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Just My Type: A Book About Fonts (2010)

by Simon Garfield

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,1861126,579 (3.83)89
A romp through the history of fonts and the lives of the great typographers, revealing the extent to which fonts are not only shaped by but also define the world in which we live.
  1. 10
    The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst (Oct326)
    Oct326: Il saggio di Simon Garfield è una chiacchierata leggera, leggibile, con un pizzico di umorismo, ma superficiale e poco consistente. Chi è interessato all'argomento dovrebbe leggere qualcosa di più sostanzioso. Ad esempio il manuale di Bringhurst: è un po' specialistico, ma non puramente tecnico; è profondo e meditato.… (more)
  2. 10
    Introduction to typography by Oliver Simon (librorumamans)
  3. 00
    A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order by Judith Flanders (nessreader)
    nessreader: Two entertaining books about letters for the general public, garfield on fonts and flanders on alphabetical order.
  4. 00
    Design with Type by Carl Dair (librorumamans, librorumamans)
  5. 00
    While You're Reading by Gerard Unger (bluepiano)
    bluepiano: Garfield's book gives useful information and a good overview; Unger, a designer of type, gives food for thought.
  6. 00
    Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton (Oct326)
  7. 01
    Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Learn to appreciate an underappreciated facet of print and language
  8. 01
    Quirky Qwerty: A Biography of the Typewriter and Its Many Characters by Torbjorn Lundmark (glade1)
    glade1: A book about the individual characters on a keyboard and their histories. Fun and interesting for those who love letters.
  9. 01
    Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston (kmg387)

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» See also 89 mentions

English (105)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (113)
Showing 1-5 of 105 (next | show all)
Just My Type is, as the cover points out, a book about fonts. More than that, it is a very well-researched and engagingly written account of the still evolving history of type, typography, typefaces and fonts.

That it is classified as both Reference and Humour gives you some idea of its approach. It is always interesting, often surprising and sometimes very funny.

It does carry, however, a very considerable oversight.

The author, Simon Garfield, is a British journalist and the author of 11 other books, including a Somerset Maugham Award-winning study of Aids in Britain called The End of Innocence.

He writes for The Observer and makes various articles available at his website. He also provides extracts from his books but, somewhat surprisingly, doesn’t tell you much about hilebmself at all, although you can download a photo of him.

Anyway, there is a great deal to like about Just My Type. From Gutenberg (the inventor of movable type printing) to Luc(as) de Groot (the designer of Calibri, Microsoft’s default font of choice), Garfield profiles the people behind the fonts we have come to use in print and on the web. He describes the ways in which some of the most famous – and obscure – fonts came into being, and he astutely examines the circumstances which made some successful and others less so: technological advances, social mores, language developments and the roles of politics, religion, advertising and art.

This is complex territory, but Garfield maintains a light touch and an open mind: rather necessary when you look at the lives of some of the people involved.

I have no hesitation in recommending this as an entertaining, diverting and highly informative read.

So, what is the oversight to which I referred earlier?

Well, despite being very clear about how fonts have become vitally important to the web and acknowledging the role that the web now plays in generating new fonts and reviving old ones, and despite showing great awareness of the sometimes difficult circumstances in which font designers ply their trade, Garfield makes no mention of the single most frustrating aspect of font selection and management for web designers, which is the limited control they have over which fonts can actually be displayed on web sites.

As they cannot be sure which fonts a site visitor might have installed on their computer, designers have had to implement a font-stack (at least until the recent advent of hosted fonts and the like). This meant we had to include a line of code in our style sheets that asked a browser to display, for example, Verdana or if the user didn’t have Verdana then Arial or, if the user didn’t have Arial then Helvetica, or at last resort any sans serif font that might be installed.

Herein lies a prime example of the difference between designing for the web and designing for print. Those pixel-perfect type models go out the window in a world defined and limited by browser defaults and user selections.

