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Book Reviews Archive: July 2000 to October 2002

Book Reviews Archive: 1994 to May 2000

The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination

by Johanna Drucker
Thames and Hudson, London, 1999

Reviewed by Cliff Pickover

Johanna Drucker is an expert in the history of the alphabet, printing, and book arts. She teaches art history at Yale University. In this stimulating book, she traces the history of writing from its birth to modern times. Along the say, Drucker unravels a wonderful array of ways in which letters have been assigned value in political, religious, and spiritual systems.

Drucker documents the ideas of Plato, the Pythagoreans, the Romans, the early Christians, and the significance of letters in alchemy and the Kabbalah. The book is gorgeous, profusely illustrated, and sure to delight artists, historians, modern font creators, and even cryptographers interested in bizarre symbols and their meaning. Even if the book did not contain a single line of text, the images of ancient alphabets and strange geometrical diagrams would pursued me to buy this book.

In addition to serving as the means to record speech or ideas in writing, the letters of the alphabet also constitute a set of visual symbols. These shapes have played a part in the decipherment of their history and transmission and have inspired imaginative interpretation of their apparent or hidden meanings.

The Alphabetic Labyrinth covers the complete history of the alphabet from its religious origins to the present day use of computer typography. Buy this book and feed both your eye and mind.



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