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The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power Hardcover – April 9, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; F First Edition edition (April 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307957209
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307957207
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #359,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The highly acclaimed, longtime editor and publisher of the Nation and the author of the National Book Award–winning ­Naming Names (1980) here takes on a compelling subject, one nearly ideal for him and one that will appeal to his many adherents and deservedly earn him new readers. Although a bit repetitive, this heavily illustrated, entertainingly written look at poltical cartoons is both personal—Navasky’s experience with controversial drawing as well as writing is considerable—and thoroughly researched. It is also deeply insightful, particularly in the discussion of caricature, a unique form of satire. Though the book’s main focus is on Americans (Herblock, Edward Sorel, David Levine), Navasky also discusses well- and lesser-known twentieth-century cartoonists from around the world, and his inclusion of a time line of their persecution (and prosecution) is eye-opening and lends closure to his persuasively made conclusions. --Mark Levine

From Bookforum

In his survey of the genre, Navasky wants to know why cartoons are so effective at conveying political messages—an understandable quandary for a self-proclaimed "word person." Navasky is admittedly working outside of his element, but he attempts to tackle the problem in the style of his word-focused tribe. This early dissection of the subject can be pretty abstract, but it does yield one concrete and intriguing interpretation of the power of the political cartoon: the idea that caricatures overload our facial-recognition circuitry and thus seem more face-like than actual faces. —Josh Fruhlinger

Customer Reviews

This is an interesting, informative peek at political cartooning that thoughtful readers will certainly enjoy.
G. Wagner
This lack of quality makes the Drawings & integral Text difficult (& sometimes impossible) to interpret -- so to fully appreciate & enjoy the whole "message".
Lloyd SoCal
"The Art of Controversy" is a must read book for news consumers and thoughtful citizens anywhere in the world.
Jim Duggins, Ph.D.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David R. Anderson on May 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Victor S. Navasky, well-credentialed to examine the uses and abuses of the editorial cartoon, does a credible job of it in his latest book, "The Art of Controversy." Former editor and publisher of The Nation and the founder of Monocle, "a radical sporadical" , his new book offers a survey of the role and power of the political cartoon here and around the world. Still and all, I came away from the book wanting more. The book has two parts: His overview (52 pages) examines the form from three angles: content, image and stimulus, followed by a chapter on caricature. "The Gallery", which makes up the remaining 157 pages of text, examines the work of 31 cartoonists starting with the early masters of the form: Hogarth, Daumier, Goya and Nast.

In the opening text Navasky explains why the cartoon is so much more likely to get under its subject's skin than mere words; cartoons have the "capacity to enrage, upset and discombobulate otherwise rational people." Sir David Low, the great British cartoonist for the "London Evening Standard" is cited as an example. Hitler put Low on his kill list for making the dictator look childish and imbecilic. Navasky quotes Low's explanation:, "What he [Hitler] does not want to get around is the idea that he is an ass, which is really damaging."

There is no question of Navasky's mastery of the subject. My reservation is that he doesn't do enough with the material. For example, Theodore Seuss Geisel, our beloved Dr. Seuss, also made his mark in the 1930's and 40's as a political cartoonist, publishing some 400 in all. He was to the United States what David Low was to Britain. See "Horton Hears a Heil", my review of "Doctor Seuss Goes to War" published May 8, 2011 on Amazon. Seuss doesn't rate a mention.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Michael Engel on May 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A very sloppy, superficial, and self-centered work. Navasky puts himself at the center of the book--which cartoonists he talked with, which ones he interviewed, which ones he knows and what he thinks of them, and so on. The book starts with what he calls "theorizing", which seems to be a polite word for a very confused and poorly focused discussion of different aspects of the art of caricature. At one point he offers some "country-by-country snapshots of what has been going on"--all of four pages covering Germany, Britain, France, the US, and Holland!

Then we get to the choice of artists, which seems arbitrary to say the least, and careless to say the worst. Hogarth, Gillray, Daumier, Nast, and Goya get glossed over in about 25 pages. Anti-Semitic propagandists "Fips" (from the Nazi "Der Stuermer"), and Holocaust denier Robert Edwards get 8--about the same as Herblock, Low, and Mauldin combined! There's a brief discussion about Picasso, who most certainly does not belong in this group. Navasky says absolutely nothing at all about the new generation of cartoonists--Ted Rall, Tom Tomorrow, and the like. Apparently the history of political cartooning stopped thirty years go.

A history of political cartoons deserves a scholarly, thorough, well-informed, and carefully researched study. This one is a mess.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By P. Wagner on May 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Navasky makes the single most important point that needs to be made with regard to political cartoons, which is that they have the proven potential to have a powerful emotional impact that goes beyond other forms of journalism. That may sound obvious or trivial to left-brained academics, journalists or bookworms. And I have no doubt those types are so envious of the reality that they want to deny and dirt-bag any mention of it. But the implications of this fact and the resulting failure of the "Fourth Estate" to allow and make use of the art form other than on rare occasion or by accident has been lost on newspaper publishers and editors throughout most of the history of the medium. They think of editorial cartoons as filler or illustrations, they think editorial cartoons should be merely clever rather than painfully funny, they think cartoons must be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, they think genuine satire is too hot for the readers and advertisers to handle... come to think of it, they don't think clearly at all about this art form.

This book reminds us of what political cartoons can and should be. WHAT it says is more important than HOW it says it, in this case. But I find Navasky's writing to be quite stirring and lucid, and while I agree with some of the other criticisms being leveled at him here, like his choice of examples and the amount of attention given to particular cartoonists and artists, etc., the value of what he is directing our focus onto is so important that it outweighs any of those particulars, so I give it the highest rating. I don't think he was aiming for scholarship here, and there is no pretense in that direction, so why attack him on that basis?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on July 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The drawing on the front cover of Victor Navasky's terrific book, "The Art of Controversy", says it all. Cartoons and caricature can be a ticking time bomb with regard to both subect and artist.

While this is meant in part to be a collection of artists and their works, Navasky spends a good bit of time getting into our collective psyches....why do we react to these drawings the way we do and why are some people so brutally "assaulted" when pen meets paper. This is one of the more fascinating aspects of the book.

Having grown up during Richard Nixon's many years on the political scene, I was especially glad to revisit Herblock and others. The wealth of vignettes regarding caricaturists over the ages presented here is splendid but his last chapter, "Timeline", is sobering and chilling. "The Art of Controversy" is fantastic and I highly recommend it.
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The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power
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