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Just My Type: A Book About Fonts [Hardcover]

Simon Garfield
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 6 2011

A hugely entertaining and revealing guide to the history of type that asks, What does your favorite font say about you?

Fonts surround us every day, on street signs and buildings, on movie posters and books, and on just about every product we buy. But where do fonts come from, and why do we need so many? Who is responsible for the staid practicality of Times New Roman, the cool anonymity of Arial, or the irritating levity of Comic Sans (and the movement to ban it)?

Typefaces are now 560 years old, but we barely knew their names until about twenty years ago when the pull-down font menus on our first computers made us all the gods of type. Beginning in the early days of Gutenberg and ending with the most adventurous digital fonts, Simon Garfield explores the rich history and subtle powers of type. He goes on to investigate a range of modern mysteries, including how Helvetica took over the world, what inspires the seeming ubiquitous use of Trajan on bad movie posters, and exactly why the all-type cover of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was so effective. It also examines why the "T" in the Beatles logo is longer than the other letters and how Gotham helped Barack Obama into the White House. A must-have book for the design conscious, Just My Type's cheeky irreverence will also charm everyone who loved Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Schott's Original Miscellany.


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Review

"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."
(-New York Times, Janet Maslin)

"Garfield takes readers on a rollicking tour of the world of typography."
(-USA Today)

"Garfield's engaging history of letter design will be eye candy...[Just My Type is] stuffed with fascinating bits of information...lively, richly illustrated "
(-NPR.org/Books We Like)

"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. It might even lead you to make more discerning choices the next time you have a desktop publishing project in front of you. The take-away from Garfield's book is simple: Contrary to reports of its premature death, print is very much alive."
(-Los Angeles Times)

"Just My Type, is informative, delightful - and essential reading for word geeks everywhere."
(-The Seattle Times)

"Charming and informative"
(-The Minneapolis Star Tribune)

"You'll find a lot to like in this book....[it] informs as it entertains."
(-St. Louis Post Dispatch)

"Charming."
(-Tampa Bay Tribune)

"Deliriously clever and entertaining."
(-The Boston Globe)

"Packed with lively anecdotes"
(-The Boston Globe, Word Column)

"Well-researched."
(-The Philadelphia Intelligencer)

"Garfield's romping history (with multitype text) is zestfully informative."
(-Booklist)

"Deft and downright fun."
(-PureWow.com)

"A lively, informative survey of 560 years of typefaces and font choices that will probably make you select a font that is much more you." 
(-Shelf Awareness)

"Here is a wonderful update for those whose fondness for matters typographical predates the digital age, as well as those whose eyes need awakening to this particular enchantment. Garfield has a light touch and moves effortlessly among various aspects of typography past and present, not only from design perspectives but from accessible social, historical, and legal angles as well. Throughout, Garfield offers "fontbreaks" in which he focuses on the provenance of a particular typeface. An added pleasure: the book's own text switches fonts to briefly reflect the typeface under discussion. "Highly recommended to all, whether or not you feel predisposed to like this kind of thing! Eye-opening and mind-expanding!"
(-Starred Library Journal)

"[A] lively romp through the history of fonts. Garfield's evocative prose entices us to see letters instead of just reading them."
(-Publishers Weekly)

"A thoroughly entertaining, well-informed tour of typefaces...[Just My Type] offers an informed and pleasing answer, and a lively companion to books such as Robert Bringhurst's essential Elements of Typographic Style (1992) and John Lewis's classic Typography: Design and Practice."
(-Kirkus Reviews)

"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)

"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)

"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." -Michael Bierut, Partner, Pentagram Design, New York, and author of Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design


"Simon 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."
(-Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, author of Encyclopedia of the Exquisite)

About the Author

Simon Garfield is the author of twelve acclaimed books of nonfiction. He lives in London and St. Ives, Cornwall, and currently has a soft spot for Requiem Fine Roman and HT Gelateria.

