The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting

Philip Hensher, Author
Philip Hensher. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-86547-893-0
Reviewed on: 10/15/2012
Release date: 11/27/2012
Hardcover - 273 pages - 978-1-4472-2169-2
Paperback - 270 pages - 978-0-86547-802-2
Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-86547-894-7
Hardcover - 274 pages - 978-0-230-76712-6
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Attempting to document the value of handwriting and make the case against its disappearance, this book satisfies the former goal better than the latter. Novelist, columnist, and art critic Hensher (The Northern Clemency) sets out bemoaning the decline of handwriting in daily life, and his conclusion that handwriting should hold a spot in our hearts similar to that of cooking a meal from scratch, while sensible, arrives as predictable. The body of the work contains more interest than its bookends, examining how handwriting became a universal skill in Western society. Chapters on the Protestant-ethic genesis of copperplate and the pseudoscience of graphology, in particular, prove fascinating. Hensher punctuates this history with eight engaging though meandering short interviews with individuals and groups about handwriting in their daily lives. Overall, the book is not cohesive—the section on forgeries of Hitler’s handwriting, for instance, feels out-of-place, and a page-long anecdote about italic script, signifying for Hensher the preparation for death, is frustratingly murky. The value, limitation, history, and decline of handwriting are undeniably topics worth examining, but the book only fills half the glass of discursive possibility. 30 b&w illus. Agent: Georgia Garrett, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (Nov.)
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