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You are looking at it right now, and if it is doing its job, you don't even notice it. It might represent a creation that has taken centuries to come to its current state of perfection, or it might be something that a dedicated specialist worked on for years and brought out a decade ago. It represents artistry directed within a circumscribed realm. I am talking about the font in which these letters are presented. Thirty years ago, fonts were usually the interest of only a select few in the printing world, but now every computer is charged with fonts and everyone gets to be an amateur typographer (technically, the font is a specific set of metal parts, or digital files, that allows reproduction of letters, and a typeface is the design of letters the font allows you to reproduce, but you can see how the words would get used interchangeably). Simon Garfield is not a professional typographer; his role is bringing out fine nonfiction about, say, stamp collecting, history, or the color mauve. But he has an amateur's enthusiasm for fonts, and communicates it infectiously in _Just My Type: A Book About Fonts_ (Profile Books). This is not a collection of type designs, though there are many illustrations. In most cases it won't help you in finding out what font you happen to be looking at (but it will tell you how to do so in surprising ways). It is a book of appreciation for an art that is largely invisible, but is also essential.

I would not like to read pages set in any of the fonts in one of Garfield's last chapters, "The Worst Fonts in the World." On the list is Papyrus, which caused a stir when it was used extensively in the film _Avatar_. The expensive film used a free (and overused) display font, and font fans noticed. There was also a font war (also known as a "fontroversy") when in 2009 Ikea decided to change its display font from Futura to Verdana. The change inspired passionate arguments in mere bystanders, "like the passion of sports fans," says Garfield, and the _New York Times_ joked that it was "perhaps the biggest controversy to come out of Sweden." The biggest of font wars has had a comic edge to it, and it is the starting point for Garfield's book. Comic Sans is a perfectly good font. It looks something like the letters you see in comic books, smooth, rounded, sans serif, clear. Because it caught on and was quickly overused, there has been a "ban Comic Sans" movement. Even the heads of the movement, which is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, admit that Comic Sans looks fine, say, on a candy packet; but they have also seen it on a tombstone and on a doctor's brochure about irritable bowel syndrome. If you see a font and you wonder which one it is, you can take steps to identify it. Lots of people like to do this. It is especially useful to examine the lower case g. (The other character that reveals a lot is the ampersand, which, maybe since it is not a letter or a punctuation mark, appears in exuberant eccentricity even in some calm fonts.) That g has a lot of variable points; it might have a lower hook or it might have a loop, it might have a straight line on the right, or the upper loop might have an ear that rises or droops, and this doesn't even get into whether the upper loop is a circle, a long or wide ellipse, or has uniform width. Take a look at the g letters shown here, or in your regular reading matter, and you will be amazed at how variable a selection of even only a few can be. If you have your g, you can look it up in font books, but there are so many fonts now that no book comes close to showing them all. There's an application for the iPhone which allows you to take a picture of the letter in question, upload it somewhere, and then get suggestions of possible matches. Or you can go to a type forum and ask there, because there are lots of people devoted to hunting down this sort of thing. And they take it so seriously that, as on many internet forums, they get rather snarky about disagreements.

If you don't pay attention to fonts (and most of them do their work best by not calling attention to themselves), Garfield's entertaining book might get you started. There are chapters about the difficult matter of copyrighting a font, because if you design a good font it is easy to copy it, and there isn't much that can be done about font piracy. Font designers work for love, not money. There's a chapter on "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy white dog" and other phrases that show all the letters, or particular words that display a lot of the letters most important to font design. There's plenty of history starting with Gutenberg and the historical Roman types from which are descended many of the fonts we read every day. Between the chapters are "font breaks" to praise Albertus or Gill Sans and to tell about how they came to be designed, with plenty of anecdotes and other funny or sad stories. This is a delightful, amusing book about a whole world most of us take for granted.
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Simon Garfield is a British author who has written non-fiction works delving into everything from the history of AIDS in Britain, to the attitudes of the British during and after WW2. He's a splendid writer who concentrates on - shall we say - somewhat "quirky" topics. Case in point is his current book on fonts (or founts, as they used to be called).

Fonts came into being with the invention of the printing press in the late 15th century. It is shocking to realise that the printing of books for the masses has only existed for a fraction of man's existence. Books are such an integral of our lives that its amazing to think only 600 years ago books were owned only by the very wealthy or religious orders.

Garfield traces the history of fonts from their earliest days, paying special attention to those which we're most familiar with - Helvetica, Gill Sans, Arial, and Akzidenz Grotesk (a favorite of mine, if only for the name). He writes about the artisans behind the lettering, and most interesting, how certain fonts cause emotional responses in the people who view them. Why were some fonts popular for hundreds of years, only to fall from favor? How do fonts determine what consumers buy and what they don't buy? And how boring our lives would be if everything was printed in the same font.

Garfield has a lively writing style and is never boring. He gives a very good reference section at the back of the book, which is very helpful to those readers who want to know more.

