- Series: Lecture Notes (Book 78)
- Paperback: 685 pages
- Publisher: Center for the Study of Language and Inf; Reissue edition (June 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1575860104
- ISBN-13: 978-1575860107
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #556,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Digital Typography (Lecture Notes) Reissue Edition
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Most programmers who write programs for setting type have only a passing knowledge about the aesthetics of good composition. The programs are adequate, but to do a first-rate job of typesetting still requires a lot of handwork.
Donald Knuth has written a different kind of program. First of all, he spent considerable time learning the book compositor's art, and that shows in the details of TeX -- as with the oft-mentioned paragraph optimization routines. But more than this, TeX is malleable. It is a tool that lets skilled compositors automate more of the niceties of fine composition, rather than having to add them by hand.
What makes TeX an exemplary program is that the skills and knowledge of various people can be added to the program for all to use, whether or not they actually possess that knowledge and skill. Isn't that the finest purpose of a computer program? -- Charles Ellertson
This is an electrifying book. The essays collected here helped lead typography from its mechanical and photographic past into its electronic, digital future.
Knuth's far-ranging approach was markedly different from the usual articles about digital typesetting, which tended to dwell myopically on the minutiae of gadgets and gizmos. With the engaging charm and enthusiasm characteristic of so much of his writings, Knuth discussed the typography of mathematics, and the mathematics of typography. He examined the history, the art, and the mathematical ideas that joined them. In his illuminating vision, mathematical typography took its proper place in the history of ideas, not as a niche subject, but as a broad and richly fascinating field that deserved and invited deep investigation. -- Charles A. Bigelow
One of the foremost figures in the field of mathematical sciences, Knuth has written papers which are widely referenced and stand as milestones of development over a wide range of topics. In this collection, the second in the series, Knuth explores the relationship between computers and typography.
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The book's content is eclectic; some of it requires knowledge of calculus or algorithmic design to fully understand, while some requires deep knowledge of TeX to appreciate; some can be appreciated without knowing any computer science at all. For example, the first chapter is a speech Knuth gave to a group of mathematicians, showing what he was working on early in the development of TeX. He uses some calculus here to describe the theory behind finding the most aesthetically pleasing curve to use in a letter's shape. Later, he describes how he derived the formula for the curves of the letter S. In the third chapter, Knuth describes TeX's algorithm to break up lines into paragraphs, which uses dynamic programming, a somewhat advanced algorithmic technique.
But Knuth also shows that he isn't just a mathematician trying to ride in and save the ignorant humanities people with his equations; while writing TeX, he also studied traditional printing to see what methods were used in the days before computers, to find out what he could learn from five hundred years of movable type and presses. He comes up with some fascinating problems that printers faced, such as formatting polyglot Bibles. These are Bibles with versions of the text in multiple languages printed side by side, so that a scholar can easily compare the wording of the Greek or Hebrew original with that of a translation into Latin or a modern language. Knuth spends some time discussing how printers in the sixteenth century, and the scribes that came before them, solved the problem of justifying the text in each column so that the layout is easily readable. These sorts of examples can be appreciated even without knowing any math or programming at all.
I did skim over some parts because the knowledge of TeX much deeper than what I have was asked for. I also skimmed over some of the geometry and calculus. Some of the material was a little difficult, and some of it felt like fluff. Still, this book contains some brilliant work, and Knuth's writing style is not just readable but actually fun to read, which is pretty uncommon among mathematicians. As a former English major who moved towards programming, I really appreciated the way Knuth combines the classical with the technical. It may not be for everyone, but if you have even a little interest in TeX, or in how books on dead trees are produced in the modern era, I recommend this.
and just that chapter alone was worth the price of the book.
Having said that... when explaining algorithms, I find Knuth concentrates so
much on the minutiae that the bigger picture is often lost; but that's just
his style and the exposition is always very clear. I've gone through parts
of TAOCP, so his style of teaching wasn't a complete surprise to me.
The word-wrapping chapter itself has a very leisurely style with a lot
of history and background, and it was a very enlightening and pleasant read.
The book itself is a selection of papers, articles, transcripts
of talks and working documents by Knuth on TeX and Metafont
(for the most part.)
Some chapters were not particularly interesting to me, they dealt with
specifics of tricky typesetting with TeX, which I feel has a clumsy
Other chapters were great reading as they dealt with the historical
development of TeX and Metafont. For example, he writes about his collaboration
with Hermann Zapf on the AMS Euler typeface, which gives great insights
on how fonts were developed with Metafont. There are a couple of chapters talking
about his fascination with digital typography and his gradual descent (or is that
ascent!) into developing TeX and Metafont, and they were fun to read.
If you're a Knuth fan, you'll definitely want to get this book. The historical
material makes for nice, light reading, and if you get the urge, you can plunge
into the technical chapters and see some interesting gears within TeX
Instead of beholding TeX and Metafont in their almost final versions, as published in _TeX: The Program_ and _Metafont: The Program_, respectively, you see them grow from the first design studies (when Knuth thought of TeX as a program for two grad students to write over a summer) to where they are today. You see how the collaboration between Knuth and Zapf on the Euler fonts worked, and you get another glance at many facets of Knuth's mind (And a beautiful mind it is indeed, even though it is entirely sane).
If you have any deeper interest in TeX and Metafont, this book is well worth the money.