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on May 31, 2004
If you were allowed only one book on typography, it should be this one. Bringhurst is a poet. He loves language, written language, and all its parts. That love comes through in the text and the visual presentation of every page.
Bringhurst advocates a subdued typographic style. This makes good sense in the vast majority of cases, since typography is the servant of the text that it carries. Like any good servant, it should be unobtrusive, well dressed, and competent to handle every task it is given, quietly and promptly. Bringhurst demonstrates nearly everything he says, starting first with this book itself.
The book is a beautiful artifact, with an elegant and informative page layout. Body text, side- and foot-notes, references, running titles, and more - they all fit together well on the page. Each kind of information is set off only slightly, but clearly and predictably. The content is well organized: prose in the early chapters, reference material in the later chapters and appendices, and all the intermediates in the middle of the book. Diagrams and tables are minimalist and communicative.
The text spans centuries, from ancient Egyptian page layouts to the rationale behind Unicode. Bringhurst is passionate about typography's history, and insists that it inform every modern decision about print and printing. He embraces the new just as much, and is careful to note the strengths and weaknesses of each typographic technology.
Bringhurst discusses far too many topics to touch on here. In every case, though, he brings his poet's sense to all of the writing, using witty, descriptive language for even the most mundane of technical issues. The one weakness I saw was in the geometry of page layouts. I like his mathematical rigor and esthetic practicality. Still, I think that the number of different constructions was more a tribute to what can be done than to what serves a real need.
This is the best, most complete text I know on book design. As Bringhurst points out, there are lots of other uses for type than books, but he chose books as his subject - I have no problem with that limitation. The only problem I saw, and not really a problem with the book itself, is its subtlety. The nuances (well, most of the nuances) he discusses are important. Beginners, however, may not see the significance of small matters. Once a reader's eye it tuned to the fine detail, however, this book is the most helpful I know.
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on October 31, 2002
Serious designers who are beginning their trade, or old hats who might need to be refreshed in typography can benefit from Robert Bringhurst's "The Elements of Typographic Style."
Bringhurst has brought us a thrifty tome of typography. Succinct, he isn't bound to entertain the reader, but educate him.
His glossary of typographic terms will bring you into the know about apertures, dot leaders, nuts and muttons.
Just as useful is his thorough appendix of sorts and characters. With an image of the characters, he explains in a few sentences what characters is when it is to be used properly. He distinguishes acutes from graves from primes from hois from apostrophes. Adjacent to this lexicon is a quick visual index of alphabetic character. This section alone was worth the price for me.
The real science of "The Elements of Typographic Style" is in Bringhurst's bulk of explanations of letter construction, page composition, defining and given shorts histories of classic fonts as seen in specimen books, a great chapter on analphabetic symbols.
I fully recommend this book. Artists, designers, illustrators all should have a copy of this. It reads easier than you might suspect, and would serve as a fine textbook. Writers should read it for no other reason than it is interesting, but to also have pity on our poor designers who must make our words look nice.
Anthony Trendl
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on June 11, 2002
I can see that there are plenty of reviews telling why this book is essential to any typographer or typographic designer, so I won't bother repeating. however, I also noticed one particular person who gave rather misleading criticism, so I will offer a rebuttal of his points.
Lamberti-Mershon from Evanston, Illinois USA, pointed out that Bringhurst's book "bugged" him for the following reasons:
1) i hate books that are organized like, 3.2.1, 3.4.6, for points. It totally breaks up a narrative flow, and it looks ugly.
the section numbering system, in this case, makes the book an amazingly simple thing to navigate. this is one of the finest points of Mr. Bringhurst's structure.
2) the type is small, my wife saw that right away.
certainly this is a subjective matter, but I can think of no more readable book. if I remember correctly, the text (Minion) is set 10/12. are there any typographers out there who wish to question the functionality of those numbers?
3) he uses a wide border from text to page, so that I have to yank and pull and stretch the book wide open in order to see the text towards the binding. [...] My point is, the book is hard to read! Go figure.
like I said before, this is subjective, but this really is quite a readable book. the borders this reviewer speaks of are of the Renaissance sort, large outer borders for the placement of the thumbs. I don't remember a time when I felt the need to "strech" the book, the spine of my copy is in beautiful conidtion. carrying his thought one further, the overall proportions of text area to page are historically well established. to me, the structure of such a system is unquestionably comfortable.
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on April 5, 2001
Good craft teachers are able to teach their students all the skills it takes for their professional life. Great teachers go beyond that: they try to make their students Understand the craft. By telling them about its historical development, by developing their taste instead of just giving good recipes, by showing the inside. In The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst puts the why before the how. His work is a mix of a very elaborate history of typography, a wealth of discussions on all kinds of big and little subjects any typographer wants or forgets to consider - and yes, also practical advice. For instance, Bringhurst first makes clear why with some fonts, it is inappropriate to use bold - and then he goes on showing how to create up to six visually different levels of subheads without using bold once. Even in such cases, Bringhurst stays far away from soothing his readers with quick and dirty advices. As he explained after finishing the book, he wanted nothing more or less than simply to write a book about typography as good as he could - a truly genuine approach in an age where customer orientation is often taken to the extremes. No wonder Bringhurst values timeless typographical virtues higher than the fashions of the day. Some readers may find the result of this approach a bit too academical or lyrical. For them, other excellent books on typography are waiting on the shelf. For me, Bringhurst is a great teacher.
