Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World is the first biography in English of the incomparable type designer, punch cutter, and printer, Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813). It was published by David R. Godine in September 2015.
This fine book goes beyond Bodoni's capacity as a printer; it examines the life and times in which he lived, the turbulent and always fragile political climate, and the fascinating people in his life. The illustrations of the city, of the press, of the types and matrices are compelling enough, but most striking are the pages from the books he designed. And especially, pages from his typographic masterpiece, the Manuale Tipografico, painstakingly prepared by his wife Ghitta, posthumously published in two volumes, and displaying the myriad typefaces in multiple sizes that Bodoni had designed and engraved over a long and prolific career.
Intriguing, scholarly, visually arresting, and designed and printed to Bodoni's standards, this title belongs on the shelf of any self-respecting bibliophile. It not only makes for compelling reading, it will be considered the biography of record of a great printer for years to come.
Born in Saluzzo in the foothills of the Alps in northwest Italy, Bodoni grew up in a family of printers. He left home for Rome when he was just 18 years old, and found work as an apprentice at the press of the Propaganda Fide (the missionary arm of the Vatican). There he learned the art of punch cutting and refined his skills as a compositor and designer. In 1768, he was called to Parma to set up and run the royal press for Ferdinando I, the duke of Parma. He soon made waves in the printing community because of the beauty of his publications, and eventually acquired the status of a rock star. Everyone desired to have a book printed by Bodoni. Famous people from all over Europe flocked to his studio to meet the great man; even Napoleon came to Parma to see him. In time, Bodoni’s fame spread as far as the United States, causing none other than Benjamin Franklin to write him a fan letter.
Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World reveals the background of this fascinating character, a man driven by ambition to be the greatest printer who ever lived. It sets Bodoni’s life in the context of the times, and introduces the reader to the fascinating cast of characters with whom Bodoni interacted on a daily basis: the cardinal who perceived the young man’s enormous talent and hired him on the spot; the manic-depressive superintendent of the Propaganda Fide press; the pious duke of Parma (was he really poisoned?); the arrogant, madcap duchess; the suave and clever prime minister; the adoring Spanish diplomat; and (when Bodoni finally married at the age of 51) the vivacious, supportive, and tender wife, who took over the press after he died.
Readers will come to know the three wonderful cities in which Bodoni lived and will vicariously enjoy the food he ate and the wine he drank (but if they are lucky they will not suffer from the terrible gout that assailed Bodoni in later years, and will avoid inhaling the grape seed that lodged for years in his nose).
Early on the morning of 30 November 1813, the great bell of Parma cathedral tolled, informing the population that their greatest citizen had died; all the city went into mourning. But now, 200 years after Bodoni’s death, his fame is immortal, and instead of mourning, we celebrate him.
"Valerie Lester has produced a first-rate, lushly illustrated biography of the creative genius who came up with the [Bodoni] font" - Jan Gardner, The Boston Globe (full review here)
“What Lester’s book does convey is a lively sense of what a printer-typographer’s life was like in Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; and it is handsomely produced, with gorgeous examples of Bodoni’s work." - Robert Hanks, Eye
"Complete with numerous color plates of the personalities, type specimens, and related illustrations, the book satisfies the cravings of the biography lover while serving as eye candy for the typophile, bibliophile, and Italophile. No less would be expected from Boston-based publisher David R. Godine, the independent press with a reputation for fine design and vision of books as works of art. With Lester's refreshingly disarming tone distinguishing the book from many dull biographies or condescending art history tomes, this is the perfect marriage of project and publisher." - Sheri Caplan, Bookslut (full review here)
"A lively and well-informed study... this is a book that should interest many in the fields of print history and eighteenth-century Italian culture." - Bob Patten, Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing
"Lester comes at it with freshness and enthusiasm, inspired by the story of the theft of a copy of [Bodoni’s] Manuale from an American library. She has provided much about Bodoni’s circles not previously available in English." - Times Literary Supplement
"Speaking of beautifully produced books, here is yet another from that nonpareil publisher, David R. Godine. Any student of colophons or of those pull-down menus listing digital typefaces will recognize the name Bodoni, the 18th-century printer and immensely influential type designer. If there s a serious bibliophile on your gift list, you need look no further for the right present." - Michael Dirda, Washington Post
"Written with verve and elegance, profusely illustrated with relevant portraits and city views as well as examples of Bodoni's art, and itself beautifully produced, Lester s biography is a bibliophile's ultimate delight." - Ray Olson, starred review Booklist (full review here)
" [A] deeply appreciative and fascinating book. [Bodoni] has been gone for two hundred years, and his influence has not waned. It is here in this gorgeous book, not just in the shapes of the letters, but in design, layout, plates, and illustrations. It is simply a beautiful object, one that Bodoni would have appreciated." - Rob Hardy, The Dispatch
“By providing an overdue account of an important figure in the history of typography, Lester has done a valuable service, and by writing Bodoni’s story with verve and imagination she’s made that account a pleasure to read.” - Jordan Goffin for The Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Studies