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To the Letter: A Journey Through a Vanishing World

By Simon Garfield
Publisher: Canon Gate
ISBN-13: 978-0857868589
Product Size: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.75 inches

Garfield is a best-selling writer of irresistible enthusiasm. He has energetically and knowledgeably celebrated stamps (The Error World, 2008), typefaces (Just My Type, 2011), and maps (On the Map, 2012). Now he champions the infinitely expressive and influential tradition of letter writing. For centuries, Garfield observes, letters have been “the lubricant of human interaction and the free fall of ideas,” and he presents many provocative examples, from letters written by the Romans in Britain two thousand years ago, establishing the conventions of “greetings and farewells,” to the correspondence of Cicero, Madame de Sévigné, Virginia Woolf, and Jack Kerouac. Garfield covers the evolution of various postal services, tells curious tales about how letters end up in auction houses and libraries, contrasts letters and e-mails (a “hybrid between a letter and a phone call”), and ponders the challenges of maintaining digital archives. Threaded throughout is a suspenseful British WWII epistolary love story: the courtship-by-mail between post-office employees Chris Barker, serving in the Royal Air Force and stationed in Libya, Italy, and Greece, and Bessie Moore, transferred to the Foreign Office on the home front. Garfield’s robust and propulsive engagement with letters as an essential embodiment of the human spirit and a driving cultural force makes for exciting reading and thoughtful speculation about the future of scholarship and communication.