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Robin Benson

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The Official Cia Manual Of Trickery And Deception
The Official Cia Manual Of Trickery And Deception
by H Melton
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
19 used & new from CDN$ 6.21

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The nuts and dolts of early CIA black art, Dec 23 2010
How typical of the CIA during the Cold War years to leave no stone unturned in the agencies attempts to get the upper hand when dealing with the Ruskies. Like the movie `The men who stare at goats' everything had to be considered no matter how dotty, especially when the agency budget in the fifties and sixties was unlimited.

I thought Mulholland's part of the book incredibly over written. Why use one word when no one will bother if he uses ten. Endless descriptions of hand movements while completing a simple task, like putting something in a pocket, go on and on. Though the explanation of how reasonably complex magic tricks are accomplished I found the text got very tedious.

Mulholland's manuscript had illustrations to back up the words. These have been redrawn by Phil Franke and he does a super job. His work really enlivened the dull text. Incidentally, that is all set in a typewriter font to give it all a written report sort of credibility.

Far more interesting was the first part of the book which covers the background to the CIA MK ULTRA program and it goes into it with some detail. Would anyone be surprised to know that the agency manufactured, in 1955, an Escape and Evasion Rectal Suppository packed with nine mini escape tools (pictured on page forty-six) of course not.

What Can We Believe Where?: Photographs of the American West
What Can We Believe Where?: Photographs of the American West
by Robert Adams
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.46
26 used & new from CDN$ 16.46

4.0 out of 5 stars Way out West, Dec 23 2010
I thought this was a useful introduction (and very reasonably priced) to the creative photography of Robert Adams with 110 beautifully printed photos. Taken between 1968 and 2003 in Colorado (mostly around Denver) California and Oregon, they reveal the changing West from nature to a man-made landscape. Adams has devoted several decades to this changing geography.

The photos have all been published before in various books by Adams and I thought a listing of what books they have appeared in would have been useful to the reader. I'm particularly interested in how Adams covers the urban landscape and the Denver photos in the book can be seen in his two remarkable books: What We Bought: The New World: Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974 and denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974 with 310 photos in all.

The twenty-nine Oregon photos reveal a changing landscape of nature being cleared ready for industry and suburbs. A beautiful shot on page ninety-three shows part of a mechanical devise, with hydraulic cables, resting on the ground. It sums up the alien (a bit Geiger like, too) about to take over nature.

I've given the book for stars despite the wonderful photography because I thought the book's format wasn't quite right. Yale published the two Denver titles I mentioned and they come across as perfect photo books: right shape, paper and printing to bring out the best in the images. It would have made this book so much better if it had been the same landscape format and with larger photos so the detail they contain could be appreciated. In the book they 300+ plus screen tritones (almost like looking at the original prints) but smaller than I expected. The landscape format would have allowed them all to be bigger.

Joachim Brohm - Ohio
Joachim Brohm - Ohio
by Thomas Weski
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 53.98
10 used & new from CDN$ 53.98

4.0 out of 5 stars The state of Ohio, Dec 19 2010
This review is from: Joachim Brohm - Ohio (Hardcover)
These forty color plates were taken Brohm during 1983/84 while studying for an MA at Ohio State University on a Fulbright Scholarship. Like European photographers from Robert Frank (on a Guggenheim fellowship) and his `The Americans' onwards Brohm zooms in on the urban landscape and its rich selection of everyday Americana: neon signs, street furniture; utility poles; store fronts; autos and the general run-down, yet colorful, state of many cities. The photos here were mostly taken in Columbus, Ohio and all except two are exterior shots.

I thought it a pity that there are only forty photos because with more the few also-rans wouldn't be so noticeable. One of these is the second to last in the book, a shot taken from inside a car looking at a huge water tower which cut off by the car`s windscreen. The cropping and out of focus rear-view mirror just make it look odd. Some photos really grabbed me though: page fifty-four has a shot looking down a street with the detail vanishing into the distance or page sixty-five of a street corner with pedestrians waiting to cross with street furniture framing shop signs on the opposite side of the street. The two interior photos are interesting because they seem very reminiscent of William Eggleston's interiors with their saturated color. Thomas Weski in the book's intro refers to Eggleston and 'his snapshot style and a 'painterly' interpretation of color'.

