Study Guide

Book Publishing and Censorship

Book Publishing and Censorship Summary

History of Book Publishing (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Although the Romans utilized slave labor to underpin a thriving market for hand-copied books, book publishing in its present form became possible only after the invention of movable type by German printer Johann Gutenberg in the early fifteenth century. Movable type soon led to an explosion of book publishing and the dissemination of ideas that were perceived as dangerous in some quarters. An early best-seller, Gargantua and Pantagruel, written by a former monk and medical doctor, François Rabelais, lampooned the medieval Roman Catholic church for its strict adherence to rigid doctrine. The satire led to the book’s being banned in parts of Europe, and Rabelais’ near arrest. A popular book published by Galileo, A Dialogue Concerning Two Planetary Systems, which challenged the Church doctrine concerning an earth-centered universe, led to his imprisonment in his own home, and to the book being banned by the Church. In the early days of book publishing, popularity did not always ensure personal safety for authors.

Other factors worked against the spread of book publishing. The absence of laws regarding copyright made plagiarism and piracy of written works a common practice. Draconian libel laws in England worked against the publication of many works, leading to either self-censorship or outright repression. Seventeenth and eighteenth century English laws meted out stiff punishments for anyone found guilty of making false statements in...

(The entire section is 485 words.)