Printed books existed nearly 600 years before Gutenberg's BibleAnnalee Newitz5/14/12 11:45pmFiled to: secret historyGutenberg bibleGutenbergTechnologyHistoryPrinting pressmoveable typeScienceTopFb663EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalink It is a little-known but undisputed historical fact that Johannes Gutenberg did not invent the printing press. Though the Gutenberg Bible was certainly the first mass produced printed work, it was hardly the first printed book — nor was it even the first made using movable type. Chinese and Korean inventors had been producing printed books for centuries before Gutenberg was born.AdvertisementOne of the truisms of Western history is that a German guy named Gutenberg invented the printing press, changing the course of civilization forever. There is no doubt that Gutenberg's printing press was a novel technology. But to say that he invented the printing press is like saying Steve Jobs or Bill Gates invented the computer. He certainly made it a commercially available device, but Gutenberg's role was as a popularizer and entrepreneur. As a technology, the printing press has its origins in Asia, where it existed for centuries before making its way to the West. Gutenberg's real genius was in adapting the technology for a Western market, capitalizing on a few quirks of the Roman alphabet to bring printed books to the mainstream.What is a "Printed Book"?Though we can claim printed books existed since the first letters were pressed into clay from stone carvings, generally historians call woodblocks, or woodcuts, the first printing mechanism. The printer would carve letters and pictures into a flat block of wood, ink the wood, and then transfer the images to cloth or paper by pressing the wood against it. If you've ever used a rubber stamp, it's the same idea — except using wood instead of rubber. Woodblock printing might be painstaking, but once you had your carved wood, you could print several copies of each page from it before the wood was no longer usable. Plus, you would be guaranteed that every copy of the book would be exactly the same, unlike books copied by scribes who often made mistakes or introduced weird jokes into the text.