the part played by the great sixteenth-century scholar-printers, such as the Estiennes, Oporinus, Plantin, in the emergence of ideals of religious tolerance and intellectual brotherhood … She does give us a remarkably complete and highly critical survey of modern historical writing on humanism, the Reformation and science up to the eighteenth century.' The New York Review of Books
'Her two volumes represent an extensive survey of the recent literature on the three intellectual and social movements of the period 1400–1700: the Italian Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution. Ms. Eisenstein examines the major hypotheses as to their causes and progress, and reassesses them in terms of the impact of printing and its products.' The New Republic