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Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World Hardcover – August 11, 2015
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Valerie Lester has produced a first-rate, lushly illustrated biography of the creative genius who came up with the [Bodoni] font.--Jan Gardener, The Boston Globe
There has been no extended biography of Bodoni in English until now. Lester comes at it with freshness and enthusiasm....she has provided much about Bodoni's circles not previously available in English. --TLS
Complete with numerous color plates of the personalities, type specimens, and related illustrations, the book satisfies the cravings of the biography lover while serving as eye candy for the typophile, bibliophile, and Italophile. No less would be expected from Boston-based publisher David R. Godine, the independent press with a reputation for fine design and vision of books as works of art. With Lester's refreshingly disarming tone distinguishing the book from many dull biographies or condescending art history tomes, this is the perfect marriage of project and publisher. --Sheri Caplan, Bookslut
A lively and well-informed study... this is a book that should interest many in the fields of print history and eighteenth-century Italian culture. --Bob Patten, Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing
Speaking of beautifully produced books, here is yet another from that nonpareil publisher, David R. Godine. Any student of colophons or of those pull-down menus listing digital typefaces will recognize the name Bodoni, the 18th-century printer and immensely influential type designer. If there's a serious bibliophile on your gift list, you need look no further for the right present. --Michael Dirda, Washington Post
It would find a good place on the bookshelf of anybody interested in the art of typography, the history of Europe during the French revolution, the past and present of Italy and anybody with an appreciation for an interesting and beautiful book. --TUG Journal
Written with verve and elegance, profusely illustrated with relevant portraits and city views as well as examples of Bodoni s art, and itself beautifully produced, Lester s biography is a bibliophile's ultimate delight. --Ray Olson, Booklist
About the Author
Valerie Browne Lester is an independent scholar, writer, and translator living in Boston. She is the author of Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens (2004), a biography of Hablot Knight Browne, Dickens's principal illustrator who was also her great-great-grandfather. She translated Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes (The Magnificent Meaulnes, 2009), and has written poetry, plays, & articles.
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Top Customer Reviews
Bodoni was the grandson and the son of printers, born in Saluzzo, Italy, in 1740. He showed skill at the trade, and got further training in Rome, but the Duke of Parma was interested in boosting the prestige of his city, and part of the plan was to have a grand royal press. Bodoni moved to Parma in 1768, and the royal press was to be his headquarters for the rest of his life. The court knew how important the press and Bodoni were, and he got generous funding, superb staff, and high quality materials. He also established his own foundry through which he sold his own productions. The presses issued a huge variety of material: a daily paper, posters, poems, the English gothic novel _The Castle of Otranto_, classics, plays, and royal proclamations. Bodoni’s work was valued all over the world. Visitors like Napoleon came calling, as did countless scholars and other printers. He had a wide circle of correspondents, and shrewdly sent out copies of the works of which he was most proud to those who could appreciate them. One of his fans was the printer Benjamin Franklin. His magnum opus was a huge specimen book with examples of type, his _Manuele tipografico_. The two volumes consist of page after page of examples of Roman letters, as well as alphabets of Hebrew, Arabic, Oriental languages, and others. There were ornaments and examples of the printing of music, and much more. The book was published by his wife Margherita five years after Bodoni died in 1813; they had a wonderfully supportive marriage and she had great enthusiasm for her husband’s work.
Bodoni has a museum, of course in Parma. You can go there and even handle some of the punches Bodoni made; they have 22,618 of them, and every one is just as ready for use as the day Bodoni finished it. He has been gone for two hundred years, and his influence has not waned. It is here in this gorgeous book, not just in the shapes of the letters, but in design, layout, plates, and illustrations. It is simply a beautiful object, one that Bodoni would have appreciated. He had written about his four basic principles of typography: regularity, neatness and refinement, good taste, and grace. This appealing biography is mounted in a display of them all.
However, this book can also be enjoyed by those who love biography, Italy, and food. Believe me! It shines light on the era in which Bodoni lived (1740-1813), the places in Italy where he thrived, the court of Parma, his worshipful admirers (including another printer, Benjamin Franklin, and an emperor, Napoleon), the food he ate, and the role of his wife who continued to run the press after Bodoni’s death and was responsible for the publication of his masterwork, the Manuale tipografico of 1818.
Not only is this biography eminently readable, it is a beautiful example of book art at its finest. Bodoni himself would have been proud of it.
It is, first of all, a beautiful book, with many pictures, which I loved handling as soon as it arrived from Amazon. And it is gripping from the start, as Valerie Lester tells how she attended a dinner party in California, and heard about a stolen book: the Manuale Typografico, the masterpiece of Bodoni. “Who is Bodoni?” asked Lester. The short answer is that Bodoni (1740-1813) was an illustrious Italian type designer and printer. But as her host explained more, Lester felt a ripple of excitement shiver up her spine. She knew she had found the topic for a book.
Lester goes “behind the font” – and has produced the first biography in English of the man who has been described as “the Prince of Printers”. As she says: “Bodoni is everywhere. His is a favorite font…a mark of elegance on the covers of Vanity Fair and Vogue…he is featured on albums for Nirvana, Mamma Mia and Lady Gaga.”
Lester gives us not only Bodoni’s biography, but the world that he inhabited: its food, its smells, its weather, its famous people. This is a book which is full of life.
Take for instance Bodoni’s involvement with a grape seed: “A friend had presented Bodoni with a basket of beautiful grapes. While hurrying home with them, he delightedly popped one into his mouth, but as he chewed, he coughed, and the seed flew up into the whorls of his nose and settled comfortably in. This particular grape seed must have had a carapace of steel. It remained in Bodoni’s nose for years, failing to macerate, making it difficult for him to breathe and causing splitting headaches.” And consider too the beautiful way that Lester describes the experience of visiting the Bodoni Museum: “If you ever have a chance to visit the museum, spend time with Bodoni’s 22, 618 punches and 42, 148 matrices, all neatly arranged in specially made wooden cases. Ask the attendant to remove a punch from a case so that you can hold it. While you marvel at the coldness and perfection of this jewel-like piece of steel, press on its carved face, so that the letter makes an ephemeral print on your finger – a print from Bodoni’s hand to yours.”
I loved this book, and I strongly recommend it.