- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: David R Godine; Reprint edition (July 16, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0879233338
- ISBN-13: 978-0879233334
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,255,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Anatomy of a Typeface Paperback – July 16, 2010
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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.
Knowledge of history may help the reader in speccing type appropriate to some printing task, but there's very little here that would help in setting up a page of text. It's a book for another purpose, though. It's about the typefaces that are (or should be, or should not be) important to today's typographers, and why.
As a collection of pieces written over a number of years for Printing Impressions, a trade magazine, it is not a systematic treatment of the subject. However, there are some fascinating stories here as well as useful, practical facts for those who work with type or simply want to understand it.
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.)