Often I get asked a lot of times about which books I'd recommend for the designers in their lives. Here is a short list.
From the emergence of ad hoc mobile payments in Africa, to the torrent of technology changes rippling across the globe, our understanding of the behaviors come largely through the disciplined and attentive field research. Here is the preeminent text on doing it well.
These translation in the Sagas of the Icelanders from a thousand years ago, from the Vineland Sagas, The Prose Edda and the Poetry Edda, give us today access to a rich world often obscured to us.
The publication of these volumes is a reminder that the Icelandic Sagas can hold their own with the literature of the Mediterranean." ---Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate, 1995
circa 425 BCE
The Western concept of history can trace much of its parentage to this book and this man.
It is however far from dry history of dates and locations.
“Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks”
Here are reports of exotic culture, the recounting of wars and attempts to understand the world which was largely a mystery to the Greeks at the time. Some of my favorite tidbits include the details on the Scythians, the Batte of Thermopylae and some of the oldest reports of India from an outsider.
See also My Portable Poetry Library
There is a blank period in my mind when it comes to northern Europe and England between the fall of Rome and the rise of the Vikings, eight hundred years later. Eight hundred years is a long time to know nothing about.
This is what reading this account of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes of Britain was great for.
Here is an excerpt:
"Such,' he said,'O King, seems to me the present life of men on earth, in comparison with that time which to us is uncertain, as if when on a winter's night you sit feasting with your ealdormen and thegnsö a single sparrow should fly swiftly into the hall, and coming in at one door, instantly fly out through another. In that time in which it is indoors it is indeed not touched by the fury of the winter, and yet, this smallest space of calmness being passed almost in a flash, from winter going into winter again, it is lost to your eyes. Somewhat like this appears the life of man; but of what follows or what went before, we are utterly ignorant.”
Myth, history, tales, stories of heroic people; Geoffrey of Monmouth, a bishop in Wales, chronicled the legends of Merlin, King Arthur, Brutus and the founding of Britain. His detailed histories have influenced all of the English writers than came after him in one way or another.
circa c.e. 1250
"The Prose Edda contains a wide variety of lore which a Skald (poet) of the time would need to know and contains consistent narratives of many of the plot lines of Norse mythology."
Much of the creation myth, as in this excerpt:"The sun knew not where she had housing;
The moon knew not what Might he had;
The stars knew not where stood their places.
Thus was it ere the earth was fashioned."
The Malleus Maleficarum, which translates as the Hammer of the Witches, was the standard medieval text on witchcraft up to the early modern period. The depiction of the evil of witches and how to eradicate them continue to contribute to our knowledge of early modern law, religion and society.
I personally have used its often incantatory and fantastic (in both senses of the word) language as prompts for poems (see my poem Witness for example).
"For there are three things in man: will, understanding, and body. The first is ruled by God (for, The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord); the second is enlightened by an Angel; and the body is governed by the motions of the stars."
"From English, French, Spanish and Russian to Pashto, Tagalog, and Swahili, this is the first comprehensive reference work to provide detailed information about the world's forty major languages. " The World's Major Languages by Bernard Comrie.
This is delectably told and imaginative, a thought experiment worked its way all the way out. When humans are sent the plans for an interstellar propulsion system, and the governments dither on in their dithering ways, it is the deeply intellectual Jesuits who act. This science fiction, speculative fiction, reframes a great deal of our past in terms of our potential future actions.
I recommend Bill Buxton's Sketching User Experiences as a important book to read.
It very much pushes on the way both the imagined end result and the tools at hand play a huge part in the success or failure of a design. It has totally changed my mindset.
Tufte has become an icon for me in the space that often gets reduced to infographics, but really has to do with the meaning available through comparisons.
One of the concepts that came to me from him is roughly "information is all the differences that make a difference." And this title of his, Envisioning Information, explores the way changes and similarities, represented visually makes information accessible in ways numerical abstractions sometimes hide.
A further extension on this thought, is the way images and the information contained in them can be the heartbeat of a power, convincing and compelling narrative. His Visual Explanations challenges a lot of the notions I had about important and help me refine a key idea for all of my interaction and information designs: salience.
In a series of trees outside Atlanta, architect Peter Bahouth has constructed this network of houses in the trees, with a series of bridges connecting them. The owner named the three rooms ‘Mind,’ ‘Body’ and ‘Spirit’. Photographer Lindsay Appel took these amazing photos of them in her book, My Cool Shed.
With a lyrical ear and a fablist's heart, Josh Weil has constructed a stunning alternate world from a scrap of an idea (that Russsia was experimenting with sky mirrors to do away with the darkness in key northern cities) that tests the connection between two Russian brothers on two different paths.
In the section he read last night at LA's Skylight Books, the figure of the Ekranoplan - Caspian Sea Monster emerged as a hulking dark presence.
An American Odyssey reveals the archive of the Detroit Photographic Company from the late 1880s to the early 1920s.
Using a photolithographic technique called Photochrom, black-and-white negatives were reproduced in color.
A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he. I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven. Or I guess if is the handkerchief of the Lord, A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt, Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose? Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation. Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic, And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones, Growing among black folks as among white, Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive then the same. And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves. Tenderly will I use you curling grass, It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men, It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken, It may be if I had known them I would have loved them, soon out of their mother’s laps, And here you are the mothers’ laps. This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers, Darker than the colorless beards of old men, Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths. O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues, And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing. I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women, And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps. What do you think has become of the young and old men? And what do you think has become of the women and children? They are alive and well somewhere, The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceas’d the moment life appear’d. All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Rachel Sussman‘s Oldest Living Things in The World Book is the result of her near decade long efforts, alongside biologists, which took her around the world and into some of the harshest and remotest climates to document living things that have lived continuously for more than 2,000 years.
The book, which is a passionate and insightful melding of art, science, and travelogue, includes 124 photographs, 30 essays, infographics and forewords by Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Carl Zimmer, all centered around her quest to capture and share the scientific knowledge that we have discovered about these temporal giants.
There is also at the end of this post a great Creative Mornings talk that Sussman gave about the project while she was in the middle of it (Nov. 2010).
Sharing books you love with people you like/love/admire/appreciate is one of the most delicious things. You walk around with a shared interior room. You establish an invisible tribe of the heart and head. So, I like/love/admire/appreciate you. Here are the books about ideas, art, aesthetics I want to share with you.
If you want to share with me yours I would be so grateful.
by Nelson Goodman
I got this book referred to me by a professor of ancient Chinese calligraphy ( a bit about that experience). It is cerebral and lovely and trusts the reader immensely with discussions of the invisible, the dynamic, the hidden flows that make art move the way it does.
by Steven Pinker
Very much interested in the way we learn and develop language and the way that language overruns the rules we think define it, Pinker puts forth the notion that language isn't a cultural artefact, isn't an invention that set our societies off from their pre-linguistic past through its instrumentality, but instead that language is an inbuilt biological activity that has shaped our evolution as it evolved beside us.
by Junichiro Tanizaki
The way we approach beauty, the things we allow it to say about us, the way it contributes to the moment-to-moment experience of living, this is what Japanese novelist Tanizaki discusses in this brief little discussion on everything from tableware to architecture to space and light.
There are a handful of books that have been a part of my personal education, ones that I feel like I found on my own, and refer to time and again. This is one of them. There are a number of poems ( Notes Toward Identifying a Father, for example) there were, as Lucie Brock-Broido says, troubled into mind by ideas in this book.