A Grammar of Typography

Courtesy Mark Argetsinger and David R. Godine, Publisher

The secret to great book design may be akin to an exquisite ballet performance: the experience is nearly perfect when the effort and work put into the creation of the piece is invisible. In A Grammar of Typography: Classical Book Design in the Digital Age, author and book designer Mark Argetsinger compares the work of a book designer to that of an architect--everything in balance and in proper proportion to the project at hand. And though form serves function, it needn’t be dull or an afterthought--great design elevates and enhances the overall experience.

And now, it seems that Argetsinger has created what will be considered the definitive work on the subject of the history and application of  book design. Released May 5 by Godine, A Grammar of Typography is no lightweight; my bathroom scale registered the volume at a precise five pounds. From the mathematical roots of typographical classicism to the transition to digital book design, there is plenty to engage everyone from the casual typophile to the professional designer.

Perhaps, to my mind at least, two of the most engrossing chapters (if only two could be chosen) are those exploring the transition to digital design. Chapter three heralds the new dawn of digital printing by providing a brief chronology in the history of desktop publishing (including a fascinating look at the so-called “Font Wars” between Adobe and Apple in the 1980s) while chapter eight examines what Argetsinger calls the restoration of a typographer’s powers with the advent of OpenType, a digital typographic tool. Over 425 images, many in color, round out this impressive work.

As exhaustive as A Grammar of Typography may be, Argetsinger encourages eager readers to further their study by examining other typographic and design manuals in his excellent annotated bibliography.

What font was selected for this book? Dutch Type Library (DTL) Fleischmann, a robust, digital font developed in the 1990s that Argetsinger calls “charming” and “sculptural.”

Classic book design didn’t disappear with the arrival of the digital revolution--it is alive and well, which Argetsinger adroitly proves in this handy, hefty compendium.

The trade edition of A Grammar of Typography is available for $65, while a deluxe slipcased version--in an edition of 123 copies--only available through Godine, is $95.