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Stephen Coles' The Anatomy of Type, Reviewed
The modern craze for typography may have started when early generations of Macs offered a choice of typeface, setting off decades of popular interest and strong preference about which fonts were better suited for various projects or uses. Now documentaries delineate the history of Helvetica, mock-serious petitions propose banning Comic Sans, and a riveting new reference work lays out the history, structure, and vocabulary of typography and the fonts we see around in the everyday world.
Excerpt: "If you merely wish to be annoying at cocktail parties, Simon Garfield's 2011 book Just My Type covers the Ikea incident, the Comic Sans saga, and lots of other fun waypoints in the history of typography. If, however, your aim—like mine—is to blow past jovial dorkery, level up, and ascend to a realm reserved for the truly insufferable pedant ... may I recommend a new coffee table hardback from Stephen Coles? The Anatomy of Type offers granularity that would glaze the eyes of a normal, well-adjusted human. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Coles begins with a glossary, and with annotation. He identifies the discrete elements that form a character (or 'glyph'): the aperture, terminal, ascender, ear, and so forth. He then classifies typeface groups using a mix of appearance and ancestry—be they rooted in brush strokes, chisel engravings, fountain-pen scribbles, or something more machined and modern. He informs us that when sans-serif typefaces (with no little feet at the tops and bottoms of their letters) first appeared in the mid-1800s, they were labeled 'grotesque' because they looked quite bizarre to unaccustomed eyes.
From there, Coles launches into the meat of the book. Each two-page spread is an extremely detailed examination of a typeface. One hundred in all, from Adelle to Whitney. Large-scale images of letters are accompanied by little arrows and captions pointing out their distinctive features. A few paragraphs of commentary reveal Coles' thoughts about each font's relative strengths and weaknesses, and ideal uses. Oh, let's go ahead and flip straight to some favorites.
You’ll discover that Times New Roman was released in 1932 (credit for its design remains in dispute!), created for The Times of London newspaper. We learn that its defining features include long, sharp serifs; very wide upper-case letters; and a comparatively small dot above its i. Coles suggests it is a good choice for a 'conventional office-document look' but that Le Monde Journal—commissioned for the French newspaper Le Monde in 1997—is a 'fresher alternative.' "