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The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting

3.16  ·  Rating details ·  405 Ratings  ·  112 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 Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published October 11th 2011)
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Dec 31, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I wanted to like this, not least because I bought my mother a hardback copy a while ago because of her interest in all things pen, ink and handwriting. However, after spending most of my time reading it constructing a properly scathing review — if you’re going to complain about someone’s grammar, try not doing so by saying they know “eff-all”; don’t disagree with people just by calling their opinion “crap”; some diversity of vocabulary in general would be nice, you hypocritical snob — I decided ...more
Mel Campbell
I read this because I'm writing a feature on handwriting and thought it might be useful. I was sent it by the publisher when it was first released and had it lying around this whole time.

Immediately I was put offside by the author's snobbish tone. Hensher uses footnotes mainly to bitch about the people and organisations he's discussing, or to assert his own superiority to whatever he's mentioning. On page 19 he sniffs that a teacher he's quoted "evidently knows eff-all about the dangling partici
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
Terry Brown
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
May 04, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Dec 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“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
Jan 05, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is fun if you're interested in handwriting and its absurd history.
Jan 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 "
Sep 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, disappointment
Maybe I was expecting too much from this book. Based on the title and various blurbs I had encountered, I was hoping Hensher would offer something in the vein of cultural commentary or analysis about our dwindling attachment to the physical act of writing. Instead, The Missing Ink is a motley assortment of disconnected vignettes with no real overarching structure. It's not really argumentative or following a thesis, nor is it personal enough to be a commentary/memoir hybrid like The Butterfly Mo ...more
Lars K Jensen
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mary Whisner
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technology, writing
I checked this out after seeing that my goodreads friend William was reading it. Now I see that he gave it just two stars while here I cam giving it four stars.

I don't necessarily disagree with anything William says in his review, but I enjoyed the book. I like Hensher's writing style. I enjoyed his anecdotes, interviews, and snippets from literature. The book wouldn't appeal to everyone, but it suited me. It also inspired me to handwrite a few notes and send them out in the U.S. mail.

The chapt
Jul 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book, with an unusual topic.
Filled with facts and people's stories/journey's with handwriting throughout their life.

Great book for people who have an interest in handwriting, calligraphy and even pens!
It covers a broad range of aspects of handwriting, its history, culture, evolution through time and it also touches slightly on its future.

I wish I could give it 3.5 stars. In favour, for the author I'm giving this book 4, because I'm a nice person! :)
Apr 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
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?!
Carolee Wheeler
Jan 05, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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!
Apr 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I'm done with this and I've barely started. What an ass. His overuse of pointless footnotes, his poke at fat people, he's irritating and life's too short for books that piss me off this early in.
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
The Missing Ink was a great disappointment. Philip Henisher spends most of the time jumping from topic to topic, going off on all sorts of tangents that are quite unrelated to handwriting. It's like he's down the pub with some friends having a few pints and regaling them with odd bits of history and literature. He thinks he's very entertaining, but really not so much. And if I have to hear one more story about his bloody fountain pen with its italic nib and it's refillable, pump-action, hydrauli ...more
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fun 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 been motivated to write this
Charlotte Jones
This book has been on my shelf for a few years now and I think the reason I was avoiding it was because I thought it would be more academic. However, this is written in a conversational tone which made for a quick read but also made it feel a lot less informative. There are pieces of information about the topic that I feel I will retain but a lot of it was the author moaning about other people's ideas on handwriting, particularly when it came to speaking about graphology.

Overall this wasn't as i
Jan 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this more than I did. The author explored the subject well, and the book was -- for the most part -- well written. Unfortunately, certain chapters, such as the one on Proust, went on far longer than need be. The first few chapters and the last two were the best parts of the book by far. In between were moments of enjoyment, especially when he shared short interview clips from random folks about their handwriting. Part of what took away from some of the pleasure of the book was t ...more
This book is alright. Overall unstructured and does not provide clear or coherent narrative of the story of handwriting. Most was only worth half my mind's attention. The conclusion was by far the most interesting part but was, like the rest of the book, intellectually undeveloped.
Jennilyn (Thiboult) Nevins
Loved some parts, others were meh. Particularly enjoyed the vivid imagery and detail in the beginning whether the author explained what he loved about writing in school.
Basia Korzeniowska
By Philip Hensher.
Andrzej gave me this book for Mother's Day last year. It's a book about handwriting, of all things. Very significant, I thought, as he has the most beautiful handwriting - or at least he did when he was at primary school - it's changed a bit since then, I think, and mine is absolutely terrible. All over the place, changing in size and direction depending on the degree of my absent mindedness or general concentration; annoying, really, because I actually believe in its importanc
Nov 27, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting although perhaps not fully formed book about handwriting. One of the realisations that sparked this book to be written was when the author realised he had no idea what a close friend's handwriting looked like. Handwriting is such a personal identifier, so is he missing a part of his friend's persona?

The book is written in short chapters, rather like mini articles on aspects of the subject of handwriting. There are sections about different styles of handwriting, what schools of differ
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
Dec 01, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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The Book Vipers: The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting 11 46 May 04, 2013 06:11PM  
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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.” 2 likes
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