As a reviewer, one feels an obligation to read a book from cover to cover, but Made with FontFont begs to be explored rather than read.
The book showcases the output of FontShop International, a type foundry begun in 1990, around the time that Apple designed their TrueType system and Adobe released its previously proprietary PostScript Type 1 Format. Whether that sort of jargon makes you drool or cringe, there can be little doubt that it was an auspicious time to be creating fonts. Their collective output is breathtakingly diverse, frequently beautiful, occasionally disquieting and almost completely overwhelming.
With the impending release of tools like Adobe CS3 and the relegation of once-modern dot matrix printers to art installations, the etymology of terms like leading may soon be forgotten; but just because we have these new digital tools doesn't give us license to forget the past. A collection of essays, articles, graphics and promotional materials, Made with FontFont is a virtual history of the digital typography revolution.
To a reader, a book printed in Garamond on a digital inkjet press, an offset press, or a Guttenberg press would only be distinguishable by the smudges; but to a designer, typographer, or printer the differences in implementation are profound. Most of the typographers contributing to FontShop had significant pre-digital experience, and it shows. Hand sketches of typeface abound and are often the most arresting images on the page. Made with FontFont thoroughly documents just how much effort is required to make a workable typeface from inception to its implementation in a variety of scales.
While the beauty of the fonts is often striking, the text can stray into arcana. Since it's a collection of essays rather than a monograph, the chapters weren't necessarily written with each other in mind. Most of the chapters are erudite and clear, but some of the articles and interviews were originally written for trade magazines and in different languages. After reading too much in one sitting it begins to feel like every fifth word is "sans," but that is missing the point. This is a book of words that isn't about the words ... it's about the type.
In the typesetting department, there's little to complain about. Even though the pages are packed with material and the designers seem averse to negative space, each page is as interesting as it is dense. When first skimming the material, I was occasionally transfixed by the beauty and variety of the different typefaces, weights and treatments of fonts from the the variety of FF Nexus to the warmth of FF Oneleigh. I would recommend readers do the same: skim, learn, and then read the accompanying essays. One of the typefaces is bound to pull you in, and the book takes you on a guided tour through the designer's process.
My only typographic complaint was that the bulk of the book was set in FF Meta Pro where the "ct" and "st" ligatures seemed to be used to occasionally distracting effect. Then again, in a book written by typographers, it's difficult to judge which decisions were simply playful self-reference. Whatever their intention, it's an arresting journey, and you'll never look at a serif the same way again.