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Letter Perfect
The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z
Written by David Sacks

Letter Perfect
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Category: Language Arts - Linguistics
Imprint: Broadway Books
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: August 2004
Price: $15.95
Can. Price: $
ISBN: 978-0-7679-1173-3 (0-7679-1173-3)
Pages: 416
Also available as an eBook.



 
“[A] gem of popular linguistic history.”
Publishers Weekly

David Sacks has written a lively and learned account of the alphabet–and cultural history–in Letter Perfect.

Clearly explaining the letters as symbols of precise sounds of speech, the book begins with the earliest known alphabetic inscriptions (circa 1800 b.c.), recently discovered by archaeologists in Egypt, and traces the history of our alphabet through the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans and up through medieval Europe to the present day. But the heart of the book is the twenty-six fact-filled “biographies” of letters A through Z, each one identifying the letter’s particular significance for modern readers, tracing its development from ancient forms, and discussing its noteworthy role in literature and other media.

We learn, for example, why letter X may have a sinister and sexual aura, how B came to signify second best, why the word mother in many languages starts with M. Combining facts both odd and essential, Letter Perfect is cultural history useful for courses in linguistics and the historical development of language.

Praise for Letter Perfect...
“At a time when it has become more important than ever to read clearly and intelligently in order to dismantle the daily traps of propaganda, this delightful book lays bare for us, with wit and wisdom, the very building-blocks of our culture: the mysterious letters of the alphabet that rule our language and thought.”
—Alberto Manguel, author of A History of Reading

“Reading David Sacks’s wonderful Letter Perfect is like sitting rapt before the coolest teacher in school. Sacks’s excursion through the alphabet is witty and smart.  I was reluctant to finally leave the classroom.”
—Mark Dunn, author of Ella Minnow Pea

“[Letter Perfect] is distinguished by its remarkably long and broad view of the topic and its omnivorous sense of fun. … [A] clear and appealing discussion. … [A] dazzlingly diverse array of facts. … From discussions of the letter A’s role in meat grading, bond rating, student ranking, and punishment for adultery to Z’s exotic associations with Zorro, Sacks makes the history of the alphabet a joy to read. Recommended for most libraries.”
Library Journal (US)

“An always clever -- but rarely too clever -- educational and entertaining history of the alphabet. A refreshing combination of erudition and breeziness.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Sacks unfolds the romance and magic of the English alphabet. Although Sacks writes for non-specialists, he distills an impressive range of scholarship into his examination of the alphabet’s complex cultural history. This is a delightfully entertaining and engrossing tale of how the score of roman letters that arrived in England in the seventh century eventually gave us everything from the poetry of William Shakespeare to the official grades used by meat inspectors to evaluate chicken.”
Booklist

“As fun to read as it is enlightening...Sacks's obsession with language is contagious, and I can imagine few readers whose lives would not be enriched by what he calls his ‘voyage of discovery.’”
—Julie Walton Shaver, The New York Times Book Review

“[Letter Perfect] is distinguished by its remarkably long and broad view of the topic and its omnivorous sense of fun. … [A] clear and appealing discussion. … [A] dazzlingly diverse array of facts. … From discussions of the letter A’s role in meat grading, bond rating, student ranking, and punishment for adultery to Z’s exotic associations with Zorro, Sacks makes the history of the alphabet a joy to read. Recommended for most libraries.”
Library Journal (US)

“Sacks does an excellent job tracing each letter’s history…Well-researched and very readable.”
Quill and Quire

“…Journalist Sacks unfolds the romance and magic of the English alphabet. Although Sacks writes for nonspecialists, he distills an impressive range of scholarship into his examination of the alphabet's complex cultural history…Delightfully entertaining and engrossing.”
Booklist

“An always clever — but rarely too clever — educational and entertaining history of the alphabet….A refreshing combination of erudition and breeziness.”
Kirkus Reviews

Letter Perfect is a fun bit of popular scholarship, a diverting reference book filled with illustrations and sidebars that both entertain and inform. It is also a success story – the story of a ‘spectacularly successful’ invention (the alphabet), culminating in the global triumph of a spectacularly successful language (English).”
Kitchener-Waterloo Record (Dec. 13, 2003)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 
DAVID SACKS is author of the Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World. His articles mainly on cultural topics have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, and dozens of magazines. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.





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