A Short History of the Printed Word

Recommended Read

Chappell, Warren and Robert Bringhurst. A Short History of the Printed Word. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks Publishers Inc., 1999. [ISBN-10: 0-88179-154-7]

A Short History of the Printed Word is an impressively complete history of print and its astonishing cultural ascendency, beginning with the invention of moveable type in eleventh-century China and ending with the rise of  digital printing at the end of the twentieth century.

Printing technologies, design and the thingness of the printed page are the focus of this history. It’s a dense but very readable book that’s absolutely packed with details from the histories of paper-making, type-founding, printing, and book-binding. You’ll learn about the history and aesthetics of typeface design, page layout, and illustrations. Everyone from Bí Shēng to Gutenberg to Garamond to Picasso to Alfred A. Knopf is here.

I read this one from the first page to last and was fascinated by this account of how the printed word has transformed the world. That said, this is also a book that is happy to serve as a reference to dip in and out of as needed. If you’re a student or practitioner of book design or typesetting, this really is a must-read. And those of you who love books—not just their contents but the books themselves—will delight in A Short History of the Printed Word, too.

I’ll leave you with a few words from the book’s conclusion to let the authors describe their work:

Why so much emphasis here on the physical quality of books? Durability and beauty, like intelligence, are something more than luxuries. They are tactics for survival.

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