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An Essay on Typography Paperback – September 8, 2015


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Editorial Reviews

Review

It deals with technical difficulties, the history and evolution of letters, the craft of typography, type design and manufacturing, even orthography, and is written with clarity, humility, and a touch of humor. --Paul Rand, The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine; Reprint edition (September 8, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879239506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879239503
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 4.2 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #825,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 17, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This multi-faceted book is a gem. It was written in a period when Industrialism was increasingly establishing itself over Craftsmanship. Gill starts by analyzing the clash between these two worlds, then goes on to situate typography in this melee. Most of the book concerns Gill's views on correct typography, some of which seem quirky. Gill is unique: his forward style and searing insight are inspiring and refreshing, even after six decades. The last section of the book is Gill's proposal to convert written English into phonetic writing, avoiding spelling/pronunciation inconsistencies and increasing efficiency. It makes great sense - typical Gill
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By seanwilk on August 14, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I noticed few reviews for this book, so it had to be said. At once a historical view of typography as well as universal ideals still applicable to modern design. Eric Gill was a genius, and his timeless typefaces were the only window I knew him through before I read this book. This is the sort of book that you finish and then go look for more books like it; my favorite kind.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
This essay on typography is actually an essay on far more. It goes well with William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, in its nostalgia for the 'humane' individual craftsman over the commerce and industry. Gill comes back, again and again, to question the proper places of mass production and handwork with respect to each other. He was an idealistic, but still realized that industry was here to stay - it could not (and still can not) simply be wished away. The real goal is "an industrialism ... [with] many noble and admirable features."
Gill uses typography and printing as the vehicle for his social thoughts, and offers a good bit of advice on typography throughout. He discusses letter forms as ethetic, practical, and historical objects - especially interesting from a man who made so much typographic history himself.
I never did quite work my way through all of his social arguments, however. He seems to hold "engineers" as the opponents of art and perhaps creativity. I known that many engineers then and now lack training in esthetics and visual presentation. Anyone who's seen the Brooklyn Bridge or Eiffel Tower knows, however, that engineering is also a creative act. Gill ridiculed the practice of one worker designing a font, a second preparing it for transfer to metal, another cutting the master tools for each letter, and so on. I have to agree, the assembly line mentality is not suited to all tasks, especially when each product is as unique as a letter form. Still, among all arts, printing is perhaps the one most typified by team effort and division of labor. It would be a very rare individual who could create a text worth reading, create the font in which it is presented, set the type and run the press, and carry out all the other tasks needed to create a bound book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Duncan on March 14, 2015
Format: Paperback
Eric Gill was one of the greatest experts in typography, printing and book design that the 20th century produced, and the typefaces that he designed -- Gill Sans, Joanna, Perpetua -- are still in common use, and are among the most successful of all typefaces. The book itself is set in Joanna, and gives a very pleasing appearance. I’m not fond of Gill Sans myself, but that just reflects a general dislike of sansserif typefaces (apart from Optima) on paper, though they work very well on the computer screen and Underground stations. So a short book in which Gill explained his general view of printing and book product is very welcome.

He was much concerned with the state of craftsmanship in any era of increasing mechanization. He believed that no matter how dehumanizing a modern job in a factory might be a worker would still go home and create things: “in his spare time he will make something, if only a window box flower garden.” In several places he refers to the big changes that he saw between the state of industry in 1930 and in 1936: given the enormous increase in mechanization that has happened since 1936 one can only wonder what he would think of the state of book production today.

Like many experts in book design, but unlike most modern publishers, Gill preferred a ragged right-hand edge to the page, as it allows better spacing between words than one can have with justified margins. Nearly all of the book is printed with unjustified lines, but on pages 88 and 89, in a section entitled The Procrustean bed, the lines are justified. Why this exception? Because this is where he discussed why unjustified lines were better.
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Format: Paperback
Eric Gill (22 February 1882 - 17 November 1940) was an English artist (sculptor, stonecutter, typeface designer, printer) and social commentator. He was an early advocate of Distributism -- a socialist Roman Catholic economic philosophy formulated by G.K. Chesterton and others which sought to bring the benefits of industrial capitalism to the masses. Since his death he has received strong criticism because of his somewhat disturbing sex life, which he recorded in his diary, and which was exposed in Fiona MacCarthy's 1989 biography. As often happens, the controversy has brought his artistic works that much more attention (and praise).

As the title suggests, "An Essay on Typography" (first published in 1931) discusses typography. Gill's credentials as a type-designer include the still-popular Gill Sans and Perpetua typefaces. The book itself is set in his Joanna face. I found it quite enjoyable to read. The pages are typeset according to his suggestions (in the chapters "The Procrustean Bed" and "The Book") for page layout: even spacing between words, 10-12 words per line, sufficient line space. The bottom margin is larger than the others, as he recommends, for ease of holding the book. Unfortunately I never hold a book at the bottom (when using one hand I hold it at the top; with two, at the sides). For the most part his notions of good type design and page layout are the same as you hear web designers periodically proclaiming today.

There is a chapter on lettering, giving a very brief history of the roman alphabet. And the next chapter is on the three alphabets in use by printers: uppercase, lowercase, and italics.
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