Ronald Kidd - November 19, 2021

Capsule Reviews

Giant Worms and Geniuses


I was a big science fiction fan as a kid and devoured books by Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, and others. One of my favorite books was Frank Herbert’s epic novel Dune.

I no longer read much science fiction, but I still enjoy watching it on the big screen (or, during the pandemic, the small screen). So I was excited to hear about the new film adaptation of Dune that was directed by Denis Villeneuve, creator of Blade Runner 2049, among other films.

I watched Dune last night and enjoyed it, despite some reservations. To me, the story seemed slight—lots of pageantry and battles but not much character development. The plot revolves around Paul Atreides, a young ruler-in-waiting of a powerful interstellar dynasty. Paul’s family has been assigned stewardship of the planet Arrakis, a brutally hot world that has almost no water but is rich in “spice,” a mysterious substance required for space travel. Oh, and if you walk on the planet’s surface, giant worms may swallow you.

In spite of story shortcomings, I still recommend the film, because the visual scope and imaginative detail are jaw-dropping and worthwhile all on their own. You enter an immense, forbidding world and struggle alongside Paul. It’s quite a journey.

If you’re a science fiction fan, I say take it!

The Bookseller of Florence
by Ross King

What a fine book! It filled a hole in my knowledge that I didn’t even know was there.

I had visited Florence and done some reading about it as the birthplace of the Renaissance and the home of a staggeringly gifted cast of characters during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, most of them artists: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Machiavelli, Brunelleschi, Raphael, and others. What I didn’t know about was the books.

Florence was a major crossroads in the production and trade of manuscripts, initially scrolls and then bound pages called codexes, and at the center of those activities was a man named Vespasiano da Bisticci. Vespasiano began in poverty and worked his way up to become the owner of a legendary bookshop that took orders, located, created, and sold handlettered and illustrated manuscripts in Europe and beyond.

The shop also served as a gathering place where Florentines discussed philosophy and theology, especially the ideas of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Discovery of their manuscripts sparked those discussions, which in turn helped to fuel the rebirth of classical ideas and values that became the Renaissance.

If Vespasiano’s work connected to the past on one side, it linked to the future on the other. During his lifetime, a revolutionary new technology was pioneered by Johannes Gutenberg less than five hundred miles away, and printed volumes began replacing handwritten manuscripts.

Reading this fascinating book, we come to realize that Vespasiano’s Florence—and his bookshop in particular—was the pivot on which, for the seventy-seven years of his life, the world turned.

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