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Book review: The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing

Like most people of my generation, I suppose, I am appalled at how bad my handwriting has become. I used to have — if I say so myself — a very elegant cursive verging on the Spencerian: it is now a hasty squiggle tending to the upright. As Clayton shows, all handwritings develop under pressures of speed versus legibility, from Uncial in the era of Charlemagne to the italic and round hand of the 18th and 19th centuries.

When print comes in to play, there is a move for handwriting to mimic type, though, as Clayton shows, type first imitated handwriting. The interplay of text and calligraphy sets this book apart from others in a similar vein.

Every copy was thought destroyed — through Papal injunction, divine intervention or the Ottomans finding too many mistakes in the copy, a blasphemy in Islam — until one turned up in the Frati Minori di San Michele, confirming its error-ridden nature. The presence of a printed Bible made the Reformation. Add favorites.

The Golden Thread The Story of Writing

A calligraphy expert traces the history of the written word from Mesopotamia to the digital revolutions of today in "a book no bibliophile should miss" Publishers Weekly. From the simple representative shapes used to record transactions of goods and services in ancient Mesopotamia to the sophisticated typographical resources available to people in the 21st century, the story of writing is the story of human civilization itself.

Book review: “The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing,” by Ewan Clayton

It is an etiolated version of handwriting itself. I can think of several people my cousin, my neighbour, my late grandpa, my P5 schoolteacher Mrs Bowd whose handwriting is inimitable and gloriously their own.

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And, Mrs Bowd, I still try to do a capital M like you. The latter sections of the book, dealing with the digital revolution, makes a strong claim for the written co-existing with the typed, while acknowledging the futility of predictiing the future.


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To take two examples: creating lettering for road-signs is far more complex than one might imagine distinguishing, for example, an l from an I from a 1 , and relies heavily on design. Whenever people create letters — on clay, papyrus, paper, or online — innovation is not just possible but inevitable.

Hard with a romantic streak?