Brain imaging studies reliably localize a region of visual cortex that is especially responsive to visual words. This brain specialization is essential to rapid reading ability because it enhances perception of words by becoming specifically tuned to recurring properties of a writing system. The origin of this specialization poses a challenge for evolutionary accounts involving innate mechanisms for functional brain organization. We propose an alternative account, based on studies of other forms of visual expertise (i.e. bird and car experts) that lead to functional reorganization. We argue that the interplay between the unique demands of word reading and the structural constraints of the visual system lead to the emergence of the Visual Word Form Area.