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Letter by Letter Paperback – March 19, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Although readers won't find Arial (the favorite default sans-serif on the computer) or Zapf Dingbats (the most commonly used typographic ornaments, at least on the Macintosh), they will be told about the calligraphic and engraved origins of the Western alphabet, particularly the Roman letter, with such clarity (and a touch of raciness) that even the novice will be appreciative. -- New York Times Book Review, June 1, 2008

Today, the computer has turned many unschooled nondesigners ino ersatz typographers. Since type is now so integrated into our everyday lives, it is imperative we be more in the know--indeed, literate--about how letter forms developed and typefaces came to be. Letter by Letter by Laurent Pflughaupt, a designer and calligrapher who studied at l'Ecole Municipale Superieure des Arts et Techniques in Paris, is a Baedaeker of letters from "A" to "Z." Although readers won't find Arial (the favorite default sans-serif on the computer) or Zapf Dingbats (the most commonly used typographic ornaments, at least on the Macintosh), they will be told about the calligraphic and engraved origins of the Western alphabet, particularly the Roman letter, with such clarity (and a touch of raciness) that even the notice will be appreciative. -- New York Times, 6/1/2008

Few books have really explored the meaning, origins and aesthetic of individual letters in the Roman alphabet. Pflughaupt, a Parisian designer, calligrapher and artist, examines the very form of these building blocks that make our language possible, providing a rich and unusual background that combines paleography, phonetics, graphic arts and even musicology. While this book has been written for artists and linguists, the information contained within will enhance the knowledge of anyone who reads or writes using this particular alphabet. --Book News Inc., August 2008

About the Author

Laurent Pflughaupt is a designer, calligrapher, and artist. He received his degree from l'École municipale supérieure des arts et techniques in Paris.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 1 edition (March 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568987374
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568987378
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,657,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"The triangle is associated with the color yellow and with the spiritual world." -- page 33.

That should tell you all you need to know about this book.

Two stars given, as the description does mention it will "forego the conventional historical approach" to looking at letters. However, I could not imagine how far off the beaten path this book intended to go, nor how uninspiring the resulting book would be.

Other points:

The book is broken up into three sections. The first, concerning the history of western alphabets, reads like a poorly-written Wikipedia entry: it strays from topic to topic, without much depth or narrative to bring the reader through the chapter.

The second section is a formal analysis of letterforms. While most of this section is steeped in mysticism (see the triangle quote above), it does provide a quick introduction to the parts of a letter. However, if one is truly interested in typography, there are many more free and better-written guides to be found on-line. This section even has portions devoted to chakras and colors, and how they tie into the greater whole of letters.

The third section looks at each letter in-depth. Again, the reader is treated to mysticism, with the addition of questionable research.
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This is a joy to read or peruse. Visually beautiful. Very entertaining, even insightful. But, I have some serious reservations about some of the historical claims. The book attempts a sweeping historical perspective by making many grand historical claims. You'll find that many better dictionaries give a history of individual letters of the alphabet. And they don't mesh particularly well with some of the claims of Laurent Pflughaupt. Moreover, the persistence of certain kinds of claims by Pflughaupt suggests to me a certain religious/historical bent (or bias, perhaps).

That said, I'm no expert on the history, so feel free to disregard my gripes. One way or another, the book is a pleasure to read at length or just to browse.
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Format: Paperback
For that rare book consumer that appreciates depth as well as looks, this book is a gorgeous, gorgeous artifact all on its own. I picked mine up for a low pricetag that turns out to be practically a crime. For once, a book deserves it issue price.

The cover and title could be better: It gives no hint at what a trove is inside.
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