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Simon Garfield


A book about fonts

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Type faces have been around in the West for more than half a millennium, but probably most readers are unaware of their finer points and only react in a general way to differences, either with pleasure or (more often) dislike, since good fonts are usually unobtrusive. That has changed to some extent since the widespread use of personal computers, with their ability to alter the type one is reading at the press of a key, but even so, it is likely that most of us have only a nodding acquaintance with a few different varieties. This book provides a popular introduction to typography for people with little prior knowledge of the subject. The approach Garfield uses is lightly historical, with plenty of jokes and anecdotes thrown in. There are ample examples of the different faces and not too much in the way of technical details.

In many cases the differences between one font and another are pretty subtle, depending on the length of a 'descender' or the exact shape of a 'bowl'. This is sometimes deliberate: Arial, for example, is Microsoft's version of Helvetica, but, as Garfiield demonstrates, most people would not notice the differences until they are pointed out to them.

The risk that a book of this kind runs is of becoming a catalogue of the various fonts, and I don't think that this one wholly avoids it. For me, the most interesting part was the beginning, where the technicalities are explained clearly. And I was glad to have information about the origin and history of type faces such as Helvetica, Times New Roman, and Georgia which previously had been just names for me. But quite a few chapters were about type faces I had never heard of and didn't remember seeing, and these held my attention less well.

7 June 2012

%T Just My Type
%S A book about fonts
%A Simon Garfield
%I Profile Books
%C London
%D 2010
%G ISBN 978-1846683025
%P 352pp
%K typography
%O halftone illustrations