View Gallery


The Golden Thread

The Story of Writing

List Price: $17.95

January 20, 2015 | Paperback | 7 x 10, 400 pages | ISBN 9781619024724
Order Now From Indiebound

"Clayton writes with ingenuous charm and contagious enthusiasm… he turns a line of type into an object of contemplation and makes it okay to be curious, all over again, about the ancient symbols we all spent so long learning to use, and to ignore." —Lorin Stein, The Paris Review Daily

From the simple representative shapes used to record transactions of goods and services in ancient Mesopotamia, to the sophisticated typographical resources available to the twenty-first-century users of desktop computers, the story of writing is the story of human civilization itself.

Calligraphy expert Ewan Clayton traces the history of an invention which—ever since our ancestors made the transition from a nomadic to an agrarian way of life in the eighth century BC—has been the method of codification and dissemination of ideas in every field of human endeavour, and a motor of cultural, scientific and political progress. He explores the social and cultural impact of, among other stages, the invention of the alphabet; the replacement of the papyrus scroll with the codex in the late Roman period; the perfecting of printing using moveable type in the fifteenth century and the ensuing spread of literacy; the industrialization of printing during the Industrial Revolution; the impact of artistic Modernism on the written word in the early twentieth century—and of the digital switchover at the century’s close.

The Golden Thread also raises issues of urgent interest for a society living in an era of unprecedented change to the tools and technologies of written communication. Chief among these is the fundamental question: “What does it mean to be literate in the early twenty-first century?” The book belongs on the bookshelves of anyone who is inquisitive not just about the centrality of writing in the history of humanity, but also about its future; it is sure to appeal to lovers of language, books and cultural history.

EWAN CLAYTON is a distinguished calligrapher and professor in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at the University of Sunderland. For a number of years he worked as a consultant to Xerox PARC with an interest in digital communications technology. He has exhibited and taught calligraphy in many parts of the world.


“A calligrapher (and former monk) who helped Apple create its onscreen fonts, Clayton is as interested in a digital Gill sans as he is in uncials written with a quill… Clayton writes with ingenuous charm and contagious enthusiasm, often illustrating his points with “calligraphic studies” of his own. I only wish there were more of these—more illustrations in general—because he turns a line of type into an object of contemplation and makes it okay to be curious, all over again, about the ancient symbols we all spent so long learning to use, and to ignore.” —Lorin Stein, The Paris Review Daily

“Clayton reawakens readers to the versatility and nuances of something so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible…It’s a book no bibliophile should miss.” —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

“[An] avidly researched and enthusiastically told history of writing in the West in which [Clayton] pairs exacting analysis of the materials, technology, and skills involved in the ever-evolving craft of writing… and fresh perspectives on the social contexts… within which literacy took hold and shaped every human endeavor.” —Booklist Starred Review

Related Products