The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting
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The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting

3.19 of 5 stars 3.19  ·  rating details  ·  194 ratings  ·  64 reviews
When Philip Hensher realized that he didn’t know what a close friend’s handwriting looked like (“bold or crabbed, sloping or upright, italic or rounded, elegant or slapdash”), he felt that something essential was missing from their friendship. It dawned on him that having abandoned pen and paper for keyboards, we have lost one of the ways by which we come to recognize and...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 27th 2012 by Faber & Faber (first published October 11th 2011)
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Rebecca Foster
I love this book and was delighted to win a copy through Goodreads’ First Reads!

Recently I’ve enjoyed two sprawling nonfiction books about the old-fashioned media of paper and ink: Paper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom, and this one.

Hensher’s The Missing Ink is a defense of the lost art of handwriting in an age when nearly everything is type-written. Words are unspeakably diminished when they do not bear the cast of an individual’s hand, Hensher feels. He traces the history of both handwriting instructi...more
Nerd alert. Unless you are into handwriting, typography, and fountain pens you probably aren't going to enjoy this book. Fortunately for me I'm enamored of all three. Like most people I hate my handwriting. It's crabbed, and even when I remark to myself that ah... that's a nicely turned capital K...when I go back to read it later. I can't.

This book feels your pain and embarrassment in a soothing sort of way. While it was a little rambling and often went down odd little paths. SHINY. If you can b...more
The final chapter of this book made it worth the read with its encouragement to embrace handwritten communication in the same way that we embrace the slow-food movement.
Philip Henscher needed an editor with a firm hand as he wanders away from the topic with ease. What is missing from the book are sufficeint illustrations of the styles of handwriting under discussion.
None the less it was an interesting read and has highlighted the topic of handwriting whenever it is mentioned, most recently for m...more
I was really hoping to enjoy this book but found myself frustrated. The book trips from topic to optic--Dickens' handwriting, graphology, the history of pens, Hitler's handwriting.... I can't say I learned much at all. The lack of coherent structure is in part the result of a completely ahistorical approach. I was so desperate for dates (Palmer method is devised when?) that I kept going to Wikipedia for help, which is not so bad considering the author cites it at one point as the only source he...more
Finally my turn at the library to read Philip Hensher's The Missing Ink. Since the subtitle of the book is "The Lost Art of Handwriting" and since in interviews he talked about why handwriting is important, I thought the book might be different than it was. In the introduction he suggests the book is going to be about what might be lost if the habit of writing by hand disappears. But the book turned out not to address that except briefly in the first and last chapters. As a whole, it is not much...more
“Handwriting is good for you,” says Philip Hensher. “It involves us in a relationship with the written word which is sensuous, immediate, and individual.”

(The incontrovertible truth of the author’s conclusion is made so much more endearing, to me, by the nonchalant use of the Oxford comma.)

This is not an author who shies from his opinions, or from sharing his vocabulary. Haruspication! Really? Oh, Philip, how do I love thee?

The Missing Ink is a very personal amble with handwriting and pens. You...more
I like micro-history -- those books that cover just one event, one product, one year. Mark Kurlansky is a great author in this field and sometimes I feel every other micro-historian is trying to copy his success.

I am also the proud owner of two fountain pens (one with blue ink, one with purple) and some very high quality paper. I love to write -- hand write -- notes in a script I can only say was influenced early on by the Palmer method and Catholic nuns. So when I saw a book with the subtitle "...more
Lars K Jensen
I enjoyed reading this book, although it sort of takes off in various directions at certain points.

Hensher tells us how handwriting has evolved and the various schools, both in how to write in hand - and how to teach kids in school to do it.

There are a lot of great zingers, quote material and standpoints throughout the book, however some chapters could easily be skipped by the reader. For example the one on Proust - even though the following quote: "Nobody has ever gone more deeply into the supe...more
Damon Young
Hensher can be surprisingly sentimental (''Ink runs in our veins'') and huffy, but his refusal to censor his impressions adds to the book's portrait of an intense and fascinating personality. He contains multitudes. It is this portrait of the author, and his devotion to handwriting's palpable intimacy, that makes the book so enjoyable.

Hensher argues for, but also conveys, the value of slow, spontaneous pleasures. He also fills his book with others' memories: a novelist remembers a ''dapper, sarc...more
Carolee Wheeler
Ultimately, the nicest parts of this book, the ones that made me want to get out my writing-implement-shaped flag and wave it around while tooting a big horn, were the introduction and the closing chapter. It seemed as though Hensher, passionate though he clearly is, wrote a wonderful book proposal about something he cares about deeply, and then had to fill a page count. Parts of this read like a term paper.
Just fabulous. A celebration of the dying art of handwriting. No pomposity or nonsense here, just a funny easy read. I've bought a new fountain pen and have started writing letters again!
This book is so much fun.

It's a mini history of handwriting, which includes discussion of the teaching of handwriting, handwriting styles, interviews with people on their handwriting, of handwriting analysis, of handwriting in literature, the Bic pen, the search for the perfect italic nib, and a lot of snarky footnotes (I'm pretty sure Hensher calls someone an arsehole in one of them).

It's a very interesting and entertaining look at handwriting and also a very personal one, the author having be...more
I've always had a "thing" -- maybe one could even call it a fetish -- for smooth-flowing, finely-balanced pens and for luxurious paper. Stationers wee my porn shops, the places I'd guiltily slink into, fondle the merchandise, then self-consciously buy something not quite as wicked as I really wanted. The irony here -- more like the shame -- is that I seldom had any ideas for what to do with the goods once I got them, so they simply accumulated and were unused. Also, my handwriting is terrible. I...more
This is a time when I wish goodreads allowed for half stars. This was better than a three-star book, but not quite a four-star book. It was really interesting at times, and really dry at other times. The author is British, and sometimes it seemed like he was not even writing in English--I found myself rereading chunks of text, or going back a few pages to figure out what I had missed. I put it down for long periods, and it took a long while for me to finish. But the author also included a lot of...more
Review first published on my blog:

The Missing Ink speaks about the dying art of handwriting. It speaks about the evolution of writing, its history, its tools, and its place today in education and society. The book includes research and factual information and statements from "witnesses" to the process of handwriting.

