It’s late July: School is out, the heat is oppressive, and summer vacation-brain is imminent. It’s a great time to catch up on your reading, and luckily there are plenty of new books out this summer for design fans.
We combed through publisher catalogs and new release tables at bookstores to pull together our favorites, from monographs to comics to compelling visual histories. And while we wouldn’t exactly call them “beach reads” (some of these are doorstops that definitely won’t fit in your beach bag), that doesn’t mean they’ll be easy to put down. There’s the story of a cartoonist and her love of hot dog stands, a book collecting some of the sexiest type of the ’60s and ’70s, and a dual biography of two of the most famous architects in history–who hated each other.
Richard Sapper by Jonathan Olivares
The German-born, Italy-based industrial designer Richard Sapper produced a wide variety of products over the course of his renowned career–applying his trademark wit and minimalist aesthetic to everything from ships and cars to computers, furniture, and kitchen appliances. But the product that Sapper is still best known for came from his time working for IBM, when he designed the 1992 Thinkpad laptop that became the company’s icon.
Sapper died last year at the age of 83. Not long before that, the designer Jonathan Olivares had a chance to sit down with him for over 40 hours of interviews. Olivares’ book, Richard Sapper, dives deep into the products Sapper designed and the life that helped shaped them. Added bonus: The cover is one of the best we’ve seen this season.
American Rhapsody: Writers, Musicians, Movie Stars and One Great Building by Claudia Roth Pierpont
In this collection of profiles, New Yorker arts writer Claudia Roth Pierpont paints a portrait of 20th century America through the stories of some of its most famous inhabitants. She covers everyone from Edith Wharton and Orson Welles to Nina Simone and Peggy Guggenheim–all subjects “that have become the common air we breathe and that we call a culture.” As the subtitle suggests, she also dedicates an essay to a building: the soaring art deco Chrysler Building that has become one of the most defining features of the New York City skyline.
Completed in 1930, the building was commissioned by the automobile titan Walter Chrysler and designed by the American architect William Van Alen, but Pierpont’s essay does more to profile the building itself than the individuals who created it. “The story of the Chrysler Building . . . tells us so much about the aspirations, achievements, and devastations of the eras it has weathered,” Pierpont tells the writer Deborah Kalb in an interview for her blog. “It’s essential to the American story recounted in this book.” For culture, art, and design fans, the whole book is worth the read.
Chairs by Architects by Agata Toromanoff
Zaha Hadid’s liquid cool Z-Chair. Santiago Calatrava’s sleek, sculptural Tabourettli Theatre chairs. The complex and geometric Torq chairs designed by Daniel Libeskind. The scaled-down side projects of some of our era’s most renowned architects can tell you a lot about their signature style. Thames & Hudson’s Chairs by Architects collects them all in one place, and pairs them alongside the architect’s most famous buildings.
Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt
If you’ve ever seen the Netflix cartoon BoJack Horseman, you won’t be surprised by the charmingly bizarre illustrations in Lisa Hanawalt’s latest collection of comics, Hot Dog Taste Test. Hanawalt, who worked as a production designer and producer of the show, draws everything from swimming otters to trips to Argentina, Vegas buffets, banana shoes, and kiwi birds in her diaristic comics. But as a cartoonist who got her start drawing cartoons for gourmet food publications and has even won the James Beard Award, Hanawalt’s book is also concerned with food–and, most pressingly, hot dogs.
In between hilarious and often poignant personal stories, Hanawalt also skewers foodie culture by glamorizing one of the world’s most thoroughly mediocre foods. “It’s a mystery how enough people are eating ‘dirty water dogs’ to support the number of carts,” she writes in the book of New York’s street hot dog carts. “They taste a bit like petroleum, and they’re a little extra soft from the boiling. But throw some ketchup and relish on there and tell me that doesn’t taste ‘okay!'”
Breuer by Robert McCarter
The Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer is known for such iconic designs as the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the iconic Wassily chair, and the Breuer Building in New York (once the Whitney Museum of Art and now home to the recently completed Met Breuer). He rose to prominence in the 1930s under Walter Gropius, and he was later named head of the furniture workshop at the Bauhaus. In a beautiful new tome from Phaidon, architect Robert McCarter gives us the most complete monograph of the pioneering modernist.
Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover edited by Paul Buckley
Penguin Classics, the Penguin imprint dedicated to reprinting classic works of literature, launched in 1946–and has been churning out some of the best cover designs in the industry ever since. It’s the publisher responsible for the lovely Penguin Drop Cap series, created by type designer Jessica Hische. It’s also behind the jazzy, art deco-inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald rereleases and those algorithmically generated Richard Dawkins covers. To celebrate its 70th anniversary, Penguin Classic is now putting out a book of its best book cover designs, edited by Penguin creative director Paul Buckley. Composed mostly of covers–with a few essays, as well–it’s a breezy read for those sweltering end-of-summer days.
Herb Lubalin: Typographer edited by Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook
Along with his contemporaries Saul Bass and Paul Rand, Herb Lubalin is one of the foremost designers from the golden age of graphic design. After starting out his career as one of the original Mad Men, working for the agency Sudler & Hennessey, he went on to found his own studio. He was hired by Ralph Ginzburg to design for his legendary succession of ’60s counterculture magazines Eros, Fact and Avant Garde. The typeface Lubalin designed for the latter–ITC Avant Garde–became one of his best known, though he was also behind several other well-regarded fonts, like Ronda, Lubalin Graph, and ITC Serif Gothic. This book, published by the London-based design publisher Unit Editions, focuses solely on his style of typography design, which Lubalin described both as “graphic expressionism” and “conceptual typography.” It also features lots of lovely spreads from the radical Ginzburg magazines, all of which have gone down in graphic design history.
Now I Sit Me Down by Witold Rybczynski
To the design and architecture critic Witold Rybczynski, a chair is never just a chair. It may have a surprising history–such as the Barcalounger, the plush, leather icon of Middle America, which actually had its roots in the Bauhaus movement. It can reveal changing social behaviors, such as the stools used in China in the second century C.E., which marked a cultural shift from sitting on the floor to using furniture. Then of course there’s Charles and Ray Eames’s 1950 shell chair, whose plastic material signaled a change in American taste from handcrafted furniture to mass-produced pieces. Rybczynski weaves together a fascinating history by way of these individual instances; even for those who don’t find the topic particularly compelling, his curiosity is infectious. The book is out in August.
Architecture’s Odd Couple by Hugh Howard
Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson are two of the most familiar names in modern architectural history. They both came into their own during the golden age of modernism (though Johnson was a good bit younger than Wright), and they both have iconic houses that are now open to the public and visited by thousands of people every year. They also crossed paths during their careers–but that doesn’t mean they got along. In a particularly compelling scene in Architecture’s Odd Couple, pointed out in the New York Times Book Review, the men faced off against each other over a MoMA exhibition that Johnson was curating–a show in which Wright felt he should star. In this dual biography, author Hugh Howard makes the claim that, though they weren’t mentors or even friends, each ended up profoundly influencing the other in nuanced and often overlooked ways.
Action, Time, Vision edited by Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy
Another gorgeous title from Unit Editions, Action, Time, Vision is a collection of DIY graphics from the punk and post-punk eras. Brook and Shaughnessy are masters at digging through graphic design archives to pull out some of the most inspired, often underrepresented work from previous decades, and they don’t disappoint here. Apart from the radical British designer Barney Bubbles and Peter Saville of Factory Records, the work in the book is primarily designed by the band members themselves or their friends. Bonus: This one’s light enough to take with you to the beach.