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The Book of Books

500 Years of Graphic Innovation

Mathieu Lommen, Frans A. Janssen, Paul Dijstelberge, Adriaan Plak, Johan de Zoete, Jan Werner, Lesley Monfils

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A beautifully illustrated visual history of Western book design


This visual history brings together an extraordinary collection of books to illustrate a canon of more than five hundred years of Western book design. Beginning in 1471 with an edition printed by the influential Nicolas Jenson in Venice and ending in 2010 with a stylish design by Irma Boom, these exceptional and sometimes iconic work cover a broad range of genres: reference works and works of art, 'machines for reading' and picture books, prestigious collector's items and affordable paperbacks.

The story moves from the era when books were accessible only to a wealthy elite, through to the introduction of the first inexpensive editions of popular works, then on to the age of mechanization, when high-quality books could at last be mass-produced for a growing reading public, and beyond to the postmodern era, when restricted print runs and luxury presentation once again became marks of desirability. As well as changing tastes and evolving technology, the contributions made by printers, illustrators, typographers and graphic designers are highlighted throughout, showcasing the evolution of methods to guide readers through the text, the emergence of standard elements such as title pages and tables of contents, and the shifting interaction between typography, colour and images.

Here is the work of the greatest printers of the hand-press period – Aldus Manutius, Christoffel Plantin, the Elzeviers, John Baskerville, Giambattista Bodoni – alongside books by trendsetting designers of the modern era – William Morris, El Lissitzky, Jan Tschichold, Paul Rand, Massin, Bruce Mau. Also featured are remarkable illustrated works by architects and artists such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Maria Sibylla Merian. Special attention is also given to printers' manuals and type specimens, placing letterforms and printing techniques in a broader context, and charting the changing relationship between form and function, between legible clarity and decorative profusion.

Even in today's digital age, many designers and readers still feel strongly attracted to the printed book as an object of beauty and fascination. Lavishly illustrated throughout, this is an unmissable journey through time for everyone who loves books.

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'A bibliophile’s dream'
Creative Review

'Immaculate photographs and printed texts - most of them open to full spread - beckon the reader to consider each work as physical artifact, as graphic construction, and as fully viewable content'
Eye Magazine

'A truly splendid documentation and illustration of graphic design history … Really recommended'

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 32.0 x 23.0 cm

Extent: 464 pp

Publication date: 3 September 2012

ISBN: 9780500515914

Contents List

Introduction • The Hand-Press Period, 1450–1800: The Spread of Printing • Decoration and Illustration • Italian and French Book Design • Printing in the Low Countries • Baskerville, Bodoni, Didot • The Machine-Press Period, 1800–now: Printing on Stone: Lithography • The Photobook • Private Presses and New Traditionalism • Avant-garde Swiss Typography • The Designer as Author

About the Author

Mathieu Lommen is managing editor of the scholarly magazine Quaeroendo and a regular contributor to the design magazine Items. He is a curator and teacher of graphic design history at the University of Amsterdam.

List of Contributors

Mathieu Lommen, Frans A. Janssen, Paul Dijstelberge, Adriaan Plak, Johan de Zoete, Jan Werner, Lesley Monfils

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