From ancient Greece to the Internet―via the Renaissance, Gutenberg, and Madison Avenue―Shady Characters exposes the
secret history of punctuation.
A charming and indispensable tour of two thousand years of the written word, Shady Characters weaves a fascinating
trail across the parallel histories of language and typography. Whether investigating the asterisk (*) and dagger
(†)―which alternately illuminated and skewered heretical verses of the early Bible―or the at sign (@), which languished
in obscurity for centuries until rescued by the Internet, Keith Houston draws on myriad sources to chart the life and
times of these enigmatic squiggles, both exotic (¶) and everyday (&).
From the Library of Alexandria to the halls of Bell Labs, figures as diverse as Charlemagne, Vladimir Nabokov, and
George W. Bush cross paths with marks as obscure as the interrobang (?) and as divisive as the dash (―). Ancient Roman
graffiti, Venetian trading shorthand, Cold War double agents, and Madison Avenue round out an ever more diverse set of
episodes, characters, and artifacts.
Richly illustrated, ranging across time, typographies, and countries, Shady Characters will delight and entertain all
who cherish the unpredictable and surprising in the writing life.
2-color; 75 illustrations