ET Reviews Some Books

Atlas of Oregon William Loy, Stuart Allen, Aileen R. Buckley, and James E. Meacham
The Atlas of Oregon

The Atlas of Oregon (second edition) by William Loy, Stuart Allen, Aileen R. Buckley, and James E. Meacham is superb, ranking among the very best atlases ever. It has intense 3-dimensional resolution in exquisitely detailed maps (in the elegant style of Stuart Allen's Raven maps). The statistical displays are detailed, clear, often fascinating, and up-to-date. And the entire atlas is beautifully designed and produced.

I include The Atlas of Oregon along with Atlas of Early American History by Lester J.Cappon, Barbara Bartz Petchenik, and John Hamilton Long (Princeton 1976) among my very favorite atlases.

Anyone interested in the state of the art in information design should buy this book ($40 paperback when discounted, $100 clothbound.) I bought The Atlas of Oregon from, of course, Powell's Books

Light and Color in the Outdoors M. G. J. Minnaert
Light and Color in the Outdoors

This deeply perceptive book changes our own perceptions of all kinds of light and color events in the outdoors. You will never see the same way again outdoors. Some examples involve elementary optics (which explain the visual phenomena) but nearly all the 278 short chapters can be appreciated by the visually alert reader. My favorite examples include dappled light, rainbows (there are always two), and differences between reflected and transmitted light in seeing leaves and grass. The Dover edition is fine; the Springer-Verlag edition is better with its excellent color photographs.

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili Probably by Francesco Colonna, translated by Joscelyn Godwin (1999)
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream (1499)

This is a wonderful translation of an extraordinary book. Nearly 500 pages of sensual detailed descriptions of fantasy architecture, gardens, and travels along with a short love story. Creates a whole other world. Fun to read aloud. In my new book, Beautiful Evidence, I will have a chapter on Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream.

Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters David Hockney
Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters

This amazing, powerful, delightful, and beautiful book makes a strong case for the use of optical projection methods by artists from about 1430 on. Hockney finds all sorts of telltale evidence of lenses and mirrors (rather than only exquisite eye-brain-hand coordination) in painting and drawing highly realistic flatland images of 3-space scenes. Hockney tells an often hilarious visual detective story.

The book has such a wonderful intensity of seeing and thinking. The computer (presumably using Adobe Photoshop) made it possible for Hockney to write with images and to construct a beautifully designed and printed book.

This is one of my favorite works in art history, along with Meyer Schapiro's essay on the semiotics of visual art (in Meyer Schapiro, Theory and Philosophy of Art: Style, Artist and Society), and Martin Kemp's The Science of Art. Hockney, Schapiro, and Kemp provoke their readers into seeing and thinking more deeply.

Artists' Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000: The Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books
Robert Flynn Johnson and Donna Stein
Artists' Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000: The Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books

One rainy Sunday afternoon in San Francisco last December, I went to an extraordinary show of artists' books at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. Artists' books are typically lavish large format books, exquisitely printed in editions of about 50 to 200 copies, and illustrated with full-page or double-page prints by great artists - Picasso, Matisse, Dufy, William Morris, Calder, Giacometti, Ernst, Miró, Duchamp, Léger, Man Ray, El Lissitzky all did wonderful artists' books.

A copiously-illustrated catalog describes the 180 books in the show. The catalog is one of the finest museum catalogs around; it was superbly designed by Jack Stauffacher and typeset in Cycles (designed by Sumner Stone). This is a beautiful catalog about beautiful objects. There are hardcover and paper editions of the catalog. I got my copies from William Stout Architectural Books in San Francisco, which is a great bookstore (804 Montgomery St. 415 391-6757).

Artists' Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000: The Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books
Mr Beck's Underground Map Ken Garland
Mr Beck's Underground Map

Harry Beck's diagram of the 7+ lines of the London Underground, although geographically inaccurate, provides a coherent overview of a complex system. With excellent color printing, classic British railroad typography (by Edward Johnson), and, in the modern style, only horizontal, vertical, and 45 degree lines, the map became a beautiful organizing image of London. For apparently quite a number of people, the map organized London (rather than London organizing the map). Despite 70 years of revision due to extensions of the Underground and bureaucratic tinkering (the marketing department wrecked the map for several years), the map nicely survives to this day.

Later European and American knock-offs did not succeed at all. The underground map and Minard's famous Carte Figurative of the French Army's disaster in Russia in the war of 1812 are alike in important respects: both are brilliant, and neither travels well. The underground map and Napoleon's March are perfectly attuned to their particular data, so focused on their data sets. They do not serve, then, as good practical generic architectures for design; indeed, revisions and knock-offs have uniformly been corruptions or parodies of the originals. Both, however, exemplify the deep principles of information design in operation, as well as the craft and passion behind great information displays.

There is a fine book on the map: Ken Garland, Mr Beck's Underground Map (Capital Transport Publishing 1994). The book describes the enormous care, craft, thought, and hard work of Harry Beck that went on for decades--exactly what it takes to do great information design and so in contrast to the quick-and-dirty practices and thinking of commercial art. Garland's book is also a model for writing histories of great information designs.

Artists' Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000: The Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books
Cartographic Relief Presentation Eduard Imhof
Cartographic Relief Presentation

Eduard Imhof is the author of a deep and essential book, Cartographic Relief Presentation (English translation 1982, from the original German published in 1965, Kartographische Gelandedarstellung). Both the German and English editions were published by Walter de Gruyter, Berlin. The book is about how to show mountains on maps (which means that it is about nearly everything, since the book shows all sorts of methods for excaping the flatlands of paper and display screen). Topics include contours, errors in contours, color, spot altitudes, shading, rock drawing, symbols, area colors, interaction of design elements, and production of complex information displays.

Imhof is one of the people responsible for the great Swiss national maps, one of the best information designs ever (see my Envisioning Information, p. 80 for a sample of the Swiss mountain maps). It is one of the most technically sophisticated design books, so much deeper than the standard books on graphic design.

The book is required reading for anyone serious about information and interface design. Imhof also published many articles in cartographic journals which are also relevant to information and interface design. Imhof's work was very helpful in my book Envisioning Information, which quotes several long passages from Cartographic Relief Presentation. So read all the index entries under "Imhof" in Envisioning Information to see some of his good ideas.

The book was first translated into English by various government agencies and then appeared publicly in print in 1982. It was expensive; probably only a thousand or so copies were printed. Many map libraries surely have the book; so search the electronic card catalogs to find the book in a university library or map library (at, say, the US Geological Survey) near you. Perhaps the best way to buy a copy is to place a want ad in a couple of the cartographic magazines in the US and UK (and try cartographic discussion groups on the internet). There are also book dealers specializing in cartography; they might not list on A used copy of the book will probably cost $200-$500. NOTE: A new edition was published in 2007.

Artists' Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000: The Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books
The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century Andrew Roth
The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century

This is an extraordinary book, both for its content and design. The book provides a wonderful view of 20th-century photography and photographic books, reproducing several double-page spreads (at reduced size) from a well-chosen list of 101 great photographic books. There is so much to see and think about here.

The catalog entries, luminously written by Vince Aletti and David Levi Strauss, provide a fairly detailed description, history, and analysis of each of the photographic books. And there are several essays on the history and techniques of photographic publishing; these essays are informative, smart, learned.

This is one of the best-designed books in recent years. The typography, layout, and printing quality are just perfect, at the very highest level of excellence. Andrew Roth and Jerry Kelly did the book design; Sue Medlicott supervised the printing which was done superbly at the Stamperia Valdonega.


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