Ken Carbone

Graphic Designer / United States / Carbone Smolan Agency

Ken Carbone’s Book List

Print is not dead in my life. I’m a certified book junkie. I have shelves of books still in their shrink-wrap and I need to attend the bibliophile’s equivalent of AA.

When I begin a new book I commonly make a reduced color copy of the cover to use as a bookmark. When I finish a book, I glue this into my journal and add notes, comments, and memorable passages as a way of reflecting on what I enjoyed about the book. (For two examples, see the journal entries for The World Without Us and Art & Fear in the related blog post.) I’ve been doing this for years and will occasionally look at a past journal entry, and read my notes. It’s like reading the book all over again.

There are hundreds of books I can recommend for this site but I suggest the following 11 titles dedicated to culture, art history, literature, and the natural world. These works offer insight into the wonders and intricacies of life—true fodder for inspiration and entertainment.

7 books
E. D. Hirsch
Joseph F. Kett
James S. Trefil

A national best seller, this book has been widely acclaimed for identifying and defining the core knowledge without which no literate American should be. I have found this to be an invaluable resource covering everything from mythology, fine arts, and American history to anthropology, earth sciences, and technology. This book will make you smarter.

Carol Armstrong
Catherine de Zegher

This catalogue was published in conjunction with an exhibition that appeared at the Drawing Center in New York in 2004. It is an outstanding collection of drawings and renderings of objects from nature from the mid-19th century. Most of the images pre-date photography, but the series of “cyanotypes” (early photograms) are magical. This book is a visual tour de force and one of my favorite examples of great design.

Kirk Varnedoe

It is almost impossible for me to look at a work of modern art—or design for that matter—without reflecting on what I learned from this book. Varnedoe, who died a few years ago, was the former Director of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA and a brilliant teacher. The principles he outlines in this book are profound. They are based on solid research and offer insight into what inspired great modern art.

E. H. (Ernst) Gombrich

This is a tour de force of storytelling. Gombrich wrote this in the 1930s as a history primer for children, but it is so deftly constructed that you get a comprehensive look at the development of human civilization without oversimplification. Xerxes, Charlemagne, Galileo, Lao-Tzu and hundreds of others come alive when Gombrich tells you how they have shaped our world.

David Bayles
Ted Orland

This book is 122 pages of valuable advice. It’s like a microscope that lets you examine in great detail the complex challenges that confront artists and by exposing them offers possible solutions. It is one of the most annotated books that I own and taught me lessons that I can use every day.

Umberto Eco

This well-designed book is worth having for the visual timeline alone. Eco traces beauty and power, from antiquity to the present day. The visual gallery of “Face and Hair of Venus and Adonis” is very witty and entertaining.

Winston Churchill

I read this wonderful 32-page essay at least once a year. It’s a thrill to have such an eloquent champion of creativity remind me of why choosing a career in the arts was a wise decision. This is Churchill’s paean to finding one’s muse and it is a masterpiece. It has been out of print for years but if you find one, consider it a lost treasure.

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