PJ Recommends: Books for under the Christmas Tree

With Christmas and Chanukah right around the corner I thought I’d recommend a couple of books for our readers. I’m hoping that some of my fellow Tatler contributors will share their own choices in separate posts, and commenters are more than welcome to list their favorites below.


For political books, I’d have to recommend Mark Steyn’s brilliant After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. As Steyn writes:

Look around you. From now on, it gets worse. In ten years’ time, there will be no American Dream, any more than there’s a Greek or Portuguese Dream. In twenty, you’ll be living the American Nightmare, with large tracts of the country reduced to the favelas of Latin America, the rich fleeing for Bermuda or New Zealand or wherever on the planet they can buy a little time, and the rest trapped in the impoverished, violent, diseased ruins of utopian vanity.

“After America”? Yes. It will linger awhile in a twilight existence, arthritic and ineffectual, declining into a kind of societal dementia, unable to keep pace with what’s happening and with an ever more tenuous grip on its own past. For a while, there may still be an entity called the “United States,” but it will have fewer stars in the flag, there will be nothing to “unite” it, and it will bear no relation to the republic of limited government the first generation of Americans fought for. And life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will be conspicuous by their absence.

To borrow from Nietzsche, when you stare into the abyss, the least you can do is laugh a little at your predicament before being consumed. And this is the most fun you can have laughing at the people running the show in America and Europe with a mindset that’s determined to run western civilization completely off the tracks, if you’ll pardon the obvious high-speed intercontinental railroad analogy.


For books on film, I’d recommend two very different titles – in two very different formats. The first is Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, a giant, heavily illustrated 428-page coffee table book. It was designed by Saul Bass’s daughter Jennifer, and written by design historian Pat Kirkham, who knew Bass personally.

If you’ve got a film buff or a friend with an interest in graphic design on your Christmas list, Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, is a coffee table book with an enormous “wow” factor – and not coincidentally, a fair amount of heft at seven pounds, with dimensions of 11.7 x 10.6 x 1.7 inches.

Saul Bass (1920 to 1996) began his career designing the film poster for 1954’s Carmen Jones, and the title sequence the following year for The Man with the Golden Arm, both produced by Otto Preminger. He would go on to design groundbreaking title sequences for Hitchcock’s Vertigo and North By Northwest, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus,  John Frankheimer’s Seconds and Grand Prix. He also both designed the title sequence for Hitchock’s Psycho, and storyboarded its famous shower scene.

Along with all of his film work, Bass eventually became a respected corporate graphic designer for such businesses as AT&T, The Bell System, United Airlines, Dixie Cups, Minolta, Lawry’s Foods, Warner Brothers, and Quaker Oats. For many years, his film career and corporate design work overlapped, until his career as a title designer appeared to slow in pace in the 1980s, only to see it revive with such high profile Martin Scorsese films as Goodfellas (which marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Scorsese as well), Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, and the last title sequence designed by Bass, Casino.


The Title Design of Saul Bass from Ian Albinson on Vimeo.

There are two audiences for this book (with plenty of overlap of course). The first are film lovers and film historians who have thoroughly enjoyed Bass’s title sequences and his contributions to films such as Psycho. The second are students of graphic design. Much of the work that Bass created would be rendered infinitely with today’s technology such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Adobe After Effects. And yet, Bass created his iconic still images and what we now refer to as “motion graphics” decades before such technology existed. As with the soundscapes that George Martin created for the Beatles 20 years before digital synthesizers and samplers, these pioneering analog efforts led the way and helped to shape the digital technology we enjoy today.

The other film book I’d highly recommend was first published in 1998, but was finally released on Kindle earlier this week, and that’s Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which I reviewed extensively earlier this week at the PJ Lifestyle blog. To understand how the old Hollywood of Cary Grant, John Wayne, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly — all beautifully packaged up with Saul Bass titles and posters — morphed into first the Hollywood of Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and then of Bruce the Shark, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, this book, despite its occasional left-wing sucker punches, is essential.


Beyond those titles, here are some links to earlier book reviews and author interviews at the Lifestyle blog and on my blog:

Finally, to bring this post full circle, since it focuses on books devoted to tremendous social upheavals and the potentially bleak future of mankind (I can’t seem to work a Saul Bass reference in here, other than admiring the sleek design of the Kindle, iPad and Android!), an observation about the Kindle and e-media in general. My wife and I have a friend and neighbor who’s a Canadian transplant to California. A month or two ago, I mentioned to her that I had downloaded the Kindle edition of Tom Wolfe’s 1982 anthology, titled The Purple Decades (Purple being the color of royalty – hence its association with a certain diminutive R&B star of the 1980s). As I mentioned to her, between excerpts from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and articles such as “The Mid-Atlantic Man” (likely the source for Mad Man’s Lane Pryce character) and “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening”, if you want to get a sense of the tremendous social upheavals America underwent in the 1960s and ‘70s, this is a great place to start. The other night, I bought it for her on Kindle, set to arrive early on December 25th. (Hopefully she’s not reading this post!) But I was struck by how abstract the whole process was. The abstracted representation of money in the form of a credit card was electronically transferred via computer to deliver the symbolic representation of what was once a hard cover book to an electronic reading device. But I suspect more and more, this is what Christmas and birthdays will feel like – less and less physical gifts, more and more digital information being exchanged in the form of music, videos, books, etc. Do they know it’s Christmastime on the USS Enterprise?

(Thumbnail on Tatler homepage by Shutterstock.com.)


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