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To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing

4.3 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1592408351
ISBN-10: 1592408354
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Garfield is a best-selling writer of irresistible enthusiasm. He has energetically and knowledgeably celebrated stamps (The Error World, 2008), typefaces (Just My Type, 2011), and maps (On the Map, 2012). Now he champions the infinitely expressive and influential tradition of letter writing. For centuries, Garfield observes, letters have been “the lubricant of human interaction and the free fall of ideas,” and he presents many provocative examples, from letters written by the Romans in Britain two thousand years ago, establishing the conventions of “greetings and farewells,” to the correspondence of Cicero, Madame de Sévigné, Virginia Woolf, and Jack Kerouac. Garfield covers the evolution of various postal services, tells curious tales about how letters end up in auction houses and libraries, contrasts letters and e-mails (a “hybrid between a letter and a phone call”), and ponders the challenges of maintaining digital archives. Threaded throughout is a suspenseful British WWII epistolary love story: the courtship-by-mail between post-office employees Chris Barker, serving in the Royal Air Force and stationed in Libya, Italy, and Greece, and Bessie Moore, transferred to the Foreign Office on the home front. Garfield’s robust and propulsive engagement with letters as an essential embodiment of the human spirit and a driving cultural force makes for exciting reading and thoughtful speculation about the future of scholarship and communication. --Donna Seaman


Praise for Simon Garfield's To the Letter:

"Stuffed with marvelous anecdotes, fascinating historical tidbits and excerpts...[Garfield’s] epistolary ardor proves infectious."
—The New York Times Book Review 

"Garfield's masterstroke is to intersperse his historical sections with a series of letters written by an ordinary British couple... With Chris and Bessie it is the sheer, unclouded openness that captivates... his book is a shining success."
—Sunday Times

"A wonderfully elegant history."

"Fascinating … provides a moving and illuminating insight into a world that will soon be far from our own."

“Garfield is a best-selling writer of irresistible enthusiasm….[His] robust and propulsive engagement with letters as an essential embodiment of the human spirit and a driving cultural force makes for exciting reading and thoughtful speculation about the future of scholarship and communication.”

"Garfield’s knowledge is wide and his enthusiasm endless."
—The Times

"Wonderful... One of the things which makes this book so attractive is Garfield’s enjoyment of his subject. He writes with a winning informality and freshness... Apart from its author’s erudition and stylishness, the great strength of this book – the aspect of it which conveys most poignantly what we are losing as letter writing becomes a thing of the past – lies in Garfield’s use of a correspondence between two unknown people."
—Literary Review

"This endlessly informative book from one of Britain's best non-fiction writers provides a heartfelt reminder of just how much we'd lose... the book serves up any number of vivid examples from people famous and unknown"
—Reader’s Digest

"Read this brilliant account of a lost art… and weep... such fun... engaging"
—Mail on Sunday
“He offers hope for the letter as a form of writing – though it is not his theme – because he makes clear that people’s instinct to share, discuss, and transmit their deepest, most strongly held feelings survives and adapts, even as technology changes.”
—Financial Times
"An addictive account of a dying artform."

Praise for Simon Garfield's On the Map:

"Innumerable modes of seeing the world unfold in this exuberant history of maps. [...] His droll humor and infectious curiosity will keep readers engrossed as he uncovers surprising ways in which maps chart our imaginations as much as they do the ground underfoot."
—Publishers Weekly

“A vivid foray into the romance of maps. [...] A fine, fun presentation of the brand of cartography that continues to whet our imaginations.”
Kirkus Reviews

"Delightful... If maps be the fuel of wanderlust, read on."
From the foreword by Dava Sobel, author of Longitudes

“There couldn’t be anyone better to write about our love for maps than Simon Garfield, who is a master at unearthing strange facts and mixing them with a lively personal narrative...fascinating.”
Giles Foden, Condé Nast Traveller (UK)

Praise for Simon Garfield's Just My Type:

“This is a smart, funny, accessible book that does for typography what Lynne Truss’s best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves did for punctuation: made it noticeable for people who had no idea they were interested in such things.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"An engaging look at the world of fonts. […] Just My Type urges us to put on the brakes and take in the scenery as far as typography goes. Whether you're a graphic designer or a layperson with no background in this area, reading what Garfield has to say will change the way you perceive the written word forever."
—The Los Angeles Times  

“Reading Simon Garfield’s Just My Type can transform your daily life into an endless quest for knowledge of the typefaces in which signs, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. are set.”
—The Washington Post

“Highly entertaining … Garfield takes readers on a rollicking tour of the world of typography, from book jackets to road signs, TV shows to computers.”
—USA Today 

“A deliriously clever and entertaining book”
—The Boston Globe

“Informative, delightful — and essential reading for word geeks everywhere.”
—The Seattle Times 

“Lively […] intriguing […] a cheeky book about the human side and our reaction to fonts.”
—Seattle Post Intelligencer 

“This is a book for typography lovers who just can't get enough of their favorite fonts. In this well-researched book, Garfield takes a look back at the history of typefaces and how they've influenced consumers throughout the years. Using specific examples, Garfield shows just how powerful different fonts can be.”
—Philadelphia Intelligencer 

“For typomaniacs […] who can't rest until they've identified a font, Garfield's engaging history of letter design will be eye candy.”

The Huffington Post 

“Garfield’s romping history (with multitype text) is zestfully informative.”