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FONTASTIC Jan. 22 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
After reading this book, you will never look at public signs, newspapers, advertising, or even your computer settings the same again.
Just My Type by Simon Garfield is a brilliant little book on a topic you would think boring beyond belief. But you would be wrong, for there is a lot to learn about how fonts and type sets affect the way we read and think.
Thousands of fonts are all around us and we are affected by them in an almost subliminal manner. Why do some ads attract us more than others? Why is the masthead of a newspaper written in a gothic style? Why are highway signs printed in lower case letters? And why did IKEA change its font from Futura to Verdana, and endure the fury of some of its customers? All is answered here, with wit and style.
Some fonts have become almost omnipresent, and once it is pointed out by Garfield, we suddenly see them everywhere. Signs in aeroports are likely to be in Frutiger because it is so highly visible. Johnson Sans was created for the London Underground and one only has to read Cockfosters in that font and know that it is a Tube station. Some are highly readable, such as Cochin, or highly legible, such as Helvetica, or look legal and important like Baskerville, or monumental (Trajan), or just beautiful (Garamond). Then there are the overused or ugly fonts, such as Comic Sans and Times New Roman. You will now see roadside signs and think, what on earth were they thinking of?
Just My Type is a wonderful, useful book and a pleasure to read, and not just because it is printed in Sabon.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read April 25 2013
By bB
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Am a graphic designer and am in love with fonts.
I could not put it down, a most enjoyable read.
Must say. . . this book is full of great characters!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book on fonts...really? Jan. 21 2011
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Simon Garfield is a British author who has written non-fiction works delving into everything from the history of AIDS in Britain, to the attitudes of the British during and after WW2. He's a splendid writer who concentrates on - shall we say - somewhat "quirky" topics. Case in point is his current book on fonts (or founts, as they used to be called).

Fonts came into being with the invention of the printing press in the late 15th century. It is shocking to realise that the printing of books for the masses has only existed for a fraction of man's existence. Books are such an integral of our lives that its amazing to think only 600 years ago books were owned only by the very wealthy or religious orders.

Garfield traces the history of fonts from their earliest days, paying special attention to those which we're most familiar with - Helvetica, Gill Sans, Arial, and Akzidenz Grotesk (a favorite of mine, if only for the name). He writes about the artisans behind the lettering, and most interesting, how certain fonts cause emotional responses in the people who view them. Why were some fonts popular for hundreds of years, only to fall from favor? How do fonts determine what consumers buy and what they don't buy? And how boring our lives would be if everything was printed in the same font.

Garfield has a lively writing style and is never boring. He gives a very good reference section at the back of the book, which is very helpful to those readers who want to know more.

By the way, if you're reading this, then be sure to go over to AmazonUSA read the review by Rob Hardy in this section. His long and interesting review is spot on - he's a reviewer's reviewer - and Rob's are the gold standard of reviews.
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who knew fonts were so interesting? Oct. 7 2011
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book. Learn about the anti- Comic Sans movement, why Helvetica was perfect for The Office, and the controversy over Ikea's facelift. This is a well-written and interesting book by the author of Mauve.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  133 reviews
191 of 199 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Display Fonts, Invisible Fonts, and Font Wars Nov. 18 2010
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
You are looking at it right now, and if it is doing its job, you don't even notice it. It might represent a creation that has taken centuries to come to its current state of perfection, or it might be something that a dedicated specialist worked on for years and brought out a decade ago. It represents artistry directed within a circumscribed realm. I am talking about the font in which these letters are presented. Thirty years ago, fonts were usually the interest of only a select few in the printing world, but now every computer is charged with fonts and everyone gets to be an amateur typographer (technically, the font is a specific set of metal parts, or digital files, that allows reproduction of letters, and a typeface is the design of letters the font allows you to reproduce, but you can see how the words would get used interchangeably). Simon Garfield is not a professional typographer; his role is bringing out fine nonfiction about, say, stamp collecting, history, or the color mauve. But he has an amateur's enthusiasm for fonts, and communicates it infectiously in _Just My Type: A Book About Fonts_ (Profile Books). This is not a collection of type designs, though there are many illustrations. In most cases it won't help you in finding out what font you happen to be looking at (but it will tell you how to do so in surprising ways). It is a book of appreciation for an art that is largely invisible, but is also essential.

