Book Review: An In-Depth Examination of Graphic Innovation

The Book of Books is the definitive guide to the complex graphic design innovations in books.

The Book of Books: 500 Years of Graphic Innovation

Edited by Mathieu Lommen Thames & Hudson,

464 pages, $65.00

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Matthieu Lommen, curator at the Special Collections department of the Amsterdam University Library has compiled an excellent collection of books, illustrating more than 500 years of Western book design. Starting with Nicolas Jenson’s 1471 edition of Lorenzo Valla’s Elegantiae Linguae Latinae the collection ends with Irma Boom’s 2010 James, Jennifer, Georgina are the Butlers—a 1,198-page sculptural book that traces the history of one family. The Book of Books is a massive survey, weighing in at 6½ pounds, and is rich with examples. Short essays are devoted to such topics as the invention and spread of printing, nineteenth-century graphic techniques, the avant-garde and New Typography, and design in the Postmodern era. References to the great printers and engravers of the past–Aldus Manutius, Albert Durer, and Christoffel Plantin–are all included as well as to the designers of modern times (with shout outs to avant-guardians like El Lissitzky, Jan Tschichold, and Stefan Sagmeister). The book’s strength, however, is its numerous exquisite reproductions, highlighting, for example, the work of Jan van den Velde’s 1605 Spieghel der schrijkonste (‘Mirror of the Art of Writing’). Its copperplate engraving shows the astonishing skill of the engraver, Simon Frisius; it will have you wanting to practice your penmanship in no time. And the inclusion of a little gem, Lester Beall’s DF: A Place in the Country, a deluxe and self-published glossy brochure, is reason enough to buy the book. In an age when e-books are all the rage, this entertaining reference work will restore your faith in the printed book.

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