Book Review. The Typewriter Revolution

The Typewriter RevolutionThe Typewriter Revolution – A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century
Richard Polt
The Countryman Press (2015)
384 pages

When it comes to fomenting dissent in a technology dominated society, there’s no better bomb thrower than Richard Polt. Not only does he inspire the masses with the Manifesto, but he’s a lettered academic teaching philosophy at Xavier University. Perhaps his dissenting roots took form while he was an underclassman at the University of California, Berkeley — a well-known rabble-rousing hot zone. But make no mistake, this is not an underground movement cloaked in secrecy. If you’re reading this, then perhaps you’ve already signed onto the typewriter insurgency. I certainly have. And under Polt’s leadership, the movement is in excellent hands. His magnum opus, The Typewriter Revolution, brims with knowledge hard won over many years of collecting, using, fixing and blogging about typewriters. Not only does he teach us about these wonderful writing machines, but he weaves in numerous personal stories and narratives. Like a good thesis defense, he presents ample evidence of how typewriters are being used by writers of all stripes, from street poets to zine publishers. It’s inspiring to know that you are not alone. The typewriter is a vital part of many lives.

To reinforce this point, Polt’s first chapter, The Insurgency, highlights how people use typewriters to connect with others in profound ways. Writing is communicating and Polt’s central thesis is that typewriters offer a vibrant form of communication not found in technology.  And the typewriter is just one aspect of an ever growing movement away from the virtual and towards the tangible. The movement from getting things done fast and often, to pausing, reflecting and connecting with people, ideas and things in a more thoughtful and present manner.

If you had any doubt as to the power of the typewriter to transform the conversation, then reading stories from The Insurgency might sway you to the movement. Moreover, these are not stories from the fringe. One can expect typewriters to be popular on the trendy coasts and in leafy college communities, but in working-class Lincoln, Nebraska, Polt tells us typewriters have become a Valentine Day tradition called Love on the Run. A local press sets up the typing stations and invites people to write love letters which are then hand-delivered by volunteers known as “valenteers.” It’s in these many stories that one can find inspiration for bucking the tech trend, if for just a moment, to try something new that has its roots in the past.

If the book stopped here, that would be reason enough to get it. But read on, pilgrim, Polt uncovers much new territory. The best way to navigate The Typewriter Revolution is by topic. To aid in your journey, the book comes with a built-in bookmark, a black and red ribbon that smartly mirrors a typewriter ribbon. It’s a brilliant touch that is also functional.

If you already own a typewriter, Polt has an excellent section on maintenance. He covers almost any ailment and offers a straightforward fix. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. He has a well-lit, dedicated repair station with a Lazy Susan for all around access to the machine that sits on sheet of white paper in case a part goes missing. And in case you’re wondering what tools, ointments and lotions you’ll need to keep your machine in top operating condition, he provides a handy shopping list that’ll have you running between the auto parts store and the craft market. Even if you don’t have the wherewithal to fix a major problem, Polt offers sound advice on simple adjustments that even a hack writer can perform. One such fix is applying brake fluid to soften a hard platen. Who woulda thunk?

If there’s one danger lurking on the horizon, it’s the absence of new typewriters rolling off the assembly line. What if the revolution explodes and there’s not enough second-hand typewriters for all the inspired writers? Polt concludes with a review of the Phoenix typewriter, where crowdfunding and maker space innovation come together to produce the “perfect” typewriter. But ultimately, Polt argues, the greatest innovation is a social one, a change in how we approach our writing, one that is deeper and centered on mindfulness, free from distractions.

Do we need a typewriter to achieve this? Maybe not. Perhaps the distraction free mode on your writing app is enough to keep you on-track or perhaps you have the discipline to churn the words out every day without fail. But just as nature is being proven to positively affect our central nervous system, maybe the act of imprinting words on paper with a mechanical device can positively affect our central writing system.

Whatever your view, The Typewriter Revolution is a work of love and dedication and will no doubt be referenced for years to come. And unlike a computer manual, the Typewriter Revolution will never be obsolete.

Get it today. ’nuff said. Namaste.


  1. Excellent book, excellent review! I find myself overcoming writer’s block (read: laziness) and hopping back on my typewriters every time I read The Typewriter Revolution. It’s perhaps the pinnacle of everything we stand for.

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