The Imprint page says the photos have been scanned from color prints which would explain the slight softness and lack of really solid blacks throughout the pages. They are one to a spread and printed with a 175 screen on a reasonable matt art. The book is the usual high production one would expect from Steidl.

'Ohio' will join my slowly expanding shelf of fascinating photo books that take a wry look at the man-made American landscape in recent decades.

The Guggenheim: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Making of the Modern Museum
The Guggenheim: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Making of the Modern Museum
by Nancy Spector
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 47.34
20 used & new from CDN$ 47.34

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wright book with infuriatingly wrong design, Dec 17 2010
This should have looked so good. The cover has an intriguing and distinctive design on a predominantly upright shaped book and maybe this would be ideal to reveal the wonders of this remarkable building but unfortunately I thought the title had serious editorial flaws:

* You would think a book about a building and especially this building would have a decent floor plan but there is none. William Storrer's definitive The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion has computer generated plans of every Wright building. The spread in his book on the Guggenheim has a plan for the lower, ground and first levels. Someone should have asked permission to reproduce these.

*There are many letters from individuals and organizations reproduced in the book. The editors obviously thought they had some significance but twenty-five of them are reproduced just too small to read. I get the impression that the designers just used them as graphic fillers to liven up the pages.

* Although there is no overall floor plan of the Museum there are many plans of part of the building and colored sketches showing design ideas but like the letters these have been reproduced too small so they are useless.

*The book's designers have created a page grid and followed it by squeezing in photos, drawings, newspaper clippings and other graphic material without any regard to what the reader might want to see. This creates excessive amounts of white space throughout the pages and was particularly noticeable in the seventy-seven page Timeline section at the back of the book. Probably more than a third of each page is just white paper. So many photos and graphics really should have been much larger but aren't because then they wouldn't follow the page grid.

*The curse of tiny type lives on in this book. (Why is this so prevalent in `designed' books?) Captions and page numbers are in six point and printed in a darkish orange. Footnotes are also in six point but printed in black. Considering how wide the margins are on each page these footnotes could easily have been accommodated on the relevant pages. Fortunately the book's main text is a quite readable nine point.

* There is no index. How is that possible? The absence suggests, to me at least, that the whole production has been created in a very slapdash way.

As to the text, well, I'm happy to say this does deliver something for your money. The seven main chapters cover the FLW and his masterpiece in detail and I thought the first two: Hilary Ballon who looked at the origins of the Museum in New York and Joseph Siry who covered the construction in relation to other later museums, particularly interesting. The extensive Timeline section in the back pages was quite fascinating as you read about the many problems Wright had with the authorities and individuals. It turns out the Guggenheim was his most challenging commission. The book's last essay, by Angela Starita, covers the recent updating of the building in 2005 to 2008 and she provides a wealth of detail about the physical structure and the corrections made to the original.

As I said in the beginning this could have been a wonderful book but it falls far short of my expectations essentially because of the inadequate work from Pentagram who designed it and the editors who didn't pick up these errors.

Christmas Wishes: A Catalog Of Vintage Holiday Treats and Treasures
Christmas Wishes: A Catalog Of Vintage Holiday Treats and Treasures
by Tim Hollis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.20
7 used & new from CDN$ 25.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Chri$$$$$tmas of yesteryear, Dec 9 2010
Despite plenty of books devoted to every aspect the festive season Tim Hollis has produced something fresh: a comprehensive coverage in words and picture of the commercialism of the season. In six chapters he tells you all about the toys wrapped under the tree, Rudolph and Frosty story books, records put out by Peter Pan, Disney Records and others, tree and house decorations and finally what the stores did on your Main Street.

