Book Review

Recently I received through the post something large, yellow and weighing 3kg. No, not a genetically modified banana, but FontShop’s FontBook, an the encyclopaedia of type. This book really should come with a health warning: my postman almost had a hernia delivering it, and very nearly sprained his wrist attempting to hold it in one hand as he passed me the delivery receipt with the other. However, with some 32,000 type samples, 1,760 pages, and 100,000 footnotes and cross-references, I don’t think FontShop will be publishing a pocket version any time soon.

I took the FontBook to my local café, where I often work in the evenings, and complete strangers approached me (unusual in Japan); several people remarked ‘ookii hon desu ne!’ (big book, isn’t it!), while others simply asked what the book was about.


Beyond the trademark FontShop yellow covers, the content is prefaced by a ‘how to use this book’ section in both English and German; however, to be frank, you could be a Martian and/or only speak Zangalulob and still find your way around the book without any problems. The types are organised into eight main groups: Sans, Serif, Slab, Script, Display, Blackletter, Symbols, and Non-Latin.


My favourite feature of the book–and this must have taken ages to prepare–is the ample cross references. For example, I’m looking for something similar to one of my favourite types, Gerard Unger’s Swift (a). I can go to the Serif section–where all the types are arranged alphabetically,…p, q, r, s,… Swift! The cross reference in the inside margin displays an eye icon (denoting similar types); and listed are ITC Charter (b), Demos, Hollander and Bitsream Oranda . A very simple and very powerful feature.


In fact I’d love to see this further developed, so that for example, I’m looking for a good sans serif accompaniment to Swift, and there’s a cross-reference that points me to one. I’d also like to see an index of names. Anyway, it’s the cross-references that do it for me, making FontBook an invaluable tool for just about anyone who uses type. There really should be no studio without this in its library.

After spending an hour or so flicking through its pages, Monty Python’s exploding glutton, Mr Creosote came to mind. After, consuming some 20 courses, four bottles of vintage red and six crates of beer, the Maître D, played by John Cleese, recommends “And finally, monsieur, a wafer-thin mint.” Type gluttons among you will simply not be able to resist just one more wafer-thin page.

In absolute terms, $99 is not cheap, but then this is no throw-away paperback novel; it’s a 1,760-page, 3kg encyclopaedia. An in relative terms FontBook is cheaper than 20 McDonald’s Value Meals.


The cynics among us (and I can be one too), may argue that FontBook is a marketing tool aimed at selling more fonts. It may well sell more fonts–FontShop is not the Samaritans. However, when one considers the time that has gone into producing this tome, and the costs of production, I doubt that FontBook is much of a cash cow. I suggest instead that it is simply the product of a passion for type, published not so much with pecuniary gain in mind, but simply because its authors love type.

The FontBook is to type what the chocolate house is to chocoholics.

This book is probably worth robbing a bank for (non-violently, of course). However, if you’re caught, then whatever you do, don’t mention this article; and pray that Erik Spiekermann is on the jury. If you don’t hear from me for a while, then it’s because Mafia Maurice and Billy the Bruiser won’t let me use the ‘Internet’ in Cell Block H–until I perform favours of a wholly type-unrelated nature. I guess it’s only then that I will appreciate the fact that FontBook weighs 3kg. Anyway, let’s hope I’m put in charge of the prison library.

Coming up…

Prison typography.

And there’s a prize if you can tell me which three types I used in the header “i” (1) “love” (2) “typography” (3). One correct entry will be randomly selected and announced on this week’s Sunday Type. The winner will receive a copy of typography today by Helmut Schmid.

Further reading:
One Book to Specify Them All. Khoi Vinh of Subtraction interviews Stephen Coles of FontShop.
FontBook on FontShop, with PDF sample pages.
FontBook–the movie.

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