Just My Type - A Book About Fonts

by Fred Showker

Author Simon GarfieldIt was my pleasure to receive a copy of Just My Type: A Book About Fonts from the publisher -- commenting that DT&G may be interested in it for a review. Hello? With the second letter in our banner meaning typography, yes I sure would be interested; as would all our readers. This book is a delight to read and must be required reading for all first-year typography students. The old geezers in the biz would also benefit from this book because author Simon Garfield covers ground that probably hasn't been touched until now!

Just My Type - A Book About Fonts The Ampersand

You've read other book reviews and are used to the way they go ... but to fully appreciate the writing in this book takes some sampling of pages. (Which, you can do at Amazon , and other booksellers.) I was particularly fond of how Simon worked his way into the story of Claude Garamond and the now ubiquitous Garamond type face. Humor me with this short passage from the book ....

quoting Much of what one needs to know about the history and beauty of a font may be found in its ampersand. (clip) The finest ampersand, cut by William Caslon is still alive after almost three hundred years, and it has many impersonators but no equals. It is fiendishly difficult to draw, and when done badly may resemble aimless scribble. But when done well, it can be a work of wild freehand art in a way that few regular characters are allowed to be. It can bestow aristocratic virtue to a font, and it can cause the writer about fonts a considerable struggle to contain the purple prose.end quote

(Be sure to see "" in the typography department!)

Just My Type is simply full of delightful passages like this. He talks about Erik Spiekermann's quest for "warmth" in typography, and Herman Zapf's legacy.

quoting Herman Zapf will always be remembered for his dingbats. But the German designer is also responsible for some of the twentieth century's most exacting typefaces, among them Palatino, Melior, Saphir, and Zapfino -- the latter one of the most fluid and effective calligraphic fonts. But it is his Optima typeface that stands out.end quote

Love Letters

quoting On 12 June, 2005, a fifty-year-old man stood up in front of a crowd of students at Stanford University and spoke of his campus days at a 'lesser institution' -- Reed College in Portland, Oregon. 'Throughout the campus' he remembered, 'every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating. ... Ten years after his college experience, that man, by the name of Steve Jobs invented the Macintosh... end quote

That's the introduction to the book -- and the truth about how society first began it's love affair with letters, letterforms, type, typography and fonts. Until that time, very few even had a remote idea of the names of the letterforms they had been reading for decades. But sadly, I cannot simply sit here and type in all my favorite passages from this book. It would take hours and hours, and the article would be dozens of pages long. You seriously need to read the book yourself.

A day without Helvetica

In Clare Jensen's blog (she's a Designer and Artist) she writes about "Just My Type" and follows this with an excerpt from the book :
      quotingA few years ago, a New Yorker called Cyrus Highsmith put his life on the line by trying to spend a day without Helvetica. As a type designer himself, he knew it would be a challenge. Whenever he saw something spelled out in the typeface he would have to avert his eyes. He wouldn't take any Helvetica-signed transport, nor buy any Helvetica branded products. He might have to walk into New York City from its suburbs; possibly go hungry all day. end quote
Now you can read the rest at Clare's blog.

Is there really anything else I can say?

So, having said that -- you'll see it's very difficult to write a review that encourages you to make a very simple decision ... BUY THIS BOOK TODAY. Don't take my word for it... see the wonderful video below from the Penguin Group USA. Or, read other praise. But even if you're NOT a fonts or typography fan, you'll truly enjoy this read. And, you'll be a lot smarter for it.

Chip Kidd:
quoting 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.end quote

Michael Bierut, author of Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design
quotingWith 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.end quote

Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, author of Encyclopedia of the Exquisite
quotingSimon Garfield reveals an invisible world behind the printed word... the lives of the designers and the letters they've created have never been more clearly detailed with so much flair.end quote

Simon Garfield, author of Just My Type: A Book About Fonts Don't just sit there. This is a must-have book for the design conscious --- and for just about anyone else who loves to know a lot more about things that most people know nothing about! Tell'em Fred sent'ya!

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts
by Simon Garfield
Hardcover and soft cover: 356 pages, Language: English
Publisher: Gotham (September 1, 2011)
Simon Garfield's web site Simon Garfield's web site

thanks for reading

Fred Showker

Don't forget ... we encourage you to share your discoveries with other readers. Just send and email, contribute your own article, join the Design Cafe forums, or follow DTG on Facebook!