The Science and Engineering of Materials: A Theatre of Machine Books, 1472–1800.

Toronto, AE Publications, 2023.

Folio (310 x 235 mm), pp. ix, [1], 419, [3]; with over 350 illustrations and 2 illustrated fold-out pages; printed boards, with dust-jacket.


US $110€101

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An extraordinary survey of four centuries of machine books, tracing the evolution of printing techniques and draughtsmanship alongside the development of the machines themselves. In this catalogue of eighty-six works from his collection of books on civil engineering, Mark Andrews situates a series of landmark machine books within a broader context of related works and supplemental material.

Bibliophiles and technical researchers will discover a new approach to the subject material through the striking visuality of the work, with over three hundred lavish illustrations, portraits of key authors, and images of more than twenty-five bookplates from the collection. The glossary, illustrations, and contextual nature of the accompanying descriptions render The Science and Engineering of Materials an equally invaluable resource for non-technical readers, providing a highly accessible introduction to the world of machine books, an oft-elusively defined genre here described as ‘a form of literature that puts these machines on display to promote their use and guide technicians in their creation and application’.

Although the origin of the genre of machine books – which are ‘based in science but do not discuss scientific principles nor develop or discuss theory’ – is traditionally held to be either Georgius Agricola’s 1556 De re metallica or Jacques Besson’s 1578 Theatre des instruments mathematiques & mechaniques, Andrews begins with Valturio’s 1472 De re militari. In opening with a series of incunable works on the use of machines in siege warfare, Andrews traces the gradual shift in the function of machines from the military to the civil, developing a uniquely comprehensive timeline of the genre which is inextricably entwined with the history of the book.

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