The Book-Makers

A History of the Book in Eighteen Lives

Coming Soon


By Adam Smyth

Formats and Prices




$25.99 CAD

The five-hundred-year history of printed books, told through the people who created them

Books tell all kinds of stories—romances, tragedies, comedies—but if we learn to read the signs correctly, they can tell us the story of their own making too. The Book-Makers offers a new way into the story of Western culture’s most important object, the book, through dynamic portraits of eighteen individuals who helped to define it.  
Books have transformed humankind by enabling authors to create, document, and entertain. Yet we know little about the individuals who brought these fascinating objects into existence and of those who first experimented in the art of printing, design, and binding. Who were the renegade book-makers who changed the course of history?  
From Wynkyn de Worde’s printing of fifteenth-century bestsellers to Nancy Cunard’s avant-garde pamphlets produced on her small press in Normandy, this is a celebration of the book with the people put back in. 

Request Desk/Exam Copy


  • “Smyth breathes both books-as-objects and their creators back into life.”
    Financial Times
  • “Agile storytelling and chatty erudition together evoke not just the physicality of the book – its beauty, its complexity – but also its innate humanity.”
    Guardian (UK)
  • “The skill of a bibliographer like Smyth is to be able to read those ghostly prints and add a whole second story to the words on the page… It is, in the truest sense, an enthusiast’s book; one that deserves to find enthusiasts of its own.”
    Telegraph (UK)
  • "Agile storytelling and chatty erudition evoke not just the physicality of the book but also its innate humanity."
    Observer (UK)
  • “This really is the loveliest of books and you will never take for granted reading a physical copy again.”
    iNews (UK)
  • “By focusing on personalities over objects, Smyth infuses his history of books and printing with engaging human portraits. His use of present tense propels his prose, making books old and new gloriously, vibrantly alive for all readers, not just booksellers and librarians.”
  • “Bibliophiles will savor this sprightly walk down the book’s memory lane.”
  • The Book-Makers is a passionate paean to the book, in all its different forms, as an object.”
    Literary Review
  • “Erudite, insightful and hugely enjoyable, The Book-Makers features an eclectic cast of oddballs, eccentrics and visionaries who have shaped the printed book. A fabulous, first-class read.”
    Giles Milton, author of Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
  • “Explores in compelling fashion the lives of these fascinating individuals and their roles in making the most powerful objects in human history – books.”
    Richard Ovenden, author of Burning The Books
  • “Evocative and fascinating… We tend to think about books from the point of view of readers: Smyth has written a new, personal history recovering and respecting those who got their hands dirty.”
    Emma Smith, author of This Is Shakespeare
  • “Amazing. From typeface to papermaking to a whole new-to-me democratic world of book interaction like commonplacing and zines, this book is a soul-expanding celebration of the human spirit.”
    Martin Latham, author of The Bookseller’s Tale
  • “Fascinating... Should teach even serious book-nerds a heap of forgotten and precious information about the making of books … As full of surprises as any novel.”
    David Bellos, author of The Novel of the Century

On Sale
May 28, 2024
Page Count
400 pages
Basic Books

Adam Smyth

About the Author

Adam Smyth is professor of English literature and the history of the book at Balliol College, University of Oxford. He is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and the TLS. He also runs the 39 Steps Press, a small printing press, which he keeps in a barn in Oxfordshire, England. 

Learn more about this author