Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

21 APRIL, 2011

The Language of Graphic Design

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100 years of visual communication on a silver platter.

Visual communication, like all communication, relies on a sophisticated and deeply encoded language to relay its message. That language is design and though it’s wildly ubiquitous, most people are proficient at best. Out this month, The Language of Graphic Design: An Illustrated Handbook for Understanding Fundamental Design Principles offers fluency on a beautiful silver platter by dissecting the building blocks of this language and examining its ABC’s — definitions, functions, and usage — through visually-driven case studies spanning the past 100 years.

The Language of Graphic Design isn’t a design textbook — it’s a thoughtful look at the syntax and lexicon of this language that speaks to us daily, crisply written and visually driven in away that makes it equal parts visual reference and semantic study.

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19 APRIL, 2011

How Cancer Became Cancer and What Its Future Holds: A Pulitzer-Winning Biography of the Dreaded Disease

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The highly contested nonfiction category of the Pulitzer Prize is as much a measure of good writing as it is a reflection of the era’s cultural concerns. The 2011 nonfiction winner was The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (public library) by Columbia professor of medicine Siddhartha Mukherjee — an intelligent and illuminating medical and sociocultural history of the ubiquitous disease, from its origin to the first recorded cases to modern medicine’s ongoing struggle to find effective treatment.

Mukherjee writes:

When I started writing this book, I thought of cancer as a disease. But as I wrote more and more about it, it seemed as though it was not just a disease but something that envelops our lives so fully that it was writing about someone. It was like writing about an alter personality, an illness that had a psyche, a behavior, a pattern of existing.

The book begins with the stories of pathologist Sidney Farber and philanthropist Mary Lasker, who is credited with launching the war on cancer by urging scientists and the government to race for a cure of the little-understood killer.

The second half of the narrative shifts from the cultural to the scientific context of humanity’s battle with the disease, focusing on the incremental yet game-changing discoveries of a various brilliant scientists over the past half-century as the scientific community raced to understand how cell become cancerous in order to better address prevention and treatment.

So fascinating is the book that one dedicated fan used its narrative to extract a visual timeline of cancer from 1950 to the present:

With its blend of cultural anthropology, rigorous research, and genuine empathy, The Emperor of All Maladies is, as the Pulitzer unequivocally implies, a pinnacle of nonfiction that oscillates between the profoundly distressing cultural tyranny of a presently incurable disease and the relentless scientific exhilaration embedded in the very possibility of unraveling this great and all-consuming mystery.

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18 APRIL, 2011

NASA + William Shatner: Space Shuttle’s Legacy

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This month, NASA announced that after 30 years of spaceflight and over 130 missions, its Space Shuttle Program fleet will be retiring to an earthly resting place. To commemorate the fleet’s remarkable legacy, NASA produced this fantastic short documentary, narrated by none other than William Shatner:

An idea born in unsettled times becomes a feat of engineering excellence. The most complex machine ever built to bring humans to and from space and eventually construct the next stop on the road to space exploration.”

The film comes mere days after public outrage over proposed NASA budget cuts, along with NASA’s own appeals, finally appeared to have moved Congress to approve a healthier funding grant of $18.5 billion. Meanwhile, ordinary NASA fans continue to churn out extraordinary tributes that attempt to bridge the frustrating gap between NASA’s deeply inspirational work and the toothless official communication about it.

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15 APRIL, 2011

The Ancient Book of Myth and War

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What Roman warriors have to do with Pixar and medieval Middle-Eastern legends.

Nearly two years ago, we featured The Ancient Book of Séx and Science — the racy and whimsical side-project of four Pixar animators, which went on to become the most popular book in Brain Pickings history. But it was actually a follow-up to an earlier project by the same team, at the time out-of-print and near-impossible to get online, less a few exorbitantly priced four-figure collector’s copies. Now, The Ancient Book of Myth and War has magically reappeared on Amazon, where we were able to snag a copy for under $75. Needless to say, the book is an absolute gem worth every penny — a collection of stunning experiments in shape and color exploring the strange and wonderful world of mythology and legend throughout the history of the world. (As Amazon reviewer J. Brodsky eloquently puts it, “The only point to be made here, is that you simply must do yourself a favor and buy this art gallery they call a book.”)

The four animators — Scott Morse, Nate Wragg, Lou Romano, and Don Shank — manage to capture the essence of legends from around the world and across time with a rare blend of irreverence and cross-cultural curiosity, sweeping you into a journey into the soul of heroic mythology.

Playful and poetic, The Ancient Book of Myth and War is an absolute treat for art aficionados and mythology lovers alike, blending history and design with the kind of visual eloquence Pixar has grown legendary for.

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.