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Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
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A Book About Fonts

A-Just My TypeBritish journalist Simon Garfield is the author of 12 works of nonfiction, including the Somerset Maugham Prize–winning The End of Innocence: Britain in the Time of AIDS (1994). He has also contributed to the Independent and the Observer.

The Topic: Although fonts can be traced back to the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century, the recent explosion in popularity was set off by Silicon Valley sage Steve Jobs, whose early fascination with calligraphy led him to include a variety of fonts with Apple software. In this whirlwind tour of the field of typography, Garfield reveals the history, science, and art behind the visible word, scrutinizing individual fonts, their bizarre stories, and the emotional responses they elicit. Irreverent Comic Sans, for example, inspires such loathing that there's a growing movement to ban it, and sophisticated Gotham has been credited with helping President Barack Obama win the 2008 election. Typeface, argues Garfield, has been shaping readers' perceptions since humans first began carving symbols into stone.
Gotham. 356 pages. $27.50. ISBN: 9781592406524

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Whether you're a graphic designer or a layperson with no background in this area, reading what Garfield has to say will change the way you perceive the written word forever. ... The take-away from Garfield's book is simple: Contrary to reports of its premature death, print is very much alive." Wes Bausmith

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"This is a smart, funny, accessible book that does for typography what Lynne Truss's best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves did for punctuation: made it noticeable for people who had no idea they were interested in such things. ... A full look at font history, aesthetics, science and philosophy could fill an encyclopedia, but Just My Type is an excellent gloss." Janet Maslin

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 4 of 5 Stars
"For anyone who thinks that the shape of a ‘G' is boring, Garfield's wit and warmth in writing show them how exciting, alluring, and controversial it can be. ... Garfield does a masterful job of weaving together the cast of characters, the nuts and bolts of how fonts are designed, their terminology, and the notable historical moments in a manner that is accessible, humorous, and memorable." Courtney Cable

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Just My Type ... is informative, delightful--and essential reading for word geeks everywhere. Simon Garfield, a prolific British journalist, has a lot to say about fonts, all of it as lucid and unfussy as Calibri Bold (and never as dull as Times New Roman)." Adam Woog

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Life is full of surprises, and finding a book about fonts both informative and highly entertaining is just one of them. ... Typography is a vast world most people never knew even existed in such detail. But not only does it exist, it's fascinating." Craig Wilson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"He can disappoint readers with occasional stretches that read like something a wine critic might write--for example, by describing Goudy Old Style as ‘a finely drawn but rather vulnerable font, nodding to the Renaissance with fluid base lines, nervy flourishes and the most delicate serifs.' ... But by and large, his book informs as it entertains." Harry Levins

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Because he doesn't seem as interested in the quiet subtleties of book design, or the history of type design, he often abruptly transitions back to his real love: 20th-century sans serif fonts like Gill Sans, Futura, Universe and the ubiquitous Helvetica. Without a clearly established chronological timeline, typography newcomers and obsessed typophiles alike will become quickly confused when the book jumps back and forth willy-nilly through the past five centuries of metal and electronic type." Allan Kornblum

Critical Summary

Amazingly, Garfield is able to take this potentially dull topic and turn it into a clever and witty book that both entertains and enlightens. You may even catch yourself laughing out loud. Garfield's sly sense of humor and snappy writing doesn't overwhelm readers with industry technicalities but instead keeps things light, fun, and surprisingly fast-paced. A couple of critics protested that Just My Type occasionally rambles, jumps jarringly through time, and reads more like a collection of amusing anecdotes than a comprehensive history, but they still thought it was "charming and informative" (Minneapolis Star Tribune). Whether they considered it mesmerizing or somewhat muddled, all agreed with USA Today that "once you read this book, you'll never look at that road sign the same again."

Cited by the Critics

Eats, Shoots & Leaves The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation | Lynne Truss (3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2004): A best seller in England and the United States, this lively and cleverly informative book about punctuation serves up the unintentionally humorous consequences of not minding your commas and semicolons.