I would not like to read pages set in any of the fonts in one of Garfield's last chapters, "The Worst Fonts in the World." On the list is Papyrus, which caused a stir when it was used extensively in the film _Avatar_. The expensive film used a free (and overused) display font, and font fans noticed. There was also a font war (also known as a "fontroversy") when in 2009 Ikea decided to change its display font from Futura to Verdana. The change inspired passionate arguments in mere bystanders, "like the passion of sports fans," says Garfield, and the _New York Times_ joked that it was "perhaps the biggest controversy to come out of Sweden." The biggest of font wars has had a comic edge to it, and it is the starting point for Garfield's book. Comic Sans is a perfectly good font. It looks something like the letters you see in comic books, smooth, rounded, sans serif, clear. Because it caught on and was quickly overused, there has been a "ban Comic Sans" movement. Even the heads of the movement, which is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, admit that Comic Sans looks fine, say, on a candy packet; but they have also seen it on a tombstone and on a doctor's brochure about irritable bowel syndrome. If you see a font and you wonder which one it is, you can take steps to identify it. Lots of people like to do this. It is especially useful to examine the lower case g. (The other character that reveals a lot is the ampersand, which, maybe since it is not a letter or a punctuation mark, appears in exuberant eccentricity even in some calm fonts.) That g has a lot of variable points; it might have a lower hook or it might have a loop, it might have a straight line on the right, or the upper loop might have an ear that rises or droops, and this doesn't even get into whether the upper loop is a circle, a long or wide ellipse, or has uniform width. Take a look at the g letters shown here, or in your regular reading matter, and you will be amazed at how variable a selection of even only a few can be. If you have your g, you can look it up in font books, but there are so many fonts now that no book comes close to showing them all. There's an application for the iPhone which allows you to take a picture of the letter in question, upload it somewhere, and then get suggestions of possible matches. Or you can go to a type forum and ask there, because there are lots of people devoted to hunting down this sort of thing. And they take it so seriously that, as on many internet forums, they get rather snarky about disagreements.

If you don't pay attention to fonts (and most of them do their work best by not calling attention to themselves), Garfield's entertaining book might get you started. There are chapters about the difficult matter of copyrighting a font, because if you design a good font it is easy to copy it, and there isn't much that can be done about font piracy. Font designers work for love, not money. There's a chapter on "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy white dog" and other phrases that show all the letters, or particular words that display a lot of the letters most important to font design. There's plenty of history starting with Gutenberg and the historical Roman types from which are descended many of the fonts we read every day. Between the chapters are "font breaks" to praise Albertus or Gill Sans and to tell about how they came to be designed, with plenty of anecdotes and other funny or sad stories. This is a delightful, amusing book about a whole world most of us take for granted.
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book on fonts...really? Jan. 21 2011
By Jill Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Simon Garfield is a British author who has written non-fiction works delving into everything from the history of AIDS in Britain, to the attitudes of the British during and after WW2. He's a splendid writer who concentrates on - shall we say - somewhat "quirky" topics. Case in point is his current book on fonts (or founts, as they used to be called).

Fonts came into being with the invention of the printing press in the late 15th century. It is shocking to realise that the printing of books for the masses has only existed for a fraction of man's existence. Books are such an integral of our lives that its amazing to think only 600 years ago books were owned only by the very wealthy or religious orders.

Garfield traces the history of fonts from their earliest days, paying special attention to those which we're most familiar with - Helvetica, Gill Sans, Arial, and Akzidenz Grotesk (a favorite of mine, if only for the name). He writes about the artisans behind the lettering, and most interesting, how certain fonts cause emotional responses in the people who view them. Why were some fonts popular for hundreds of years, only to fall from favor? How do fonts determine what consumers buy and what they don't buy? And how boring our lives would be if everything was printed in the same font.

Garfield has a lively writing style and is never boring. He gives a very good reference section at the back of the book, which is very helpful to those readers who want to know more.

