- Hardcover: 152 pages
- Publisher: Oak Knoll Press; 1st edition (February 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1584562315
- ISBN-13: 978-1584562313
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.5 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,688,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Typographic Desk Reference 1st Edition
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About the Author
Theodore Rosendorf began a career in graphic design with a set of pencils and a drawing pad. His first project was the identity for the Downwind restaurant at Atlanta's PDK Airport. Leaving the airport, Theodore's career has taken him to clients in the US and abroad for some of the world's most well known brands. He lives and works in Decatur, GA.
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door---only to find there a rather mediocre dwelling with haphazardly
arranged nondescript furniture.
Then you may understand my feelings when I've bought and read this
First, about the positive side. The book is really well designed. It
is organized as a dictionary of typographic terms. The entries are
illustrated by nice marginal sketches. The diagrams, especially the
one on p. 97 (it is reproduced on the book Web site), are succinct and
to the point. The book is well typeset in Adobe Caslon. One might
find the ct and st ligatures a little bit upsetting, but a book about
typography has a certain artistic license. The book uses high quality
paper and nice boards; it even has a silk bookmark band sewn. The
author definitely wanted to create a beautiful book, and he was
successful in this ambition.
However, if the aim of the book is to convey some information to the
reader, then the author is much less fortunate.
The name ("Desk Reference"), and the alphabetical ordering of the
entries suppose at least some effort to provide a comprehensive
dictionary of typography. The book is far from this. Not only it is
really thin (152 pages of pocket book dimensions!), it contains too
much repetitive entries and does NOT contain some really important
ones. Let me give just some examples.
The book has three separate entries for European A, B and C standard
paper dimensions with basically the same diagram repeated three times.
Surely one entry with cross-references would be sufficient. On the
other hand, there is nothing about American paper (rather strange for
a US book) or about the dimensions of books. There are entries about
margins, but nothing is said about the ways to choose the dimensions
and proportions of the text block. Even the classical typographic
rule about the maximum number of characters per line is not mentioned.
About half of the book is devoted to the listing of Latin based
Unicode glyphs. While this has some value, the repetitive and boring
entries with all possible accented letters add little to the book, and
make the search in the dictionary more difficult. Here is an example:
a-acute. Inflected Latin a used in Czech, Ekori, Faroese,
Icelandic, Portuguese, Spanish, Welsh and Yoruba. See also acute.
a-acute-ogonek. Inflected Latin letter a used in Navajo and Western
Apache. See also acute, ogonek. [U+0105+0301, U+0104+0301]
This goes on for four pages, and then is repeated in toto for the letter
e (e-acute, e-acute-ogonek, ...), then for the letter o, etc. While
it might be interesting to find out which languages use which accents,
this information could be conveyed much better by a table of accented
letters, like the table used in the book for IPA symbols. On the
other hand, nothing is said about the important things: the rules for
centering accents, typesetting multiple accents, etc.
The last section of the book lists some fonts and briefly discusses
their origins. For a reference book the list is too small, and the
choice looks rather arbitrary.
The book does not discuss much the history of typography or the great
typographers. On the other hand, when the author does delve into this
area, he makes one wish he would rather not. For example, the tragic
story of Eric Gill is summarized thusly (the entry about Gill Sans,
p. 110), "The typographic community enjoyed [sic!] inside jokes about
Gill since Fiona MacCarthy's 1989 biography of Gill revealed
controversial details of his personal life".
The book contains some careless errors. For example, on p. 6 the
author says that quadratic splines are "more complex" than the cubic
ones. Of course the opposite is true. On p. 103 the author describes
transitional fonts as "characterized by by medium contrast from thick
to thin strokes, smoothly-joined flat or bracketed serifs, high
contrast, and almost vertical stress". The reader is left wondering,
whether these fonts have medium or high contrast?
To summarize, the book seems to be a haphazard collection of
typographic facts, nicely typeset on good paper and beautifully bound.
The author is a good designer, but definitely not a copywriter. If
this book costed $20, I'd recommend it as an interesting specimen of
the book art. I am much less sure it is worth forty bucks.
Firstly, his use of the word, solely, is not without a reason. That's because the celebrated Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst has 147 pages of reference -- I'm not even including the sections on page and text block proportions. Bringhurst's coverage of specimen is both broader, including cyrillic and greek, and deeper, as it sometimes delves into the story and development of type. Since the TDR is meant to be quick, its terseness can be excused.
Secondly, there are misstatements, conscious or not, in many places. I enumerate a few: Helvetica's original name is spelled "Neue Hass Grotesk" instead of "Neue Haas Grotesk." Quadratic splines are said to be more complex than cubic splines -- actually, type created with quadratic splines tends to have more points than the type constructed with the cubic counterpart exactly because the former is a simpler, less expressive tool. The umlaut/diaeresis entry says that it is employed in Portuguese. No longer.
Finally, some editorial choices are quirky and have unsettled me. In the meatier chapter, for example, the author enumerates almost every possible latin diacritic letter (e.g. e-acute, e-circumflex, e-circumflex-tilde, &c.) and gives them all the exact same perfunctory description: "inflected latin letter e used in such and such language." It reads like a table, only it's not. The sole bit of information besides the appearance of the accented letter is the list of languages that employ it, which generally is too short. Bringhurst's approach is much more sensible: only the diacritic marks are listed, along with a rational amount of related information. It's both briefer and more complete. In the last chapter, dedicated to specimens, Rosendorf includes the hideous Verdana (and even its unsightly slanted italic) and Consolas, a font for software programming. The pleasant and recently popular Georgia is not mentioned, however. (Actually, the colophon reads "Typeset in Decatur, Georgia," which had me thinking for a couple of seconds, blame everyday comma splices.)
Not all is lost, however. The book as an object is a little piece of art. It is wonderfuly bound. The hardcover is sturdy and handsome, with just a relief "TDR" identifying it. The paper is stunning and Caslon looks crisp on its textured, just off-white surface. Margins are ample, leading is just right and -- oh, surprise -- the page format is a golden rectangle. The abuse of c_t and s_t ligatures throughout the text can be a nuisance to the modern reader, though. The black satin bookmark is unnecessary, too: this is a reference, not a novel where you must pick up where you left before going to sleep. Overall, the book is itself a good example of pleasant (if a bit ostentatious) typography and bookbinding. Interestingly, the metalinguistic foreword and introduction seem to reinforce this.
I might rephrase my initial statement: the book fails to achieve its goal because of only one reason, I got The Elements first and it is enough. Bringhurst's work has a delightful prose, includes lots of invaluable historical information and numerous guidelines, costs less than half the price and has more than twice the number of pages. It might not be as chic as the TDR but, as Bringhurst says, "[the] satisfactions of the craft come from elucidating, and perhaps enobling the text, not from deluding the unwary reader by applying scents, paints and iron stays to empty prose."
The Typographic Desk Reference it's indeed a short book and that is why I consider it a little gem; in less than 150 pages it provides a lot of information I'd typically have to consult in 2 or 3 different typography books and/or on the web. The TDR contains 4 main sections: Terms, Glyphs, Anatomy & Form and Classification & Specimens. As it has been pointed out in other reviews, the binding is simply beautiful so that justifies the price. I'm giving it 4 out of 5 stars just because I do agree it's a little too brief in the Classification section.