Overall it is an interesting book about a topic we should address. The movement away from handwriting has influences some things for the bett...more
I have to thank Hensher for his humorous tone in his book. This is a subject that could very easily be a complete bore to read, but his funny footnotes and quips made this short book easy to read. Despite his light tone, I was happy to finish this book.

The only bits I found worth reading were the introduction, the chapter about the evolution of the pen nib, and the conclusion. The other chapters felt a bit forced, much like filler. The "Witness" sections threw me off a bit and I ended-up skippin...more
Brittany Craig
This book made me curious, so I entered the giveaway and won. I was pleasantly surprised that it was light and easy to read, but I was really turned off by the snobbiness of the author. In the first couple of chapters he poked fun at farmers and rural people, insulting their lack of smartphones and dialect. This assumption of a backwardness, and also the insinuation that not having a smartphone is backward, not to mention his pretentious opinions of grammar, annoyed me. He also was very particul...more
For the first few chapters or so I hated this book. I thought the author was patronizing and overly critical. But then he shared an example of his handwriting. After that I just sat back and enjoyed the amusing interviews with random people about how they learned to write or their thoughts on different types of handwriting, and the consistent criticism of people who dot their i's with hearts. Extremely silly.

I learned all sorts of interesting things about different types of handwriting and a few...more
What a delightful book about the "lost" art of handwriting. It makes me want to go buy different nibs and some practice books. As evidenced by the clever title, Hensher is a funny guy and his sarcasm and humor make the book an entertaining read. He's British, so a lot of the history of teaching handwriting differs a bit from the US, but he includes a lot of US background as well. The best part is the final chapter, basically an essay about the difference between typing and writing, and how the p...more
I picked this up from a library book-sale while on vacation. While there are some typically British un-PC comments towards the beginning, overall this is a fun book about the history and current state of penmanship and handwriting, and the utensils used to create it.

One of the fun things I realized is how the Palmer Method capital Q got its shape. However, I'm left with one burning question: Why do the Brits never close the bottoms of their small Ps?!
Overall, fairly enjoyable. When I began reading I thought I would give it four stars, then I was thwarted by a few chapters which I found decidedly less intriguing, but the last chapter brought some redemption. I felt vindicated by the author's fascination with handwriting and determination that it must not entirely fade from our society. I also discovered that the author and I write in at least somewhat of a similar fashion--that is, we both rest the utensil on our fourth digit, which I don't b...more
This is a book i was looking forward to reading thinking it would be of a similar vein to Just My Type: A Book about Fonts and Paper: An Elegy. In some ways it was, as Henshers enthusiasm for the subject is clear, but in other ways it was annoying.

The final two or three chapters on the Bic, and trying to purchase a particular fountain pen were great, but i didn't completely get the Witness chapters. And the footnotes were excessive in the extreme. If you have a foot note that goes over three pag...more
I enjoyed this book. I don't know that I learned anything from it, I simply enjoyed the authour's conversational style. I read it as a story he was telling, and not as an history lesson. I think that let me enjoy it more than other reviewers.

As with other books on handwriting, I wish there had been more examples of the varying styles of text he is describing. I could not envision the differences he was describing. I also didn't understand a number of his cultural references. I am not English, an...more
Dirck de Lint
A nice little book, despite occasional excursions into self-congratulatory cleverness. I think Hensher takes a slightly overly ubi sunt approach to the topic, since handwriting is still a skill with many practitioners, but he hits on some interesting truths about one's appreciation of one's own powers in that direction, and I am in absolute accord with the nearly heart-breaking ending's indication of how handwritten documents can provide a connection at only one remove to a person, however dista...more
The Missing Ink can be self-congratulatory at times (ie the author's trip pen shopping) while at others very down to earth (the discussion of how to teach children handwriting). This book spans quite a few different topics, and it is definitely a mix. I liked the range with which the author discussed writing by hand, and the interviews were an interesting perspective on how we interact with the handwritten word.

In the end, this was a fun non-fiction read on a topic in which I have an interest w...more
Rare is the book whose footnotes are wittier than the rest of the text. Rarer still to find such a book on the topic of handwriting's history.
Entertaining to pick up and put down as and when the spirit moves one, this history of writing is competently researched and written with an enjoyable insouciance.
I truly loved this book about the history, development and politics (much!) of handwriting and why we write the way we do. To me the very best chapter was the last one which talks about how we can increase handwriting in our daily life. This chapter truly comes from the author's heart. I enjoy writing by hand (letters, journals, etc) and so this was a special book for me. Very encouraging for those who love to hand-write and for those who wish their handwriting was "better". Enjoy!
Treasa Lynch
A lot of very interesting elements in this book; but it's one which will only really appeal to people with an interest in handwriting.
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Hensher was born in South London, although he spent the majority of his childhood and adolescence in Sheffield, attending Tapton School.[2] He did his undergraduate degree at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford before attending Cambridge, where he was awarded a PhD for work on 18th century painting and satire. Early in his career he worked as a clerk in the House of Commons, from which he was fired over th...more
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“Depressing realization sets in. Writing was invented not by human beings but by accountants. Most of the early writing systems are records of how much crap people own, how much money they have, how much money they owe, and other lowering/boastful facts of human life.” 1 likes
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