“Garfield dances across 560 years of typographic history, sprinkled with fascinating anecdotes and vignettes, to infect you with his own inability to walk past a sign without identifying the typeface and some curious factoid about it. Funny and fascinating, irreverent and playful yet endlessly illuminating, the book is an absolute treat for the type-nerd, design history geek, and general lover of intelligent writing with humor.”
—The Atlantic 

“A thoroughly entertaining, well-informed tour of typefaces”
—Kirkus Reviews

A “lively romp through the history of fonts. Garfield’s evocative prose entices us to see letters instead of just reading them.”
—Publishers Weekly 

“Whether you’re a hardcore typophile or a type-tyro, there’s something here for you: be it the eye-opening revelations of Eric Gill’s utter and complete perversity, or the creation of the typeface that helped Mr. Obama gain entrance to the White House.”
—Chip Kidd 

"Just My Type is an entertaining romp through the world of type design. Mr. Garfield explains the angst and the joy of typography; this is a great book for design geeks to press into the hands of the uninitiated in hopes of conversions, like missionaries with a religious tract."
—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife 

“With wit, grace and intelligence, Simon Garfield tells the fascinating stories behind the letters that we encounter every day on our street corners, our bookstore shelves, and our computer screens. As someone who's worked with typography for over three decades, I kept finding lots of surprises.  So will anyone who cares about the culture of reading and writing and this most ubiquitous of design forms.”
—Michael Bierut, Partner, Pentagram Design, New York

"There is even a photograph of a quick brown fox literally jumping over a lazy dog. What a clever, clever book."
—Lynne Truss 

“Did I love this book? My daughter's middle name is Bodoni. Enough said.”
—Maira Kalman 

"Mapping out the historical intricacies of the ampersand and the short-lived interrobang, the serif and the sans serif, Simon Garfield reveals an invisible world behind the printed word. From Trajan's Column to the ubiquitous Helvetica to the latest typefaces, like Dirtyfax, the lives of the designers and the letters they've created have never been more clearly detailed with so much flair."
—Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, author of Encyclopedia of the Exquisite 


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Avery (November 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592408354
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592408351
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #772,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on December 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
" E-mail is a poke, a letter is a caress" so opines Simon Garfield in his long love- letter to the letter in which he surveys its historical development, and provides interesting reflections on many aspects of what for him is both a personal and a business matter. Garfield on the one hand laments the passing of the Letter as major form of writing, laments the passing of what has been a special and often deep and richly thoughtful form of personal communication. While putting down the speedy E-mail and even more quick and brief Twitter and Tweet, he underscores the historical value and meaning of the Letter. He too writes about a number of the great Letter writers from Pliny to Keats. He includes a series of letters from two unknowns a Mr. Baker and a Miss Moore and tells the story of how these two former workers at the same office have their relationship transformed into Love through the magic of their letter- writing. He talks about means of transmission of letters, and tells a bit about the postage stamp, the post office, and other elements of the Letter world. What is apparent in his work is his passion for and devotion to the Letter.
This is the kind of book which contains a great deal of interesting information and example which will amuse the reader.
Garfield makes it clear that he touches upon a vast subject and even in a large book cannot hope to come close to comprehending it. He does however provide a thought-provoking and often entertaining ramble about a form of Literature the world of Literature is diminished by the diminishment of.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In many ways, I feel a throwback to a previous era with my Victorian novels, my book collection of actual books made from paper, and my penchant for writing letters with pen and paper. So, when I saw this book—“a Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing”—I couldn’t pass it up. For the most part, it is a real pleasure.

There is so much excellent history here. We get information about how societies like the ancient Romans and Greeks used to send letters. We learn how, for most of history, sending a letter was a shot in the dark, entrusted to traveling merchants, diplomats, or semi-trustworthy postal services often towards a moving target. We see the rise of a more trustworthy postal service, the penny post, and more modern postal services. We learn how volumes of books were written on appropriate forms of address and signing. One of my favorite sections, in fact, is on the lengthy forms of address used in the Middle Ages between scholars and student, which I have borrowed for some of my own correspondence.

Interspersed with this, we also get plenty of quotations from some of the great letter writers—Cicero, Petrarch, Dickinson, Woolf, Hughes, and more—and background on how letters often become another insight into the famous as they make their way into the public domain. For someone who writes letters, there are a lot of varying ideas on how to write the best letters possible.

My only real complaint is the series of letters he interweaves between chapters. They are a mostly one-sided conversation between a British soldier in World War II, Chris Barker, and his future wife, Bessie. Though they show a growing passionate relationship and hint at the difficulties of writing during war, for the most part, I found them an uninteresting distraction.
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Format: Kindle Edition
In this book the author looks at a now vanishing art - that of letter writing. As a child I remember having many pen-pals - some I am still in contact with now, although admittedly we mostly email. Email certainly has its uses and is an immediate way to contact someone, but perhaps they do not have the depth of a letter and the author explores this unique form of communication. He argues that letters in the modern sense are both personal and informative and begin properly with the Romans, "the first true letter writers.". We hear from Cicero, "personal and scheming" and of what Julius Caesar was like as a dinner guest and Seneca, "instructional and disarming", who possibly wrote the first self help manuals.

This entire book is full of wonderful nuggets and just about every famous literary and historical era is covered. From prolific letter writers, such as Erasmus and Madame de Sevigne, to the family letters of the Paston family, whose members lived through the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. The author looks in depth at love letters, greeting cards, the postal service and how to write the perfect letter. There are endless facts to be learnt - for example that 'x's' on a letter first developed from drawing a cross in medieval times and kissing it as a sign of faith, which developed into shorthand for kisses or where the first fictional letter appears (the Illiad). He examines epistolary novels of the eighteenth century, those who wrote letters with an eye on posterity and being published and those, like Jane Austen, whose letters were domestic in viewpoint (domestic, but certainly not dull - Austen could never be dull in my opinion).
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