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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.

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