Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts

Published:  2011 by Penguin
Source:  Received from publisher for review

  I consider myself to be a bit of a font geek.  Although my life in the real world that requires my writing production to be professional and (ahem) mature, I love playing with fonts on whatever report or project I am working on.  That said, I found my knowledge of fonts to be sorely lacking; the fascinating book Just My Type by Simon Garfield highlighted these gaps but rapidly filled them in for me as well.

  From the beginning of moveable type printing with Gutenberg's press, to the choice of fonts unleashed with Apple's Macintosh computer, Garfield describes the history and evolution of fonts, which is surprisingly rich:  for example, Nazi Germany's decision in 1941 to outlaw Gothic script - the traditional font used in Germany -   because of its association with Jewish bankers and Jewish-owned printing presses in addition to the lack of proper Gothic fonts in the countries they occupied.  There is also some really interesting stories about the use of fonts in branding -- for example, the fonts used in The Beatles' iconic logo and their album art; and the controversy surrounding IKEA's switch from Futura to Verdana in their signage and advertising.

  "Font piracy" is also discussed, which is something I never realized was an issue.  Owners of fonts do make money from licensing, but as Garfield notes:  "... if your font is any good, it gets copied."  And one of my favorite fonts, Arial, is deemed to be one of the biggest copies of them all - created by Microsoft as an alternative to Helvetica to save money on the licensing fees.  The differences in the two fonts are there but subtle but I suppose one could be mistaken for the other and that it must matter to some people.

  Included throughout the book are "fontbreaks", highlighting certain fonts and their creation and popular use,  and some (to me) incredibly insightful nuggets of information about symbols - I never knew that the ampersand (&) is a combination of the letters "e" and "t" (Latin for "et", which in modern French is the word for "and").  There is also a chapter devoted to the worst fonts in the world, which I'm sure in font-geek circles causes no end of heated discussion.

  Given my natural curiosity of seemingly-trivial topics, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and now find myself trying to guess the fonts on signs, posters, and other printed matter I encounter during my day. 

  Highly recommended.

  Be sure to check out the other stops on Just My Type's TLC Blog Tour:

  Monday, August 15th: Melody & Words
  Tuesday, August 16th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
  Wednesday, August 17th: Chaotic Compendiums
  Thursday, August 18th: Books Like Breathing
   Monday, August 22nd: A Home Between Pages
  Tuesday, August 23rd: Steph and Tony Investigate
  Wednesday, August 24th: 1330V
  Thursday, August 25th: 2 Kids and Tired
  Friday, August 26th: Amused by Books
  Monday, August 29th: Unabridged Chick
  Wednesday, August 31st: Simply Stacie
  Thursday, September 1st: BookNAround
  Tuesday, September 6th: Bibliosue
  Wednesday, September 7th: Man of La Book
  Thursday, September 8th: My Book Retreat
  Monday, September 12th: Lit and Life
  Wednesday, September 14th: In the Pages


  1. Not sure this one is for me, since I ignore fonts a lot of the time, but your discussion about the book was intriguing to read. Thanks for sharing this with us. I know someone who would get a big kick out of this book!

  2. I'm on the fence about reading this book, but your review made me anxious to get my hands on a copy!

  3. I really enjoyed this book as well (my thoughts: http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=2648. Well written and entertaining - I also learned a lot.

  4. I know I'd really enjoy this one, especially those font break sections!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  5. John Dunning's The Bookman's Wake made fonts fascinating.

  6. argh. lost my comment.

    I love fonts. Have you seen the documentary HELVETICA? so good. I need to read this book, sounds so great.

  7. This sounds really fascinating. A few months ago I listened to a podcast with an expert talking about the hisotury of fonts but I can't remember if it was the same guy or not. Sounds great.


What do you think? Good or bad, I'd love to hear from you (but be nice - I'm sensitive!)