- Paperback: 382 pages
- Publisher: Hartley and Marks Publishers; Fourth edition (January 15, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780881792126
- ISBN-13: 978-0881792126
- ASIN: 0881792128
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 202 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Elements of Typographic Style: Version 4.0: 20th Anniversary Edition Fourth Edition
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About the Author
Born in Los Angeles in 1946, Robert Bringhurst was brought to Canada at the age of five, raised largely in Alberta, and has lived and worked in British Columbia since 1973. He currently lives near Heriot Bay on Quadra Island.
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Bringhurst says (on page 195) that "The type cannot be chosen without coming to some decision about the kind of paper it will be printed on, and cannot look right in the end if that decision is later betrayed." His example is about proportions, but transparency and style ask similar questions. Perhaps he was betrayed in this printing?
The book is mostly great, despite a strange lack of history around spaces and punctuation, and occasional hectoring, but an unreadable typography book is a sad thing. (I have version 4.2 (2016).)
Provided, of course, that readers take time to absorb what Bringhurst offers and skip those parts that don't work for them (which should generally be the case for any book but is especially pertinent for this title). For instance, Bringhurst goes into exhausting detail about perfect proportion, thirds, sixths, and ninths, as well as harmonics, all of which may be Greek (or choose other suitable language) to many readers, while also offering diagrams and illustrations showing the "smoothness" or "disorder" of various layouts. The latter elements should connect with readers emotionally even if the geometric discussion comes up short.
Bringhurst's approach is highly technical but also esoteric—he may comment on the tiniest details of a descender for a specific font based on mathematical proportion, then launch into a completely subjective analysis of said descender's emotional impact on readers. Because of this style, many readers may find portions of the text dull or overly abstract; the good news is that, also owing to this nonlinear style, you can just skip forward until you find something interesting, without any loss of continuity. For instance, The font section, with images and detailed descriptions of dozens of oft-used (and some not-so-oft-used) fonts, is a tremendous reference when one is searching for a font for a specific purpose such as page-count reduction or extensive glyphs.
Bringhurst is a genius, and in spots he conveys information about layout and formatting that at first appears paradoxical or at odds with conventional thinking. In other places, as noted by another reviewer, he appears to suffer from the typical inability of geniuses to convey content to a broader audience. Despite that flaw, I considered much of that content to be a bonus because of its mere presence in the book, and for that reason I gave it five stars. Nothing else out there comes even close. And yes, the book itself is laid out perfectly.
All in all, what this book lacks in readability it makes up for with the extensiveness of its content, providing information that can be used both by professionals and by those with no preexisting knowledge of typography.
Don't buy this book if you don't like to read. It isn't a quick guide that will cram the basics of typography into your skull before tomorrow's midterm exam. This is the sort of book you curl up with when you have a long rainy afternoon to yourself. It is long-winded, goes off on tangents, and the author, while immensely knowledgeable, is set in opinions that will not be shared by everyone. An opinionated typographer (and aren't we all?) will read some passages in twitchy annoyance, wishing one could call up that Mr. Bringhurst and tell him a thing or two. But whether you agree or disagree, you will be thinking of your reasons, evaluating your conceptions and becoming better for it. Reading this book is like having a deep conversation with your favorite friend who is keen to discuss the nuances of typography with you hour after hour. Except probably your friends are like mine and wouldn't recognize a ligature if it bit them on the serif, which is why this book inspires so much devotion. It's personal, poetic, and speaks to your heart - if your heart happens to be full of glyphs.