An exhaustively researched but thoroughly entertaining history of the city told in the form of a guidebook by one of Britain’s leading cultural historians. There is no aspect of the city that Smith does not cover, from cemeteries to skyscrapers to street food. Reading it is like being seated next to the most-informed, and most charming guest at your dream dinner party, someone with an endless font of facts enlivened by quirky and often hilarious anecdotes.
I am generally loath to recommend thematic door-stop picture books, but Concrete is the rare exception that warrants some praise. Making an argument for the sheer beauty and physical force of the "brutalist" architecture of poured concrete at a moment when so much of it is under attack and in peril, is a valuable service. This book carries off that task handsomely, pairing large-format images of exceptional international projects divided into categories that illustrate concrete's ability to shape mass, texture, light, and form. Koren's provides a thoughtful personal essay on concrete's underappreciated value.
A charming illustrated biography of Polaroid and its founder, the progressive visionary Edwin Land, whose philosophy and products served as models for Steve Jobs and Apple. This is the rare design-themed book that has a conventional story arc—an almost miraculous rise, followed by immense success, and then a catastrophic fall—and Bonanos tells it with sympathetic but gimlet-eyed intelligence. There is much to be learned from this story about both how to and how not to think about the making of objects, and the running of design companies, at all scales.
The first history of MoMA's landmark Machine Art show of 1934, which set a standard for design exhibitions that remains a pervasive influence nearly 80 years later. This book recovers the show's backstory and context, especially the roll of photographer Ruth Bernhard, though its writing and conclusions sometimes veer into overly theoretical academicism.
Wendell Castle isn't a household name, but maybe it should be. Castle was a pioneer in making furniture as three-dimensional sculpture, first with anthropomorphic carved wood pieces and then in candy-colored molded plastics. Alastair Gordon tells this story with great affection and sympathy in a beautifully made book.
Comments about Mark Lamster’s Notable Books of 2012