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194 of 210 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but probably the best, December 6, 2005
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This review is from: The Elements of Typographic Style (Paperback)
The Elements of Typographic Style (version 3.1) is certainly a very well written book that contains not only a great deal of useful information but also interesting insights of a more subjective nature. However, it is not as perfect as practically every other review posted here suggests, and I would like to point out a few aspects in which it could be improved.

Little more than half of the 382-page book is filled with what I would call the actual "core" of the work. The other half is dedicated to analyses of the author's favourite typefaces (about 80 pages) and several appendices. There is nothing inherently bad about this distribution, but unfortunately some of the core parts were only given a cursory mention, when in my opinion they deserved more in-depth discussions.

So, for example:

(a) In chapter 8, Shaping the Page, the author lists countless page and textblock proportions and provides a large number of geometric figures representing page formats, but does little more than give each proportion a name ("Full Cross Octagon page", "Turned Hexagon" etc). He then gives a few examples, but not nearly enough, and leaves the reader wanting for more details on which proportions or formats would, in the author's analysis, be more appropriate for this or that type of text. And most of the numbers and diagrams merely take up space in the book, since just knowing about their existence does not help much.

(b) Two diagrams on page 6 (just before the table of contents) are supposed to show the reader how the author came up with the proportions for the book's pages and textblocks. Unfortunately, the hexagons, circles and intersecting lines are not accompanied by any kind of explanation (and reading chapter 8 is not enough to decipher them), so instead of serving as a useful practical example they do little more than decorate the front matter.

(c) In chapter 10, Grooming the Font, Bringhurst advises readers to mend defective glyphs and make glyphs that are missing from a font, but does not suggest ways in which these tasks might be accomplished. One can more or less guess how he went about making the corrections to Photina shown as an example, but it would be useful to be given a little more detailed information. Someone who needs to be told to fix a font certainly needs to be told how to fix it.

(d) On pages 204 and 205, the author shows "part of a text file designed to test for missing or dislocated glyphs". Why not give the reader the full file, as an appendix perhaps? Why not save the reader the trouble of trying to reproduce the full test text (after googling in vain for it), which probably will not be nearly as good as the one Bringhurst, a master typographer, has produced over the years?

(e) The author's suggestions for further reading are not annotated in any way, and many, if not most, of the books mentioned are out of print. The reader will seldom find information about the contents of the out-of-print books (which are often not made clear by the title) on, so comments by the author would have been extremely useful.

Another slightly disappointing feature of a book that has a section on page design is the fact that, at least in my humble opinion, the textblock is a little too close to the spine for comfortable reading - but maybe there wasn't much the author could have done to anticipate the way the binding would work.

In the end, anyone serious about typography will want to get this book anyway: not only because it is probably the best in its class, but also because Bringhurst is a master from whom a lot can be learned. Having said that, until the issues mentioned above are addressed (perhaps in a future edition?), I would not consider this book worthy of "bible status".


I wrote the above review several years ago and originally gave the book four stars. In a recent comment on my review, fellow reader Steve McFarland wrote: "I only wanted to say, half-seriously: the Bible has a lot more flaws than this, but it's still the Bible - I say Bringhurst wrote the definitive text, warts and all!" And he's right: expecting absolute perfection is unrealistic and unreasonable. Five stars it is.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 10, 2007 10:44:17 AM PST
Paladin_Cody says:
Nice critique, thanks for your review. You seem to understand the subject of typography well. The question, however, still remains: is this the best book for the neophyte to come up to speed on the subject, or are you aware of any book that covers the subject better? "Better" is a subjective term, of course, but it should include concepts such as readability and comprehensive coverage of typography.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 27, 2007 3:07:18 PM PST

Perhaps for a "neophyte", "Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works" (ISBN-10: 0201703394) would be a more appropriate pick. (I deliberately avoided using the word "better." :-) But then it depends on your objective. I'd say that The Elements of Typographic Style is mainly for people who are really, really serious about typography.

As to whether there's a single book that covers the subject of typography "better" than this one, I don't think so. If you want all the "nuts and bolts", though, you'll eventually need more than just one book.

Posted on Jun 12, 2007 8:48:24 PM PDT
Matthew says:
Regarding your criticism in (d), I found a great test file that might be useful for this. It is on Linotype's website, and is used to test new fonts for submission. Just go to Home > Font Lounge > Submit Fonts > Submission Requirements. The file is called "test file" and is available in a variety of formats.

Posted on Aug 25, 2007 6:20:57 AM PDT
Keith Dvorak says:
Thank you for such an excellent review. It's a joy to read such an insightful analysis, backed up with examples from the book itself. Too often, reviewers leave it at "bad" or "no good" or fill a review with colorful and less than helpful prose. This review is worth saving and printing off to fold up and insert in the book itself. Again, my thanks!


Posted on Oct 30, 2007 9:37:06 AM PDT
Thank you for this review. Although I'm enjoying the book immensely, I think your criticisms are valid. I also don't share his reasoning for naming the book "The Elements of _ Style" and then writing a 400 page book. He argues that this is because there is so much more to add about typography. As if there wasn't a whole lot to add about language for Strunk and White. The point for them was to focus on fundamentals and eliminate all that noise of rules and rules and history. So it seems like a cheap ploy to sell this book on typography. It should have been called the Typographical Handbook or something. It's not pithy in anyway.

Posted on Aug 16, 2009 3:40:08 AM PDT
The first rule of book reviewing is to review the book that was written, not the one the reviewer thinks should have been written.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 14, 2009 5:17:24 PM PST
In my opinion this IS the best book a neophyte can buy about this subject. Because it covers the main aspects of typography in a way i haven't saw yet. It's full of examples of classic works made by masters. Besides, the author is a very good writer and this is not a common feature in the majority of the books about typography.

Posted on Dec 21, 2011 9:13:34 AM PST
This is a wonderful review, and I appreciate your staking out a critical position in the face of us teeming type nerds who refer to 'The Elements' in hushed tones and treat it as a sacred text. I only wanted to say, half-seriously: the Bible has a lot more flaws than this, but it's still the Bible - I say Bringhurst wrote the definitive text, warts and all!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2012 7:05:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 5, 2012 7:07:14 PM PST
Phillip: Thank you for this thought-provoking comment. I wonder, though, if we can ever review a book - or a film, or a vacuum cleaner, or anything else - without comparing it to an ideal ('the book the reviews thinks should have been written', to use your words). But I'm not discarding this idea.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2012 7:09:12 PM PST
Steve: You're right. Expecting absolute perfection is unrealistic and unreasonable.
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