It used to be that people who used machines for written communication were using typewriters, and the letters that came out on the page all looked the same. There was some variation when IBM introduced the "Selectric" typewriter in 1961, with a "golf ball" full of letters that struck the ribbon and printed on the page. You could change your golf ball from a "Courier" typeface, which looked just like typing, to a "Letter Gothic" face which was straighter and without serifs for decoration. With computers, we get a lot more choices; unless you leave everything to default, you get to select, for instance, what letters you want used when you are reading e-mail. This has made typefaces more interesting to a lot of people, the type of people who were happy to read Simon Garfield's fine book of typeface stories, _Just My Type_, a couple of years ago. If you liked that, and you want to dig a little deeper, and also want a good-looking book for your coffee table, I strongly recommend _The Anatomy of Type: A Graphic Guide to 100 Typefaces_ (Harper Design) by Stephen Coles. It is enormous fun to look at the variation of the strange shapes of letters here, most of which are not exuberant show faces, but are working letters meant to be read. For any job, you want to get the right worker, and this book will help get a typeface that will do a particular job, but the book is also simply an enjoyable display of useful and attractive design.
As befits a book about typefaces, the displays here are clear, with a happy use of color and a two-page spread for each typeface. In his introduction, Coles says the hundred typefaces have been chosen because of their versatility and practical use. He begins with a glossary, which includes many terms that have to do with parts of letters, important because they will have much to do with the taxonomy which Coles lays out in the display pages that are the main part of the book. Each two-page spread of the hundred typefaces here gets uniform treatment. The main part of the display is spread across the two pages, specimen words and letters in big print, with arrows and notes to show what it is about the typeface that gives it its character and how to tell it from others. Learning the sources of the typefaces presents some surprises. Lexicon was introduced in 1992 specifically for dictionaries, and the pages here show how it has maximum legibility within minimum space. Melior was designed by Hermann Zapf, and released in 1952; its curves are based on the "superellipse," a shape midway between a rectangle and an ellipse. Interstate is a typographic adaptation of signs you see on the highway. The Grotesque family of letters look sensible now (and include the famous and ultra-orderly Helvetica), but when these typefaces came out in the early 1800s, people found them so odd they called them grotesque, and the nickname has stuck.
_The Anatomy of Type_ is a handsome object. It will serve as a reference guide for those who want to make good choices of typefaces for particular jobs, and it will appeal to the growing number of font geeks. Best of all, for those of us who take for granted the irregular blobs of ink or pixels that enable written communication, it instills an appreciation for artistry within a circumscribed but vital field.