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Anatomy of a Typeface

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine Pub (May 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 087923332X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879233327
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,764,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Michael Abbott on January 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
While this is not a bad book, I don't think it deserves the five-star reviews it got above.

Each chapter is an article (or perhaps adapted from an article) originally for a magazine called Printing Impressions. As a result they stand alone better than they fit together: some stories are duplicated or unnecessarily scattered over several chapters, while others seem more compressed than they had to be (such as his discussions of sans-serif typefaces.) The type samples are good, often original, which is wonderful for history (but will be a disappointment if you wanted side-by-side comparisons.)

The discussion of the workshop process of making metal type is tantalising but not all that helpful to understanding. And while it has pretty old engravings, they aren't labled or explained to help distinguish essential parts from workshop quirks.

I'd certainly recommend reading Robert Bringhurst's Elements of Typographic Style first. I've not yet read James Felici's Complete Manual of Typography but people say good things. From browsing it seems to be more specific than Bringhurst, with more focus on technology, and less on timelessness. (It's hard to tell but I doubt it has his wonderful prose.)
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lawson has created a wonderful, readable historical account. The first 30 chapters each present one typeface ('font' for computer folk). A typeface's chapter analyzes the structural features of the sorts ('glyphs'), noting how the typeface fits into the usual bins labelled 'black letter', or 'modern', etc. That discussion tends to be spotty, though, and the successful reader already knows a few different ways for serifs to differ from each other, for line weight to vary, and lots more.

What this book does well is present specimens of different typefaces within each family, showing how the letterforms drifted through time, or how they evolved to meet specific demands of paper, ink, and press. The typefaces are arranged in a chronological order, of sorts, but one type face's era may overlap another a large margin. Within each chapter, Lawson explores the development of that typeface, from the calligraphy and earlier letterforms that preceded it up through its contemporary appearance and use. The many examples also show the relationships between members of the same evolutionary tree. A few times, though, the samples could have been bigger, e.g. for pointing out differences in bracketing of the serifs.

This is very much a history of the type designers, printers, and other people in the history of type. It also gives some history of printing and typefounding technology. That motivates discussions of typefaces that were created to solve specific problems of paper, ink, and press, as well as esthetics. Historical information about punchcutting technology and modern type creation tools also explains the changing business relationships between font designers, distributors, and users.
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Format: Paperback
Although called "Anatomy of a Typeface," this book actually takes about 20 classic typefaces and analyzes each, discussing its designer, history, and aesthetics in depth. This is an outstandingly thoughtful and well-researched book by a master in the field, potentially of use both to someone with a basic understanding of the topic and to an expert
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Format: Paperback
I bought this because I was told it was one of the three best books for studying typography (the others being "The Elements of Typographic Style" and "Letters of Credit"). Based on the title, I was hoping this would give me a better sense of the visual/technical vocabulary and structure of typefaces in general. Instead it is basically a history of the important type faces and designers, tracing the reasons why different styles moved in and out of fashion/use as printing technology and publishing in general progressed. I found it very dry, and less useful than the other two books, but I can see where any designer should have at least a passing understanding of the content of this book. I just think it should have a different title. "Letters of Credit" talks more about the "anatomy" of typefaces, so I might recommend starting there.
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