Book (DK Eyewitness Series) – (1993)

As I’ve mentioned before (see here about cowboys and also a read about sports (but no blog post for that one)), I’ve become a big fan of the DK Eyewitness books over the past couple of years.

Although categorized as a kid and YA book, I’ve found that each book in this series is a super way to be introduced to a topic in a manageable manner. This is supported by the fact that each book has a fantastic graphic design approach to the subject, and actually, by the time I’ve finished reading one of these titles, I feel as though I have been wandering around a really well curated exhibition at a museum. I have always learned something new by the end, and it’s just been an overall interesting experience. So – yes. High praise for the book series.

This particular title jumped out at me when I was strolling past some library shelves, and I loved reading it just as I have loved reading the other titles. Called, very simply, “Book”, this edition covers the history of books, of writing, of language, and of any other topic that you can link with the history of the printed word, and it does so in a concise and graphically pleasing way that it was a pleasure to read and learn along the way.

Roman Tablet with Inscription

Because there were so many nuggets of knowledge in this title (just like the other titles), I ended up taking a few notes and so thought that this bullet format would do the job for this review.

  • When the Roman alphabet was first used, it originally wrote from right to left. It was only after a few years of usage that it was changed to the left to right format as we use nowadays in the various Western languages.
  • Each letter in most of the examples of Roman writing has been hand carved in stone, and each letter is designed to fit inside an invisible square or circle to help keep its uniformity and so each character stays the same size.
  • Romans used mathematical compasses (like you used in HS perhaps) to keep the circles all the same size, and sometimes, if you look closely at some Roman writing, you can spot the small hole in the center of the letter from when the stone carver use the point of the compass as a guide.
  • The majority of Roman writing is in capitals as they were easier to carve with the tools available. Each letter was drawn onto the stone surface with chalk, then gone over with paint and then the carver just followed these thick and thin lines to make the writing permanent.
  • In Arabic writing, the language was originally written without any consonants (leaving the reader to add the consonants him/herself when he/she read the writing). It was only later that vowels were added to the written language, and these were written as extra marks above or below each letter (e.g. small dots or dashes), You can see this in Hebrew and other similar languages. (I’d always been curious what these dots/dashes meant. Now I know…)
  • Early writing was written on papyrus (which was a watery reed like plant), or was written on parchment. Parchment is apparently made like this: the animal’s skin is first washed in clean water, then soaked in a solution of lime for up to ten days. Each side is then scraped to remove the hair and flesh remaining, and once that’s done, the skin gets soaked once again. It’s then stretched onto a wooden frame, and then each side is further scraped with a curved blade to remove any debris left over. One more scraping after the skin has dried removed any debris, and then you’re good to go. Thus, parchment was hard to produce, expensive to buy, and so only the wealthy would use it for their affairs. (Huh. Didn’t know that, although it makes perfect sense.)
  • With reference to fonts and similar: italics is called that because the forward slanting writing was designed to be similar to the writing that clerks in Italy would use for their documents. (Makes sense.)
  • Times Roman was given its name as it was developed for the London Times newspaper in 1932. (I imagine that Times New Roman was a more modern refinement of that.)
  • The type Gill Sans was designed by stone carver Eric Gill, and so it goes on. Fascinating (to me at least).

In the old days, as paper was very hard to get and expensive to have and to use, a lot of people didn’t have a lot of practice in writing and so it was hard for the writer in question to judge how much room to leave on the paper/papyrus/parchment for the writing that you had to do.

Thus, mistakes were made, and I adore this signature of Elizabeth I (below), as she has all these flourishes and curls around her sig but then accidentally runs out of space on the paper and has to add her “H” to the last bit above the line. (I love how it shows that even queens make mistakes. 🙂 )




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