Summary and book reviews of Just My Type by Simon Garfield

Just My Type

A Book About Fonts

By Simon Garfield

Just My Type
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2011,
    356 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2012,
    384 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Introduction

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 a 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.'

At the time, the student, who would later drop out of college, believed that nothing he had learned would find a practical application in his life. But things changed. Ten years after his college experience, that man, by the name of Steve Jobs,...

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Reviews

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As its tagline describes, Just My Type is precisely that - a book about fonts and almost everything one could possibly want to know about them. Garfield's breezy writing serves up many entertaining trivia - the role of hand gloves in font design; which font is used in the signs for the television sitcom The Office (and why); how Gotham played a large part in President Barack Obama's election campaign; and how the look of the entire city of London was changed by one beautiful font. Since each of the 22 chapters discusses a particular font (or two) and often its associated designer, the book can be read out of sequence and still make sense. Though at times, especially toward the end, the book can feel a little strained - as if Garfield were trying to cram all his research into the pages before time ran out.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - Janet Maslin

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 thingsā€¦ Mr. Garfield has put together a lot of good stories and questions about font subtleties and font-lovers' fanaticism.

Publishers Weekly

Garfield's evocative prose - Cooper Black is "the sort of font the oils in a lava lamp would form if smashed to the floor" - entices us to see letters instead of just reading them.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. "When we choose a typeface," asks Garfield, "what are we really saying?" His book 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.

Library Journal

Highly recommended to all, whether or not you feel predisposed to like this kind of thing! Eye-opening and mind-expanding!

Author Blurb Lynne Truss
There is even a photograph of a quick brown fox literally jumping over a lazy dog. What a clever, clever book.

Author Blurb Maira Kalman
Did I love this book? My daughter's middle name is Bodoni. Enough said.

Author Blurb Chip Kidd
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.

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Type Design and Printing

These days, typefaces are designed using computer programs such as Macromedia Fontographer, but in the early days of type, each was made by hand using basic tools. There were three products that together formed the backbone of the process by which type was developed: the mold, the matrix, and the final piece also known as a "sort."

To create one letter, a basic punch in the shape of the letter was chiseled into some kind of pliable metal, usually copper. This formed the matrix for one letter and could be used over and over again. Many such matrices packed a mold.

Printing sort

Essentially, a mold contained many matrices for different letters in a grid pattern. The bottom part of the mold housed all the letter matrices and the top part ...

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