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.

11 books
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.

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.

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.

Edmund White

“A flâneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles through a city without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in a covert search for adventure, aesthetic or erotic.” That’s White’s definition and I wonder how I can sign up for the job. If you have been to Paris, this book is like a sensorial guide that brings you back to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feeling of this great city. If you plan to visit Paris in your lifetime, buy this book first and discover places that are off the beaten path.

Edward O. Wilson

This is an insightful and articulate book by one of the foremost conservationists of our time. Wilson tells you about the wonderful planet that is currently under our stewardship, why it may not be wonderful for long, and what positive changes are underway to save our world. Wilson believes that the 21st century will be the century of the environment because soon we will have little choice but to be more environmentally responsible.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Emily King

Brownjohn’s career lasted only a little over 20 years (he died in 1970 at age 44), but in it he attained a notorious position in design and advertising, bridging the fields of still and moving imagery. Best known for his sexy title sequences for the Bond films “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger,” he also produced influential work when he was in partnership with Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar in the 1950s. This monograph on his life and work, thickly illustrated in black-and-white and color, traces the cult designer’s story decade by decade and piece by piece.

Alan Weisman

The World Without Us is a book I highly recommend. I think it is a profound work. It makes a convincing case that the planet is not in peril, it’s just waiting for us to go! It states that in a relatively short period of time after we’re gone—100,000 years or so—there will be very little or no trace that we ever existed. Maybe a fossil or two.

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