That such a detailed history of fonts as Just My Type does not even refer to this development, which fundamentally changes the role of the font designer and takes control away from them, seems to me entirely inexplicable.

However, even with that caveat, I still recommend the book: it is guaranteed to make you look twice at the fonts around you in your day to day life. ( )
  RickyOnsman | Apr 19, 2023 |
When I started working on my university student newspaper in 1973, we had a very limited number of rather dull and old-fashioned typefaces for our headlines. Those were the days when you marked up your layout by hand before sending the whole caboodle to the typesetters and you had no real idea what your handiwork would end up looking like. Then I went to a student journalist conference and was introduced to the joys of Letraset. That was a revelation. I fell in love with fonts. I bought the Letraset catalogue and drooled over it night after night. Whenever I had any spare cash I spent it on sheets of Letraset and used them to produce samizdat leaflets and covers for magazines that never saw any content. Letraset was a revolution, but it didn't have a long life. From the day Apple first exhibited the ill-fated Lisa the game was up. Now we have access to a mindblowing number of computer-based fonts to use and abuse, from seminal and sober Garamond to outré Dirtyfax (which looks like the output of a malfunctioning fax machine) via the ubiquitous Arial.

Simon Garfield takes us on a short but hairy ride through the history of type from Gutenberg to the present day. Well, 2011; things move very fast here. The fonts that most books are set in (this one mostly in Sabon with a bit of Univers at the start of chapters) don't draw attention to themselves, which is the point, but a skilled guide like the author can draw attention to differences of detail, like the very elegant Baskerville capital Q with its swirly tail, or the classic Caslon ampersand (I can't illustrate these things here, you'll have to read the book). Some are designed to scream at you. Most are more subtle. Some, like the Transport font specifically designed in the 1950s for British motorways, are scientifically developed to be instantly readable at speed and would make no sense in a book. Some are iconic in themselves, like the Johnston font designed for London Transport. Some capture the spirit of a city by association, as with New York's love affair with Helvetica on everything. Purveyors of expensive toiletries reach for Optima. The Beatles didn't invent a whole font but the legendary raised serif B and dropped T on Ringo's bass drum started something. Motörhead would never sell with CarbonType any more than Ed Sheeran would get away with Fraktur. Typefaces are a semiotic language in themselves, a universal language for the globalised world.

If I had to find a fault with this grand tour, which I'm sure is no more than a gateway drug for serious typophilia, it's that it's inconsistent with its illustrations. Sometimes it's lavish with the showing-not-telling, then just as Simon draws attention to a particular detail of a particular face, you're on your own with no graphic to make the point. That is irritation enough to dock a star. ( )
  enitharmon | Oct 25, 2022 |
Quite a decent read — short histories of a wide variety of fonts, some amusing industry backstories and interviews. Enjoyed it, but I’m more interested, generally, in medieval or renaissance and this is pretty firmly seated in the modern world. Good overview. ( )
  jennybeast | Apr 14, 2022 |
I believe this is what they're calling "an enjoyable romp" these days. It wasn't a thorough history but certainly had some interesting stories. ( )
  et.carole | Jan 21, 2022 |
I liked this book a lot. It's got some really good information and is a great intro to typography for those with no prior knowledge. I've read some other reviews that recommend digging deeper to get more accurate facts about certain type designers and events, but I found this pretty engaging and informative. ( )
  heytoomey | Jan 20, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Garfieldprimary authorall editionscalculated
Alexander, JamesDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kidd, ChipForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zuppet, RobertaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In Budapest, surgeons operated on printer's apprentice Gyoergyi Szabo, 17, who, brooding over the loss of a sweetheart, had set her name in type and swallowed the type.
Time magazine, 28 December 1936
To Ben and Jake
First words
On 12th 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.
Legibility, in practice, amounts simply to what one is accustomed to.
- Eric Gill
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A romp through the history of fonts and the lives of the great typographers, revealing the extent to which fonts are not only shaped by but also define the world in which we live.

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