Aug 02

The Complete Manual of Typography, second edition by James Felici ★★★★★

This book was read in the .pdf version on an iPad 3. The quality of the book in .pdf format was excellent, and it worked well for me, the only difficulty being figuring how to get the file to my iPad, as it would not e-mail.

Amazon reviewers have attacked this book for being a bit outdated, and not providing a significant update from the first edition. I have not seen the first version and so cannot make comments on that. The artistic aspects of typography do not seem to change much over time, and so I’m not sure exactly what is being referred to. Felici does provide a rather broad survey of typography, though certainly not a comprehensive discussion of the topic. He engages first in the history of typography, goes on to discuss the nature of hot type, and then the changes that have occurred in the world of cold type. There is much discussion about the nature of typefaces and fonts, with comparison to typewriting. Part II of the book discusses the particulars of how to set type, mostly laboring on how to provide an artistic look to a typeset piece, while elaborating on the conventions foreign and domestic for type. Felici remains mostly program-independent, in that he offers general principles rather than laboring over how to accomplish a task using Quark vs. InDesign vs. anything else out there. The last two chapters were on the use of style sheets (not really typography) and resolution issues for print vs. screen and web presentation.

I appreciated Felici’s focus on the art of typography rather than the mechanical principles of producing a page of type. For the mechanics of typesetting, I’ll read an InDesign or Quark text. It is unfortunate that typography is so seldom viewed as an art, even among those who take pride in their printed works. I can speak of that first-hand. I entered a typography apprenticeship immediately after high school, and obtained by journeyman’s card along the way. With that, I worked by way in various typesetting houses and printshops through college and medical school. Even after becoming a surgical oncologist, I still enjoyed playing with InDesign, reminiscing on the very first edition of Aldus Pagemaker, even though my avocation was elsewhere. My typography days were at the bitter end of the cold type era, and I was trained in the use of linotype and handset type as well as phototypesetters, our shop using an Alphatype machine. This machine was a veritable nightmare, constantly breaking, and rarely accurately providing a smooth baseline of type. Entering type went to a magnetic tape that gave one no clue as to the entry, and mistakes had to be corrected a line at a time, as there was no backspace like on a standard computer. One was so grateful to just get the manuscript in print, that artistic elements were often overlooked. The linotype colleagues were no better in that occasionally a few lines of type were reset to eliminate a river or distracting element, yet artistic elements were more lip-service than actively sought. It is a touch amazing how much more critical one is allowed to be, and how much greater control one has over the type with a program such as InDesign. I lack any sense of nostalgia for the “good ole days”. I still have my two volumes of lessons from the International Typographical Union, a union that no longer exists, and soon few if any people will be alive that have any clue about the operation and maintenance of a linotype machine. The two volumes from the ITU sought to instill an artistic sense into the typesetter, and was mostly effective based on the technology of the time.

The Complete Manual of Typography was a joy to read, written in a very easy style, occasionally repeating things in different chapters, but mostly allowing a cover-to-cover read, after which one will have a fairly decent grasp of contemporary typographical art and style.

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One Response to “The Complete Manual of Typography”

  1. gold price says:

    You can never learn too much about typography. When designers ask me what I recommend for them to improve their craft, I always tell them to study type, take a type class, or buy a type book. Now thanks to Ina Saltz, all I have to do is tell them to buy a copy of Typography Essentials. So many books deal with either the form or function of typography; this one fuses both perfectly. With its elegant system of presentation and organization, strong visual examples, and a sense of both art and science, Typography Essentials is the one book that no graphic designer should be without. It’s just that good. Most importantly, it’s typography for the working designer, type meant to work, to inform, to engage, to function. Get a copy of this book for yourself immediately, and give one as a holiday present to your favorite art director.About me: I’ve been a publication art director for 30 years, have art directed Entertainment Weekly, Fortune, Real Simple, Vibe, New York, Details, and many more.

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