By the way, if you're reading this, then be sure to read the review by Rob Hardy in this section. His long and interesting review is spot on - he's a reviewer's reviewer - and Rob's are the gold standard of reviews.
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on September 2, 2011
I hope the (deservedly enthusiastic) reviews here from various "font geeks" will not lead general readers to believe this book is mostly for graphic arts specialists. I'm someone who generally pays more attention to what words have to say than how the letters are formed, and yet I found this to be one of the most enjoyable books I've read in years. Might have something to do with the author being from the UK, where clever writing is clearly emphasized and appreciated. For sheer writing quality, and therefore reading pleasure, it was an actual page-turner. To say nothing of the fun of the many short "Fontbreak" chapters and the witty visual samples and captions interspersed throughout (a good reason for buying the print version).
As I've previously found with works by Malcolm Gladwell & Atul Gawande, Simon Garfield's book was both fun to read an intellectually gratifying in its combination of light-touch prose and eye-opening history. It's not exaggerating to say this book has changed my whole perception of the reading experience from both a tactile and an historical point of view. Indeed it changes my visual appreciation of the world OUTSIDE of books in a way that hasn't happened since my sitting through two semesters of The History of Western Art in college! Immersed while on the crosstown bus, I found myself lifting my eyes to examine every awning I passed, wondering what is that font, how old is it, who chose it for this store or billboard, etc. etc.
Per Janet Maslin's rave in the New York Times, I really hope JUST MY TYPE becomes a surprise hit like Lynne Truss's EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES -- and for the same word-loving audience, not just (excuse the pun) graphic design types. It deserves it.
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on June 28, 2012
Interesting subject. Fun preview chapter. Great looking book. Good reviews. What could go wrong?

This book commits the cardinal sin of taking an interesting subject and making it boring, and tedious, and distant, and even kind of snooty. There's no question that this SHOULD be a good book, but it's not.

After a couple of chapters I got the distinct feeling that I was at a very exclusive party where I didn't belong. The author drops obscure names of fonts and historical figures as if I should know them. Then he tells parts of stories, apparently assuming that I know more of the backstory than I do. He breezily concludes stories before they can be understood, or breaks stories into chunks which make them less comprehensible. He tells jokes which I don't get, because I don't have enough information (at least I THINK they are jokes). He writes as if only an idiot would have come to this party without being able to throw typographical terms around for humorous effect, and it would be positively gauche to stoop to explaining the basics to the reader with a blank look on his face. Perhaps it is just the nature of his all-too-British style, but his turns of phrase are oh-so-precious and it gets very annoying after a short while.

Here is a typically frustrating paragraph (page 93):

"Caslon may have modelled [sic] his types on those of the Antwerp printer Plantin, and his French typefounder Robert Granjon, and a part of their appeal was that they were specifically not German. Depending on the quality and bleed of the ink, the whole alphabet could also display a vaguely piratical cragginess."

Here are the problems: Neither Antwerp, Plantin, or Granjon is ever mentioned before this paragraph, and each will receive only one more casual mention (without biography or other contextual information) over 100 pages later. The concept of a "typefounder" is never explained or discussed, and the term itself isn't used enough to derive meaning from context (is it an employee? subcontractor? predecessor? mentor? collaborator? innovator? coworker? tradesman?). The characteristics and reasons for classifying fonts as French or German, or even the cultural issues of the era are never addressed anywhere in the entire book. The "quality and bleed of ink" sounds like a potentially interesting concept, but it is only ever mentioned in passing with no conceptual background. And "piratical cragginess"? Please.

By contrast, the preview chapter available on Amazon (about the overuse of Comic Sans) reads like it came from a completely different author.

The impression I'm left with is that this is a book for typography geeks -- and no one else. (The author spends all of half a page explaining the elements of a typeface, the characteristics of letters, and the process of design. I thought these were the subjects of this book!)

It wasn't until page 270 that I found a story of the sort I had hoped to find throughout the book. Paul McCartney tells about how the letters of the Beatles logo were created (or at least how he thinks he remembers it). The story is only about four pages long, so don't buy the book just for that.

In fact, unless you already know the creator of the Bembo font, or what to call the part of a letter which hangs below the rest, or how a typeface is "cut" or "founded", or what the difference is between a "font" and a "typeface", don't bother with this book.
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on May 18, 2013
When a book's first chapter promotes the idea, in so many words, that Steve Jobs invented computer fonts, you know you've sunk into the fantasy land of the Apple cult. You know, the people who believe that Jobs invented the mp3 player. Before you burn me at the stake, let it be known that I have nothing against macs. That's not the point. Religious fanaticism is.

Once chapter 1 has clarified how much or little faith you can place in the author (depending on your techno-religious orientation), you can enjoy a modestly entertaining piece of journalism--nothing too inspired nor too well researched. A few historical details kept me reading.

The typography was atrocious. Turn to page 172, for instance (the first page of chapter 12) to see rivers of white in a paragraph with amazingly poor justification. What, this was typeset in Microsoft Word? Isn't everyone in the printing world using Indesign nowadays? That page is no exception. The copy-editing is equally poor. And the paper looks like it's been recycled three times.