Actually some of this has been covered by others, especially the three Christmas books by Susan Waggoner, the last of which: Christmas Memories: Gifts, Activities, Fads, and Fancies, 1920s-1960s I thought was particularly good. Hollis, though, goes into much more detail (and here and there maybe too many words, especially on Peter Pan records) about the various products that must have filled most houses across the country on the twenty-fifth and not forgetting the razzmatazz of the preceding weeks in large department stores right down to the local five and dime.

What I thought really gives the book an edge are the 224 color images. An amazing collection of toy and candy ads, book jackets, sheet music covers, record covers (lots of these) and ads, catalog pages showing tree lights and decorations, store Wish Book covers and more. I doubt you'll find pictures of a bigger selection of Christmas commercial products from 1940 to 1970 in any other book.

It was all the wonderful seasonal graphic material that I loved about the book. The title's layout is rather bland but that only throws up all the colorful nostalgic goodies. The back pages have a short bibliography and nicely a comprehensive index.

Posters of the Cold War
Posters of the Cold War
by David Crowley
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.76
19 used & new from CDN$ 20.21

3.0 out of 5 stars Rather cool in hot times, Dec 5 2010
The seventy posters shown reflect the political times quite well because so many of them have an urgency that implies an amateurish production rather than the slick design techniques (and message) that posters for commercial products use. The posters, from fifteen countries, would win few design awards because they weren't designed for considered appraisal but to get an immediate message across quickly in situations where posters wouldn't necessarily be seen.

David Crowley writes introductions to the four chapters and the rest of the text are long captions to the posters, mostly one to a page. Despite so few posters in the book the coverage is wider than I expected. Posters for the `Ipcress File', Kubrick's `2001' and `Solaris' are included and a lovely spoof of `Gone with the wind' starring Ron Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

An interesting book but I really would have liked to have seen far more posters included, overall it seems a bit lightweight to me.

Custom Lettering of the 60s & 70s
Custom Lettering of the 60s & 70s
by Rian Hughes
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 28.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Just your type, Nov. 28 2010
If you are into type I defy you to open any page in this thick, chunky book and not be grabbed. I would guess that each page has between six and nine examples of custom lettering all sorted into an amazing number of categories. The Contents for the 60s pages have forty-four sections with many sub-divisions: Geometric Sans is further divided into another eight sections. Rian Hughes says in his Intro (rather annoyingly set in tiny six point) that he sorted out his collection of about 10,000 type examples into a hundred definable styles.

Unlike lead set type, with its inflexibility, hand-lettering offered a chance for much more character and immediacy especially for headlines in ads and editorial. Apart from the logos and mastheads in these pages everything else is a one use bit of type and to a certain extent it shows, too. With 4500 examples perhaps a bit more selectivity would have been useful.

I thought it was interesting to compare the same categories in the 60s and 70s. The latter seem much more considered and creative than a lot of the 60s styles. Throughout the two decades designers became much more aware and appreciative of interesting typography, helped off course by the increasing range of styles offered by the graphic arts industry. Why set a headline in lead when so much more choice was available film set.

With so many examples these pages could have looked a mess but instead, despite all the different shapes, it all hangs together beautifully though I thought more color could have been used. The few spreads in color really stand out from hundreds in black only. The matt art paper and good printing gives the book that final finish.

There is another edition by Rian Hughes devoted to 40s and 50s custom lettering. Both books present an interesting cornucopia of type ideas for that next ad campaign or magazine article.

Vintage Christmas
Vintage Christmas
by Alan Weller
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 26.30
26 used & new from CDN$ 24.02

5.0 out of 5 stars A cut and past Christmas, Nov. 26 2010
This review is from: Vintage Christmas (Paperback)
Holiday season fans will enjoy this collection of period illustrations all in color. 361 graphic examples of Santa (lots and lots) gift tags, children, angels, decorative friezes and cartouches, lettering and more. I thought it was an interesting mix though it seems that most of the material would be pre-1940.

You can enjoy the book as it is, pleasantly laid out with a slight drop shadow on many of the illustrations which makes them appear to hover on the page but nicely the book comes with a CD-ROM with all the art which you can scroll through individually on your monitor and Dover have gone the extra mile by having ninety examples as card templates for easy printing on card stock. Twenty pieces of art can be printed as postcards as well.

