Review: Gutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis

Last October, while reading Jeff Jarvis’ Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live, his compelling examination of the way in which the internet has changed — and challenged — various notions and cultural norms related to privacy and “publicness,” I found myself intrigued with the chapter comparing Gutenberg and the era he ushered in, with the impact the internet is having on the era it ushered in (now).

While I’ve read cursory attempts at such comparisons, Jeff’s writing about Gutenberg was so fascinating that I emailed him after reading the chapter to ask where I could find more on the topic. Not only did he email me back some suggestions, he sent me a 5,000 word document he’d written about Gutenberg that had not made it into the book.

So I was thrilled to see that Jeff had self-published a book he named, Gutenberg the Geek as a Kindle Single ebook of about 6,800 words, using the previously unpublished material he shared with me to tell a completely different story that reminds us how history reveals to us patterns that never stop repeating themselves. (My only disappointment: He should have named the ebook What Would Gutenberg Do? in reference to his previous book, What Would Google Do?)

I found Gutenberg the Great similar (in positive ways) to another one of my favorite Kindle Singles, Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Yearsa 14,000-word volume written by Stanford math professor, Kevin Devlins. Similar to Jarvis’ approach to comparing Gutenberg with Silicon Valley startup guys, Devins compares the role Leonardo of Pisa (we know him as Fibonacci) played in bringing mathematics to western civilization, with the role Steve Jobs played in introducing personal computing to our era.

In Jarvis’ compact and concise book, he fills it with inside-geek references to today’s era of new technology and new business models built on that technology while revealing that others have gone down this path before — hundreds of years before.

I feel certain no one else has written a book of any length that finds parallels in how Gutenberg and the founders of Airbnb.com funded their startups — but it’s that kind of informative, and fun, comparison that enables this to be an informative, but quick, read.