Rust: The Longest War, by Jonathan Waldman, 2015
A book about corrosion, from a number of different perspectives and case studies, including the complicated preservation issues related to the Statue of Liberty, to a photographer who sneaks into the rusting hulk of Bethlehem Steel to document the aesthetics of the minutiae of decay (Alysha Eve Csuk). Perhaps the best chapter is about the beverage canning industry, dominated by the Ball Corporation, and the complexity of engineering the chemistry of the plastic coating inside the can to match the reactivity of the drink, and visa versa. A curious case of the chicken versus the eggshell.
Edges of the Experiment: The Making of the American Landscape, by Marie-José Jongerius/Hans Gremmen, editor, 2015
This is an epic book, and a unique animal, in two volumes, in a box. One is full of essays, cultural analysis, graphics, historic maps, images, and information–a nearly psychedelic encyclopedia of current notions about the landscape of the western USA, touching on important things like Captain Beefheart, California City, early road signage, cactus cell towers, the Hoover Dam, Chinatown, and a lot in between. The other volume is mostly photo-based (the photos of Marie-José Jongerius), serving as a kind of forensic depiction and description of the places and points addressed in the other volume. It’s all over the place, just like the West that is its subject.
Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell, by Charlotte Gray, 2006
The inventor of the telephone’s life is surprising. He spent much of the first half of his life helping deaf people communicate (his mother and his wife were deaf), and he was a professor of vocal physiology and elocution at Boston University. Though he spent a lot of time in Washington DC, defending his patents, it was primarily his father-in-law who provided the resources, social connections, and legal savvy to maintain the business that would eventually become the largest company in the world. Bell also helped to establish the modern National Geographic society with his father-in-law, and Bell appointed his son-in-law as the first editor of the new magazine. Bell spent the latter half of his life at his estate on the shore of Bras d’Or Lake, in Nova Scotia with his family and friends helping on numerous inventions and projects, including building massive tetrahedral kites, airplanes, hydrofoils (including the world’s fastest boat), and doing genetic experiments on his flock of sheep.
Smithson in Texas, edited by Elyse Goldberg, 2015
This thin hardcover catalog of the recent exhibition curated by Leigh Arnold and Jeffrey Grove at the Dallas Museum of Art describes the artist Robert Smithson’s projects in Texas, including Amarillo Ramp, Dallas Airport sculpture drawings, some proposals for projects in a quarry near Dallas, and a most remarkable series of proposals for sculptures and films related to mined sulphur, the biblical brimstone. Texas was a state he spent a lot of time thinking about and working in, right up to the very last second of his life, when his airplane crashed into the unforgiving ground of the Panhandle. The fact that he was not able to execute any of these projects physically seems of little consequence.
Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, Walker Art Center, 2015
Hippie Modernism is a great, big show at the Walker, curated by Andrew Blauvelt, about architecture and design of the 1960s and 1970s, and the catalog, full of essays, images, and illustrations, rivals some of the classic tomes of its subject, like the Whole Earth Catalog, Shelter, etc. On its cover is that classic aerial image of the giant Buckysphere from Expo 67, the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal, on fire in 1976, its plastic sheathing sublimating into a thick black toxic plume rising into the sky.
The Undersea Network, by Nicole Starosielski, 2015
A study of the undersea cables that house 99% of the internet traffic of the world. A reminder that the Pacific Islands, like Guam and Hawaii, are not just historically and militaristically important to the USA, but are critical as hubs in the communication networks of the world. More of a cultural study than a technical one, the book is published along with an online feature which includes more information, and images of monuments at cable landing sites around the world (www.surfacing.in), supplementing the illustrative information provided a few years ago by www.telegeography.com.
War Plan Red: The United States’ Secret Plan to Invade Canada and Canada’s Secret Plan to Invade the United States, by Kevin Lippert, 2015
A summary of some of the actual and potential disputes between the otherwise friendly neighbors, Canada and the USA. Like so many of the specific and illuminating publications produced over the years by Princeton Architectural Press, this is a succinct and compact volume, written, actually, by the founder of Princeton Architectural Press.
Concrete Mushroom: Reusing Albania’s 750,000 Abandoned Bunkers, by Elian Stefa and Gyler Mydyti, 2012
This brilliant and bilingual book is just one manifestation of a vast and ambitious initiative to involve the public in a national civic effort to map, catalog, embrace, and integrate these brutalist defensive structure relics which litter the Albanian landscape. It’s a post-typological cultural project that transforms these found objects, created by the state, into objects of individualistic value. The authors chronicle and compel the effort to convert these militaristic lemons into lemonade stands, so to speak.
Drawn to Landscape: The Pioneering Work of J. B. Jackson, edited by Janet Mendelsohn and Chris Wilson, 2015
The legend of J.B. Jackson continues with this biggish book published by the invaluable George Thompson, formerly of the Center for American Places. The book is maybe the best yet on this pioneer of landscape studies, and includes a DVD with both of the two PBS-style docs made about Jackson in the 1980s, one framing him within a Cambridge context, and the other in a Berkeley one (he taught at Harvard and UC Berkeley, and his legacy is still divided along these lines, to some degree). The book shows and discusses his drawings, watercolors, photographic slides, and the influence of Landscape Magazine, which he published for years, but ceased publication in 1994 (and whose future is in the hands of photographer Peter Goin’s Black Rock Institute in Reno).
A Prehistory of the Cloud, by Tung-Hi Hu, 2015
An academic musing on the origins and significance of the invisible internet, with some insightful moments, including a discussion about the 1961 microwave tower bombing around Wendover.