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on March 17, 2001
I work at a typesetting house where we do annual reports for several major corporations- and gosh, it's amazing to see how much Bringhurst's rules apply (or don't) when the too-trendy-for-words designs come in to us.
I bought this book and realized that Bringhurst had put into words what I had vaguely perceived about the drawbacks of putting typographical tools in the hands of people with no training- thus the onslaught of terribly designed self-published books and magazines, poorly kerned commercial signage, and common typographical mistakes ending up in daily newspapers. While some of these are ephemeral, some, like signs, stay around for years, and become part of the visual clutter we have to put up with in our cities.
If I have one complaint about the book, it's that the section on'Shaping The Page' is long on theory and math but short on practical examples. I realize he doesn't want to date the book by pointing out real-world examples (as layouts change with art directors) - but instead of mathematical formulas, perhaps a tutorial CD-ROM, with Quark / InDesign templates and examples, would help designers by giving them something 'real' to dissect and experiment with.
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on January 13, 2001
»The Elements Of Typographic Style« is a very very interesting book. Robert Bringhurst is a very good writer, with an unusually wide knowledge of not only typograpy, and therefore the book becomes extremely very relevant and not at all overspecialized.
Mr Bringhurst's writing skills and knowledge have also succeeded in creating what is rare among reference books: A reference book that you can actually read from one end to the other, which is what I did myself. Without getting bored, no, in fact it was hard for me to put »The Elements Of Typographic Style« down!
The only drawback is that, sometimes, Mr Bringhurst tends to make statements which he makes look like the only truth, despite his amazing knowledge of the subject. His solutions are often, but not always, discussed - and especially when they are not, it seems annoying to read about what is his personal taste and preferences.
But »The Elements Of Typographic Style« seems to me like a Bible of typography! An extremely relevant book that will open not only typographers', printers' and authors' eyes and make them at the very least a little more aware of what makes a written medium inviting and worth reading. Of course, this book itself is a beautiful example of well-taken care of typography and layout!
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on January 4, 2001
How can I possibly only give this work five stars? Robert Bringhurst's "Elements of Typographic Style" is more than a list of prescriptions. It is a definitive reference which explores the history behind typography, and uses that history to explain in its clear, lucid way why rules exist. Where the antiquated rules have no practical basis, Bringhurst is quick to dispell their necessity - but he neither dismisses them nor rejects them.
The visual beauty of this book is apparent upon opening it - it is a model of all it preaches. It addresses ongoing issues of basic formatting and page shaping, but also modern needs such as setting more than one language in one text - including those that read right to left (e.g., Arabic scripts). The simple yet elegant writing style makes reading this work a pleasure in itself. Anyone who deals with type - and this now means most everyone - should read this book; its advice is complementary, or even superior, to a style manual.
The Amazon editorial above lays out its sections, and as that shows, the book covers the full breadth of modern typography and page composition.
I strongly recommend this book. It is an honour to read it.
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on June 8, 2000
As a designer, I am always looking to hone my skills. I thought I was adept at setting type until I found this gem. Bringhurst's study of type covers the obvious to the arcane. Beautifully designed, it illustrates type and their families, page geometry, philosophies of design, and typesetting rules. Master Craftsman, Hermann Zapf (you know -- his faces are in your computer) said himself that "he wishes to see this book become the Typographers Bible". This book is a must for the writer, publisher, designer, and editor because it covers a multitude of topics and rules vital and common to each sector. This is the "Manual of Style" for typesetting. It requires us to think more carefully about the setting of words and its impact on writing: "Typography is to literature what musical performance is to composition -- full of endless opportunity for insight OR obtuseness." I recommend this for anyone even remotely interested in the artform of letters. I highly recommend it for writers considering designing their own books.
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on December 8, 1999
This book should be required reading for every graphic designer, book designer, typographer and certainly anyone directly or indirectly responsible for unleashing the current wave of awful typography on an unsuspecting public. Bringhurst covers everything from the basics of type styles to advanced kerning principles to the finer points of page proportions, all in a succint yet engaging way.
Bringhurst does an excellent job of laying out a series of rules and guidelines, while making it clear that these are a starting point, a foundation for good type design, not a set of limitations. He is a poet as well as a typographer, and his eloquence pays tribute to the field as no one else has.
The book features a good deal on the evolution of typography and includes great side-by-side comparisons of typefaces to illustrate specific points. He also deals extensively with punctuation marks, diacritics and the duty/joy of designing type with languages other than English in mind. I find myself returning again and again to the section on the subtleties of page proportions. He also achieves the nearly impossible balance of singing the praises of the old masters while not being afraid of the best of what's new and experimental.
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on January 26, 2002
The art of typography is given its due in this handsome volume. Bringhurst's prose is lucid. His brief history of type and his mini-essays on many of the most popular fonts will help anyone understand what separates great book design from merely good or adequate design. ¶ I work for a composition house which deals with many of the largest publishers, and I can tell you this: if more book designers were familiar with the principles so well and succinctly outlined in this little treasure, some publishers might be able to take their production costs down a notch. ¶ The book itself is wonderfully designed, although it's true that the gutter margin (complained of in another Amazon review) could be a little bigger. ¶ Overall, "The Elements of Typographic Style" is definitely an essential reference book for those involved with type on a regular basis, as well as a fascinating, well-researched read for anyone with a passing interest in fonts or book design.
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