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By Paul McNeil
672 pages, hardbound, $85.00
Published by Laurence King Publishing
laurenceking.com 

The Visual History of Type, by Paul McNeil, deserves a place on every designer’s bookshelf. It is a beautiful and edifying visual anthology of the craft of typeface design from Gutenberg’s fonts to twenty-first-century display designs—with more than 320 typefaces showcased in between.

Typefaces are presented in double-page spreads centered around a high-quality reproduction of an original specimen showing of the design. Many are facing pages that disappear into the spine, giving the delightful impression that you are looking at the actual specimen book. In addition to a brief overview of the typeface’s history, McNeil also provides a “typeface table” that offers a snapshot of details, such as who designed the typeface and when it was first used.

The Visual History of Type does, however, have a problem. It’s too big. Once it’s on your bookshelf, its sheer size will make you think twice before pulling it off. The compendium cries out to be a two-volume edition.

Some of the typeface choices are also a bit odd. For example, ITC Lubalin Graph is not a particularly good representation of Herb Lubalin’s work—history has proven that ITC Avant Garde Gothic is a more important design. And while Karl Gerstner is a seminal figure in twentieth-century graphic design, his typeface is not one of his notable contributions.

When you do pull it off your bookshelf, The Visual History of Type is a powerful reference tool and a joy to flip through. Just don’t put it on the top shelf. —Allan Haley

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