Summary and book reviews of Letter Perfect by David Sacks

Letter Perfect

The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z

By David Sacks

Letter Perfect
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Aug 2003,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2004,
    416 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

In Letter Perfect, David Sacks has embarked on a fun, lively, and learned excursion into the alphabet, and into cultural history. Clearly explaining the letters as symbols of precise sounds of speech, the book begins with the earliest known alphabetic inscriptions (circa 1800 b.c.), recently discovered by archaeologists in Egypt, and traces the history of our alphabet through the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans and up through medieval Europe to the present day. However, the heart of the book is the twenty-six fact-filled "biographies" of letters A through Z, each one identifying the letter's particular significance for modern readers, tracing its development from ancient forms, and discussing its noteworthy role in literature and other media. We learn, for example, why letter X may have a sinister and sexual aura, how B came to signify second best, why the word mother in many languages starts with M. Combining facts both odd and essential, Letter Perfect is cultural history at its most accessible and enjoyable.


BookBrowse note: Letter Perfect was originally published in hardcover under the title Language Visible.

Preface

This book attempts a voyage of discovery among the letters of the alphabet. Like islands of an archipelago, the 26 letters will be visited and explored, one at a time. Each island's geography and local lore will be examined briefly, also its relationship to other islands in the navigational stream. Some islands may prove more lush or lofty than others. But any one will yield substantial mental nourishment to visitors, along with glorious vistas onto language, literature, and history of the past 4,000 years.

Where do our letters come from? How did they get their shapes, their assigned sounds, their sequence, immortalized in our "Alphabet Song"? Why do we use "Roman" letters for English–also for Spanish, Czech, Turkish, Swahili, Vietnamese, and many others–while some languages (Russian, Greek, Arabic, Hindi, etc.) use different types of letters? What is a letter, exactly? What's an alphabet? These are among questions to be answered with authority and zest....

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse

The history of our alphabet is, to a greater or lesser extent, also the history of our own culture; in Letter Perfect you'll discover much about both. Sacks starts with a fascinating overview of the history of the various world alphabets (which is perhaps the most compelling part of the book) before breaking off to explore, with much wit and wisdom, the personal histories of each letter in turn. Whether you're reading about 'The Lure of L', 'Primordial M' or 'The Story of O' - you'll find fascinating facts and anecdotes in every chapter; plus many entertaining asides, such as why J arrived late to the alphabet party, why K is the poor relation to C and what Q is doing in there at all; not to mention the sinister reputation of T.  

Media Reviews
The New York Times - Julie Walton Shaver

Sacks's quirky style makes the book as fun to read as it is enlightening … Sacks's obsession with language is contagious, and I can imagine few readers whose lives would not be enriched by what he calls his 'voyage of discovery.'

The Baltimore Sun

[A] delightful journey into the history of our alphabet…With a breezy tone and a passion for letters, Sacks tells the life story of all 26 of them — from A, the 'first and best,' to Z, the least-used letter in printed English. Each of these 26 'biographies' is filled with entertaining and fascinating facts…In this rich history, Sacks offers answers to all of the mysteries of the alphabet, and a long-overdue examination of the origins of our ABCs.

The New York Times Book Review - Julie Walton Shaver

As fun to read as it is enlightening...Sacks's obsession with language is contagious, and I can imagine few readers whose lives would not be enriched by what he calls his 'voyage of discovery.'

Publishers Weekly

....anecdotes, and the care evinced throughout, make this a demanding gem of popular linguistic history, and any book that includes a chapter called The Birth of `V'ness certainly avoids taking itself too seriously.

Kirkus Reviews

An always clever -- but rarely too clever -- educational and entertaining history of the alphabet. A refreshing combination of erudition and breeziness.

Library Journal 

[Letter Perfect] is distinguished by its remarkably long and broad view of the topic and its omnivorous sense of fun. …From discussions of the letter A's role in meat grading, bond rating, student ranking, and punishment for adultery to Z's exotic associations with Zorro, Sacks makes the history of the alphabet a joy to read. Recommended for most libraries.

Booklist

Sacks unfolds the romance and magic of the English alphabet. Although Sacks writes for non-specialists, he distills an impressive range of scholarship into his examination of the alphabet's complex cultural history. This is a delightfully entertaining and engrossing tale of how the score of roman letters that arrived in England in the seventh century eventually gave us everything from the poetry of William Shakespeare to the official grades used by meat inspectors to evaluate chicken.

Booklist - Bryce Christensen

This is a delightfully entertaining and engrossing tale of how the score of Roman letters that arrived in England in the seventh century eventually gave us everything from the poetry of William Shakespeare to the official grades used by meat inspectors to evaluate chicken. 

The Globe and Mail

Sacks is at his best when he opens a world, and the worlds within worlds that shape-shift as written language moves...Letter Perfect is a valuable addition (edition?) for anyone who wants to know how Anglophones got from there to here.

Author Blurb Alberto Manguel, author of A History of Reading
At a time when it has become more important than ever to read clearly and intelligently in order to dismantle the daily traps of propaganda, this delightful book lays bare for us, with wit and wisdom, the very building-blocks of our culture the mysterious letters of the alphabet that rule our language and thought.

Author Blurb Mark Dunn, author of Ella Minnow Pea
Reading David Sacks's wonderful Letter Perfect is like sitting rapt before the coolest teacher in school. Sacks's excursion through the alphabet is witty and smart. I was reluctant to finally leave the classroom.

Reader Reviews
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Letter Perfect, try these:

  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves jacket

    Eats, Shoots and Leaves

    by Lynne Truss

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    'Who would have thought a book about punctuation could cause such a sensation? Truss serves up a delightful, unabashedly strict and sometimes snobby little book, with cheery Britishisms dotting pages that express a more international righteous indignation.'

  • Just My Type jacket

    Just My Type

    by Simon Garfield

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

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

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  129Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.