Alphabet Abecedarium: Some Notes on Letters

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Drawing from Mythology, cosmology, history, the Bible, literature, and esoteric and conventional sources, this book takes the reader on a tour of each of the twenty-six letters that comprise one of civilization's greatest inventions, the Roman alphabet. In chapters that are descriptive, illustrative, and diverse, we are shown the history and development of every letter, how its shape evolved, how its characteristics were encoded, and how its history, attributes, and meanings were reflected in myth, literature, ...
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Overview

Drawing from Mythology, cosmology, history, the Bible, literature, and esoteric and conventional sources, this book takes the reader on a tour of each of the twenty-six letters that comprise one of civilization's greatest inventions, the Roman alphabet. In chapters that are descriptive, illustrative, and diverse, we are shown the history and development of every letter, how its shape evolved, how its characteristics were encoded, and how its history, attributes, and meanings were reflected in myth, literature, science, and religion. This is one of those books full of the fruits of an inquiring and wide-ranging mind, rich in surprises and serendipities, and profusely illustrated with hundreds of letterforms and related drawings from ancient scripts to present-day digitized computer alphabets. The twenty-six alphabetic signs are, as Firmage shows, building blocks of our consciousness. Through the centuries they have been altered, written about, and thought of in ways that will surprise and delight even those who feel they are quite familiar with our letters. Quoting sources as diverse as James Joyce, Rabelais, Dostoevsky, Twain, Elmer Fudd, and Bob Dylan, ranging from historical scholarship to deadpan comedy, from mysticism to McLuhan, from Pompeii to Poe to Pynchon, The Alphabet Abecedarium is a book for all those who think they know their ABCs or would like to learn them.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In the introduction to this work, Firmage, a book designer and editor, briefly traces the history of the Roman alphabet, noting how letter forms have changed to reflect their milieu. Thus, humanists abandoned medieval Gothic letters for what they believed were classical (actually Carolingian) forms. In the early 20th century, designers of the Bauhaus school stripped letters of their serifs as part of the rejection of extraneous features. The chapters that follow treat each letter in turn, discussing its design, recounting some of its lore, and offering fascinating digressions that seem unrelated to that particular bit of the alphabet (but are delightful and welcome nonetheless). Two concluding chapters deal with the alphabet in its entirety and with additional signs such as the ampersand. This is a charming, informative, richly illustrated volume that will be a welcome addition to any library.-- Joseph Rosenblum, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro
Kirkus Reviews
Firmage, usually an editor and designer of other's books, has himself written, designed, illustrated, and typeset this learned and occasionally comic homage to the Roman alphabet—the building blocks of his trade and, he makes clear, of Western civilization itself. To a generation raised on Sesame Street—where letters are animated, personalized, empowered, and celebrated—Firmage's compendium of lore will seem like a logical extension of childhood, a postgraduate course in the alphabet. Addressing himself to the "light-hearted, the fun-loving, and the free-thinking," the author draws on numerous disciplines—religion, physics, music, art, architecture, numerology, astronomy, astrology, math, literature, philology, calligraphy, etc.—and on various histories (of typography, paper, and printing) to create individual genealogies of letters—attributing biographies to them, as well as personalities and reputations. There's the "legitimacy" of the letter H; the "hidden world" of I; the "success story" of J; the "celebrated" O; the "much used, often abused" T; and the "philosophical" Y. Firmage considers influences both ancient and modern—from cave paintings to computers, from the Pythagoreans, cabalists, Etruscans, Phoenicians, Celts, Greeks, and Plato to Gutenberg, Benjamin Franklin, James Thurber, Marshall McLuhan, and Dr. Seuss. He populates the "magical, powerful" world of the alphabet with hundreds of historical, fanciful, artistic, and emblematic designs—some integrated into the text, others running along the bottom of the page—and comments on their uses, flaws, and evolution. A triumph of presentation on many levels, not the least of which isFirmage's narrative voice—congenial, well-paced, wide- ranging, and gifted with a clear sense of his readership.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780879239879
  • Publisher: Godine, David R. Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/28/1993
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 320
  • Lexile: 1320L (what's this?)

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