One feature I did like were several examples of wrapping paper design with the motifs repeated, these are used as whole page backgrounds on many pages. All the art in the book is numbered so it's easy to find on the disc.

My only criticism is that there is not much material from the Fifties or Sixties (maybe a volume two?) but apart from that I thought this was a lovely collection of Christmas graphics, enjoyable just by turning the pages or using the individual graphics on the disc to create and print your own festive design.

Tools for Living: A Sourcebook of Iconic Designs for the Home
Tools for Living: A Sourcebook of Iconic Designs for the Home
by Charlotte Fiell
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 45.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply good design, Nov. 24 2010
The Fiell's have written plenty of books on design and I often wondered, while looking through the few I have, how wonderful it would be if I could buy this or that design. Now it's possible because this book has an interesting editorial remit of only showing design that is available (and as Dieter Ram's Braun calculator isn't included I guess it's not made anymore) so every item has a web address, though that is not to say everything is available worldwide.

The ten chapters: kitchenware; tableware; furniture; lighting; office, bathroom; maintenance; children; garden and one called 'other' (with a selection of door handles, amazingly fourteen included, wall clocks, CD racks etcetera) show one product a page and I was pleased to see that a lot of the old favorites are still being made. Timo Sarpaneva's cooking pot (1960) and wonderful Rosenthal Suomi dinnerware (1976) Max Bill's wall clock (1956) Henning Koppel's pitcher (1952) and fish dish (1954) Egmont Aren's kitchen mixer (1937) and of course Charles Eames lounger (1956) which will always be available.

Some of the kitchenware objects, though you might consider them mundane, still retain good looks. The Sherman Kelly ice-cream scoop (1933) Rosle Design Team whisk (1978) Smart Design pastry brush (2006) and the incredibly simple and obvious cheese slicer designed by Norwegian Thor Bjorklund in 1925. Perhaps, predictably, the majority of products in the book are European and nicely many are Scandinavian. The Fiell's 'Scandinavian design' (ISBN 382285882x) is a remarkable visual look at the timeless design that has come out of these four countries over the decades.

I thought 'Tools for living' (incidentally, a handsome looking book with everything in color) the ideal guide to help you fill your home with products that work and also look good.

75 Years Of DC Comics: The art Of Modern Mythmaking
75 Years Of DC Comics: The art Of Modern Mythmaking
by Paul Levitz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 180.00
11 used & new from CDN$ 173.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pow! Sock! Smash! and more, Nov. 19 2010
What better way to celebrate seventy-five years of DC Comics than this massive, stunning Taschen book. With 720 pages, two thousand plus images and probably over a hundred thousand words. It all adds up to treat for comic fans that will last and last.

Where to start? I preferred to dip into the five fold-out timelines (each forty-four inches wide) with about a thousand dated items spelling out the activities of DC, the comic industry in the context of the times and the seven pages at the back of the book with comprehensive biographies of all the creative folk was useful with the timelines.

The seven chapters are divided into Ages, starting with the Stone Age (nicely called Prehistory - 1938) and ending with the Modern Age: 1998 - 2010. An Afterword brings everything up-to-date with a section on the Digital Age. A feature that I particularly liked and it runs throughout the pages, are the artist portfolios, for example, Bernie Wrightson gets eight illustrations, Curt Swan seventeen, including a lovely whole page of Superman heads with various expressions. Another interesting feature is the inclusion of titles other than DC because they in some way influenced comic art or writing, a quick scan of the index (it's huge) reveals: Fawcett Publications; Jack Kirby; Mad; Marvel comics; Spider-man and Zap comix.

As usual Taschen spoil their readers by turning out an impressive looking book. Hundreds and hundreds of covers (many page size) original artwork, movie stills, ads and other graphics are all in color and each with comprehensive captions. Oh yes and a gold colored bookmark completes the package.

Expensive? Yes but you won't see something like this again for a long time (unless Taschen are planning a Marvel special!)

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