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2001-12, 332, Book Reviews, Colin Steele

‘True To Type. A Typographical Autobiography.’ by Ruari McLean.

New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2000. xv, 216pp. ISBN 1-884718-9-5. $US39.95 hardcover.

Ruari McLean is one of Britain’s or rather Scotland’s most eminent typographers. True To Type is his autobiographical account of his life and career. He ends the preface as follows: “This is a typographical autobiography and there are no women in it” (not quite true). Women may not feature strongly but there is much in the book on human nature and the personal interactions of McLean with some of the leading figures in book design in the second half of the twentieth century.

McLean explains that the word “typographer” can mean many different things. It can be no more or less than a person who practises typography but, as McLean explains, it also concerns many other people because typography like architecture surrounds all of us. Typography is essentially a modern art. When McLean began at the Shakespeare Head Press in St Aldate’s Oxford at the age of 18, through the support of Basil Blackwell, the typographer, as one who designs with type was given little credence. Only after World War II did typography come into its own.

McLean worked with Allen Lane at Penguin and Marcus Morris at the Eagle comic. McLean’s responsibility was to lay out the text, mark it up for setting and design the titles for the strips and stories of this influential comic of the 1950’s. McLean was also involved in work for Oxford University Press, the famous illustrated weekly Picture Post and later at HMSO where he was Typographic Advisor.

McLean tells his story with verve and wit – typography can be fun. Famous figures such as Berthold Wolfe, George Rainbird and Lucian Freud are delineated in superb vignettes. Numerous black and white illustrations complement the pleasing text layout of a fascinating autobiography.



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