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Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our…
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Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z (original 2003; edition 2004)

by David Sacks

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6492125,504 (3.66)19
"Letters are tangible language. Joining together in endless combinations to represent actual speech, letters convey messages, tell stories, and create newspapers, advertising, and poetry. While we encounter these tiny shapes hundreds of times a day, we take for granted the long, fascinating history behind one of the most fundamental inventions - the alphabet." "David Sacks has embarked on an excursion into cultural history in Language Visible. 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, Romans, and up through medieval Europe to the present day. But the heart of the book is the twenty-six fact-filled "biographies" of letters A through Z, each one identifying its 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 an M, and what The Story of O is. The book also features clever illustrations for each letter, such as Winston Churchill's "V-for-Victory" World War II hand sign, the trademark "N" from the label of Newman's Own salad dressing, and images from rock music and other pop culture." "Combining facts both odd and essential, Language Visible is cultural history at its most accessible and enjoyable."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
Member:JBD1
Title:Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z
Authors:David Sacks
Info:Broadway Books
Collections:Removed
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Language, Read in 2009

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Language Visible by David Sacks (2003)

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» See also 19 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
A wealth of information on the origin and evolution of the western alphabet(s). Tends to get a bit heavy and laboured, as it goes letter by letter, rather than in broad historical sweeps. Mostly deals with western scripts based on Roman and Greek forebears. Very useful tabulation of the pre-Roman alphabet systems like ancient Phoenician, Judaic, etc. ( )
  Dilip-Kumar | Jul 6, 2020 |
An interesting, if overlong, experiment. "The Alphabet" is a much-needed book and wonderful reading for people like myself. Because my personal and professional passions lie with writing and language, I'm always frustrated by dimwits who want to "Reform" the language, or somehow make it "easier" and "more logical". Look, every language has its advantages and disadvantages: this is what comes of being an organic creation, particularly for our culture which is lucky enough to have evolved with both written and oral histories. The beauty and depth of our language (even if it isn't quite as terrifyingly specific as, say, German!) has delighted me since I first learned to read, and I hope it does so forever.

Hmm. Pardon me for that.

"The Alphabet" gives each of our 26 letters a chapter, allowing Sacks to discuss how the letter came to be drawn, pronounced and utilised, as well as discussing the origin of any anomalies or odd facts about the letter. It's an admirable project which allows him to discuss anything under the umbrella topic - the similarities between C and G; the origins of why some letters such as F are pronounced ("ef") more forcefully than the majority ("vee", "tee", etc) - as well as providing some basic information on current theories of the development of language, and ways in which the various 'middlemen' - Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans - gave us the language we have today. Plus, if you ever wanted to impress people at a dinner party by knowing why A or Q are drawn that way, now's your chance!

It's not perfect, as some reviewers have mentioned, but I'm not sure how it COULD be. It's true that some elements become repetitive (understandably, given that many of our letters grew up together). Possibly, the book works best as a coffee table piece: read the introduction, which covers linguistics, and then pick a letter at random. Unfortunately, the downside is that if you read it cover to cover, you will find it to be hard-going at times, and it's clear that Sacks is struggling to make the last chapters as interesting as the first.

Still, I think that's rather unfair condemnation. "The Alphabet" is a worthy paean to the rich wonders of our 26 letters, showcasing just how much information each one of them can convey. By the end, I came to think of them like a family, and I'm glad to have read this insight into just why our language is the way it is. It's certainly not the greatest - or only - book you should read on the subject, but even if you only read the first few chapters and then pick your favourite letters, you're bound to learn something new! ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
Interesting, but repetitive and thus annoying. ( )
  ElentarriLT | Mar 24, 2020 |
I would not recommend reading the book from cover to cover in one sitting, since the design that allows you to jump from one letter to another out-of-order means that there is some repetition that could become tedious. However, it's an accessible book filled with interesting details about the evolution of our Roman alphabet over the millennia. At least check out the chapters on F, G, T, U, Y, and maybe Z. Plus some more. ( )
  natcontrary | May 21, 2018 |
Bellissimo libro che descrive la storia delle 26 lettere dell'alfabeto romano, sia dal punto di vista grafico sia da quello fonetico. Peccato non si possa tradurre in italiano, perché è tagliato sulla lingua inglese (che fino a un paio di secoli fa usava tre o quattro lettere poi scomparse, di cui una corrispondente al famigerato suono th).
Si scoprono aneddoti interessanti e divertenti e si impara anche un po' di corretta pronuncia di parole inglesi. Una lettera a sera, prima di dormire, garantisce sonni tranquilli ;) ( )
  Eva_Filoramo | May 3, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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Dedication
For my parents, who taught me
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Preface
This book attempts a voyage of discovery among the letters of the alphabet.
Little Letters, Big Idea
Ask people to name the most consequential inventions of world history, and you'll hear a list probably including the wheel, the telephone, the atomic bomb, the first computing machine.
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Letter perfect was PB title. Also published as Alphabet.
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"Letters are tangible language. Joining together in endless combinations to represent actual speech, letters convey messages, tell stories, and create newspapers, advertising, and poetry. While we encounter these tiny shapes hundreds of times a day, we take for granted the long, fascinating history behind one of the most fundamental inventions - the alphabet." "David Sacks has embarked on an excursion into cultural history in Language Visible. 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, Romans, and up through medieval Europe to the present day. But the heart of the book is the twenty-six fact-filled "biographies" of letters A through Z, each one identifying its 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 an M, and what The Story of O is. The book also features clever illustrations for each letter, such as Winston Churchill's "V-for-Victory" World War II hand sign, the trademark "N" from the label of Newman's Own salad dressing, and images from rock music and other pop culture." "Combining facts both odd and essential, Language Visible is cultural history at its most accessible and enjoyable."--BOOK JACKET.

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