Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

05 JULY, 2013

BBC’s The Beauty of Books: Penguin, Orwell, and the Paperback Cover Design Revolution

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“The book is still the most intelligent and interactive data retrieval system which has been devised.”

It’s been argued that a new golden age of book design is upon us. But, as iconic graphic designer Massimo Vignelli famously declared, “a designer without a sense of history is worth nothing.” How the history of book design fertilizes its present is precisely what the BBC series The Beauty of Books explores. The fourth episode, Paperback Writer, traces the fascinating story of the paperback revolution, which promised to “turn us all into librarians of our own private collections,” but also transformed books into more of a commodity and elevated the art of the cover into a critical tool for success.

The book is still the most intelligent and interactive data retrieval system which has been devised — and you can take it into the bath. (Author and design critic Stephen Bayley)

The film points to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its plethora of cover designs and over 25 million copies sold, as “the embodiment of how the paperback book changed civilization.” Here are my favorite covers from the history of the iconic novel:

Swedish edition, 1959; design by Olle Eksell

Penguin UK, 2008; design by Shepard Fairey

But perhaps most brilliant of all is David Person‘s cover for the most recent Penguin edition, playing off the cover of Orwell’s Why I Write:

Complement with how Marshall McLuhan, Jerome Agel, and Quentin Fiore created a new visual vernacular for the golden age of the paperback.

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07 MAY, 2013

Massimo Vignelli on the Secret of Great Book Design

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“The grid is the underwear of the book.”

Massimo Vignelli, mastermind of the iconic New York City subway map, is one of today’s most celebrated graphic designers and a fierce champion of intellectual elegance. My friends at Pentagram have put together this lovely short documentary, which takes us inside Vignelli’s book-design process with equal measures practical insight and witty inspiration:

The grid is an integral part of the book design. It’s not something that you see, physically. It’s just like underwear: You wear it, but it’s not to be exposed. So the grid is the underwear of the book.

Pair with this fantastic, wide-ranging interview with Vignelli.

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08 FEBRUARY, 2013

Jules Verne: Prophet of Science Fiction

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How the father of science fiction presaged airplanes, submersible warfare, space travel, and fuel cells.

“Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real,” Jules Verne, born on this day in 1828 and often regarded as the father of science fiction, wrote in his masterpiece Around the World in Eighty Days. And, indeed, many of the seemingly fanciful concepts Verne imagined were made real in the decades that followed. He conceived of an underwater vehicle “all powered by electricity!” at a time when only prototypes of submarines existed and electricity was known but not of wide use; he presaged the use of such a high-powered submersible in warfare and scientific research; with the help of an illustrator-friend, he envisioned a propeller-driven aircraft when hot-air balloons were the height of aviation; he depicted weightlessness when zero gravity was still a scientific guess and put humans on the moon a century before mankind’s giant step. But far more than a gifted fiction writer, Verne was also an amateur astronomer and amateur scientist. Obsessive research and fact-checking were core to his writing, and his immense curiosity about science and technology frequently drove him to seek out famous scientists and inventors passing through town.

Jules Verne: Prophet of Science Fiction is a fascinating Discovery documentary, chronicling Verne’s seminal contributions to science fiction and his strikingly accurate predictions of the technologies that came to life a century after his death, as well as how he used his fiction as escapism from his troubled family and why he ended up destroying his own legacy.

Verne creates Nemo’s high-tech Nautilus at a time when even a can-opener is considered an exciting new concept.

Complement with the beautifully illustrated 1964 biography Jules Verne: The Man Who Invented the Future.

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