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To the Letter: A Journey Through a Vanishing World [Hardcover]

Simon Garfield
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
RRP: £16.99
Price: £11.89 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

24 Oct 2013

To the Letter tells the story of our remarkable journey through the mail. From Roman wood chips discovered near Hadrian's Wall to the wonders and terrors of email, Simon Garfield explores how we have written to each other over the centuries and what our letters reveal about our lives.

Along the way he delves into the great correspondences of our time, from Cicero and Petrarch to Jane Austen and Ted Hughes (and John Keats, Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac, Anaïs Nin and Charles Schulz), and traces the very particular advice offered by bestselling letter-writing manuals. He uncovers a host of engaging stories, including the tricky history of the opening greeting, the ideal ingredients for invisible ink, and the sad saga of the dead letter office. As the book unfolds, so does the story of a moving wartime correspondence that shows how letters can change the course of life.

To the Letter is a wonderful celebration of letters in every form, and a passionate rallying cry to keep writing.

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To the Letter: A Journey Through a Vanishing World + Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (24 Oct 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0857868586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857868589
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.4 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 101,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Garfield being Garfield, there's a rich cull of curiosities . . . A shining success (John Carey The Sunday Times)

Wonderful . . . One of the things which makes this book so attractive is Garfield's enjoyment of his subject. He writes with a winning informality and freshness (Diana Athill Literary Review)

A wonderfully elegant history (Observer)

A brilliant account of a lost art . . . funny letters, sad letters, pompous letters, famous letters, farewell letters, saucy letters, letters from soldiers and letters from swindlers: they are all here (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)

A hymn of praise to twenty centuries of letter-writing. It spurs a desire to reach once more for the pad and envelope...Garfield's knowledge is wide and his enthusiasm matchless (Libby Purves The Times)

Excellent, amusing and moving (Financial Times)

Superb (Independent on Sunday)

Garfield is an elegant and perceptive writer . . . his judgment is immaculate (Daily Mail)

To the Letter thrills and engages most when it cuts to the core of human relationships, showing personalities pinned to the page in all their painful imperfections (Observer)

Delightful (Daily Mail)

An informative lament for the mail (Metro)

From wooden tablets dug up at the ancient Roman garrison Vindolanda, UK, to the epistolary gems of novelist Virginia Woolf, this is a billet-doux to two millennia of the impassioned, often life-changing power of private correspondence (Nature)

Garfield has a keen eye for what makes a good letter . . . he is a knowledgeable guide to his subject (Scotsman)

A Paean to the dying art of letter writing...fascinating...moving and illuminating (Herald Scotland)

Wonderful (Woman & Home)

A love letter to what is already an outdated mode of communication . . . Cantering through two millennia of letters with Garfield as our guide, it's fun to spot the things that never change (Guardian)

A well-timed, engrossing study of epistolary art through the ages ... an inspiring read (The Lady)

Stuffed with marvellous anecdotes, fascinating historical tidbits and excerpts from epistolary masters both ancient and modern . . . infectious (New York Times)

An addictive account of a dying artform (Red)

A book to recommend (Spectator)

A shining tribute to the dying art of letter writing (The Sunday Times)

In digging through two centuries of letters, Garfield unearths a heap of epistolary ruins . . . fascinating . . . Quirky stories abound (Washington Post)

Garfield has impressively condensed 2000 years and a lot of wonderful characters into an accessible, comprehensively-researched book bubbling with his customary wit and joy in the absurd . . . A fascinating book (We Love This Book)

An endlessly informative book from one of Britain's best non-fiction writers (Reader's Digest)

Fresh and informative throughout. It would be difficult for anyone to read this book without finding something they enjoyed or found incredibly interesting. I would recommend this book to anybody (Literature Works)

Wonderful . . . vivid, witty and moving (Sunday Business Post)

Utterly compelling and surprisingly moving . . . Full of fascinating facts and wonderful stories (Sunday Business Post)

Book Description

From Simon Garfield, the bestselling author of On the Map and Just my Type, comes a wonderful journey through the history of letter-writing and our relationship with the mail.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In this book the author looks at a now vanishing art - that of letter writing. As a child I remember having many pen-pals - some I am still in contact with now, although admittedly we mostly email. Email certainly has its uses and is an immediate way to contact someone, but perhaps they do not have the depth of a letter and the author explores this unique form of communication. He argues that letters in the modern sense are both personal and informative and begin properly with the Romans, "the first true letter writers.". We hear from Cicero, "personal and scheming" and of what Julius Caesar was like as a dinner guest and Seneca, "instructional and disarming", who possibly wrote the first self help manuals.

This entire book is full of wonderful nuggets and just about every famous literary and historical era is covered. From prolific letter writers, such as Erasmus and Madame de Sevigne, to the family letters of the Paston family, whose members lived through the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. The author looks in depth at love letters, greeting cards, the postal service and how to write the perfect letter. There are endless facts to be learnt - for example that 'x's' on a letter first developed from drawing a cross in medieval times and kissing it as a sign of faith, which developed into shorthand for kisses or where the first fictional letter appears (the Illiad). He examines epistolary novels of the eighteenth century, those who wrote letters with an eye on posterity and being published and those, like Jane Austen, whose letters were domestic in viewpoint (domestic, but certainly not dull - Austen could never be dull in my opinion).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Letter writing 10 Dec 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It was rather wordy and I found myself skipping quite a bit. I found it somewhat uneven but some chapters were excellent as much for the writing as for their subject (Jane Austen). The unusual love letters were moving
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent slow read 7 Feb 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Really enjoying the book - but have found pages repeated in the Kindle edition around the 75% with paragraphs not seeming to follow each other.
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By JdeS
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fascinating book, beautifully written. I even bought the hardback and had the author sign it when he talked at the Edinburg Book festival. Well worth reading.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull, dull 26 Nov 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dull, dull, dull! No logical structure. Poor quality paper and grainy black and white illustrations. On its way to the charity shop.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 24 Nov 2013
By JoRo
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book never fully satisfies. It explores some really interesting points but seems to ramble on rather a lot with too many and over long examples. There is a good book there - somewhere.
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