There are many superior books about fonts--I own several. I'd recommend starting with those (with the help of Amazon's sort by rating system), and only looking Garfield's pamphlet if you're in the mood for fast-food.
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on November 19, 2011
Just My Type is a "litte book" on typefaces and printing directed to the layman, not the professional or type aficionado. For example, the author tells you where the terms "lower case" and "upper case" originated -- I never knew that. I also found the brief discussions of the legal issues faced by type designers educational. Now I know why Helvetica is not widely available on computers. On the other hand, without at least a minimal interest in typefaces, I doubt the reader would get very far before setting the book aside. Fortunately, I have a sufficient background in "printing" (predating the choice of fonts to select on the computer -- not including Amazon reviews) that I made it to the end. The most frustrating thing to me was the absence, in a significant number of situtions, of actual examples -- printed in the book -- of the typefaces, and their nuances and their differences, that the author was discussing.
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on September 4, 2011
This made for an enjoyable and easy read. For anyone who's studied typography or design, I can't imagine the book would contain anything they don't already know, but for a clueless layman like myself it's full of interesting information on something most of us probably give little thought to. As someone coming to this book with precious little knowledge on the subject beyond a passing familiarity with some of the more widely-used fonts out there, I found it contained just the right amount of technical detail to satisfy the curiosity of a non-expert, served up with plenty of anecdotal information and examples that made it very readable and accessible. I enjoyed learning about the people, stories and original purpose behind various typefaces, and how they came to be. The book also finally solved for me the `mystery' (which I had vaguely wondered about, but apparently not enough to bother spending two minutes of my life researching the answer) of where Calibri suddenly sprang from back in 2007.

I liked the way that in most cases, the book gave an example of the typeface being discussed, especially the chapters devoted to a specific typeface, which use the entire first paragraph as an example, giving the reader a better feel for what the author's saying. However, in some cases, where a typeface is just mentioned in passing, the example is limited to just setting the font name in that face, which I found mildly infuriating when the author is writing about how the typeface in question features particularly attractive or unique letters which are not used in the font name, leaving me trying to picture what's being described and wanting to run to the computer and look the thing up and see for myself. The copy I received was an uncorrected proof, though, so this may be addressed at a later stage.

This is the kind of book you can easily dip in and out of, although I read it straight through over the course of a few days. If, like me, you're no expert but have ever found yourself admiring a particularly appealing typeface and wanting to know what it is, or grinding your teeth over a colleague's inexplicable choice of font, you will probably find this one worth a go.
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on January 8, 2011
If you love all things type related, you will love this book. It includes fascinating stories about type designers and the history of specific typefaces. This is my new favorite book, and it will sit on my bookshelf next to my second favorite book, A History of Graphic Design by Meggs. Beautifully written, and an essential resource for anyone who teaches typography.
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on November 30, 2011
The book is moderately interesting, but would have been greatly improved by including more visual examples and comparisons. If Helvetica and Arial are mostly the same, but with slight differences, SHOW us the two side by side (full alphabets, not just a few words in each) so we can SEE that this "e" looks different from that "e".
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on December 31, 2011
I've always has a nerdy curiosity about the names of fonts as they appear in the little drop down box in software applications, wondering who gave them their names and why (especially the oddball names). I guess it's fairly intuitive that different fonts can create different moods and that font choice can affect readability. But after spending the past couple of years working closely with graphic designers, I now know that choosing the right font is a skill based on its suitability for each particular project. After a spirited office debate recently erupted over the use of Comic Sans, I thought this book would be a timely and informative read.

Just My Type is a unique and mostly entertaining combination of typography, history, art, and pop culture detailing how typefaces developed, starting with Gutenberg, and how they have evolved with the influence of culture, history, and especially technology. I had to laugh at the section on the Dymo label maker - I remember the joy and frustration of using those as a kid.

The author details the history of many popular fonts, including Gill Sans (which I will now unfortunately associate with the icky personal predilections of Eric Gill), Garamond, Verdana, and of course the font everyone loves to hate, Comic Sans. He explains the huge impact that the spread of the personal computer had on font awareness. It's interesting to think that 20 or 25 years ago, most people had never heard of today's most common fonts like Arial, Tahoma, and Times New Roman. Some of the more interesting sections involve the impact of typeface on everything from road signs to record labels to political campaigns.

For me, the book delved maybe a little too deeply into font "rockstars", their process, their opinions on fonts, and the in's and out's of designing typefaces - or maybe it just got a little repetitive for me as it seemed that similar tidbits were presented in several chapters. Towards the end, I did skim a bit. Also, the book could have benefited from some better organization - it felt a little haphazard. While the book gave examples of different fonts under discussion, in most cases, the typeface was a limited to the first paragraph in the chapter or sometimes just to the name of the font or a few single letters. It would have been nice if more samples were provided for reference in sections where the author discussed the "bowl of the g" or the graceful curling tail of the y, etc.

~Read in November 2011
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