By the way, if you're reading this, then be sure to read the review by Rob Hardy in this section. His long and interesting review is spot on - he's a reviewer's reviewer - and Rob's are the gold standard of reviews.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected Five-Star Journey Should Be Everyone's "Type" Sept. 2 2011
By Annie G. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I hope the (deservedly enthusiastic) reviews here from various "font geeks" will not lead general readers to believe this book is mostly for graphic arts specialists. I'm someone who generally pays more attention to what words have to say than how the letters are formed, and yet I found this to be one of the most enjoyable books I've read in years. Might have something to do with the author being from the UK, where clever writing is clearly emphasized and appreciated. For sheer writing quality, and therefore reading pleasure, it was an actual page-turner. To say nothing of the fun of the many short "Fontbreak" chapters and the witty visual samples and captions interspersed throughout (a good reason for buying the print version).
As I've previously found with works by Malcolm Gladwell & Atul Gawande, Simon Garfield's book was both fun to read an intellectually gratifying in its combination of light-touch prose and eye-opening history. It's not exaggerating to say this book has changed my whole perception of the reading experience from both a tactile and an historical point of view. Indeed it changes my visual appreciation of the world OUTSIDE of books in a way that hasn't happened since my sitting through two semesters of The History of Western Art in college! Immersed while on the crosstown bus, I found myself lifting my eyes to examine every awning I passed, wondering what is that font, how old is it, who chose it for this store or billboard, etc. etc.
Per Janet Maslin's rave in the New York Times, I really hope JUST MY TYPE becomes a surprise hit like Lynne Truss's EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES -- and for the same word-loving audience, not just (excuse the pun) graphic design types. It deserves it.
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointing June 28 2012
By Lowell Prescott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Interesting subject. Fun preview chapter. Great looking book. Good reviews. What could go wrong?

This book commits the cardinal sin of taking an interesting subject and making it boring, and tedious, and distant, and even kind of snooty. There's no question that this SHOULD be a good book, but it's not.

After a couple of chapters I got the distinct feeling that I was at a very exclusive party where I didn't belong. The author drops obscure names of fonts and historical figures as if I should know them. Then he tells parts of stories, apparently assuming that I know more of the backstory than I do. He breezily concludes stories before they can be understood, or breaks stories into chunks which make them less comprehensible. He tells jokes which I don't get, because I don't have enough information (at least I THINK they are jokes). He writes as if only an idiot would have come to this party without being able to throw typographical terms around for humorous effect, and it would be positively gauche to stoop to explaining the basics to the reader with a blank look on his face. Perhaps it is just the nature of his all-too-British style, but his turns of phrase are oh-so-precious and it gets very annoying after a short while.

Here is a typically frustrating paragraph (page 93):

"Caslon may have modelled [sic] his types on those of the Antwerp printer Plantin, and his French typefounder Robert Granjon, and a part of their appeal was that they were specifically not German. Depending on the quality and bleed of the ink, the whole alphabet could also display a vaguely piratical cragginess."

Here are the problems: Neither Antwerp, Plantin, or Granjon is ever mentioned before this paragraph, and each will receive only one more casual mention (without biography or other contextual information) over 100 pages later. The concept of a "typefounder" is never explained or discussed, and the term itself isn't used enough to derive meaning from context (is it an employee? subcontractor? predecessor? mentor? collaborator? innovator? coworker? tradesman?). The characteristics and reasons for classifying fonts as French or German, or even the cultural issues of the era are never addressed anywhere in the entire book. The "quality and bleed of ink" sounds like a potentially interesting concept, but it is only ever mentioned in passing with no conceptual background. And "piratical cragginess"? Please.

By contrast, the preview chapter available on Amazon (about the overuse of Comic Sans) reads like it came from a completely different author.

The impression I'm left with is that this is a book for typography geeks -- and no one else. (The author spends all of half a page explaining the elements of a typeface, the characteristics of letters, and the process of design. I thought these were the subjects of this book!)

It wasn't until page 270 that I found a story of the sort I had hoped to find throughout the book. Paul McCartney tells about how the letters of the Beatles logo were created (or at least how he thinks he remembers it). The story is only about four pages long, so don't buy the book just for that.

In fact, unless you already know the creator of the Bembo font, or what to call the part of a letter which hangs below the rest, or how a typeface is "cut" or "founded", or what the difference is between a "font" and a "typeface", don't bother with this book.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding! Jan. 8 2011
By Terry Rydberg - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
If you love all things type related, you will love this book. It includes fascinating stories about type designers and the history of specific typefaces. This is my new favorite book, and it will sit on my bookshelf next to my second favorite book, A History of Graphic Design by Meggs. Beautifully written, and an essential resource for anyone who teaches typography.
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