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Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future Paperback – May 15, 1996

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Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future + Popular Mechanics The Wonderful Future that Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions from the Past + Popular Mechanics The Amazing Weapons That Never Were: Robots, Flying Tanks & Other Machines of War
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 157 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; Reprint edition (May 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801853990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801853999
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 9.9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Whether it involves gleaming mega-cities, scudding unflawed skies or the inane advertising smile of a man who just loves his personal flying machine, watching Americans look forward is to look back. It is to look at ourselves in our most brilliant and boneheaded moments. Which is great fun. Here, moreover, the fun is enhanced by a cheerful... text and—the real glory—a wonderful abundance of visual material drawn from a Smithsonian traveling exhibit.

(Boston Globe)

Many books might be commended as entertaining, instructive, or even fascinating. Yesterday's Tomorrows deserves each of these adjectives... The reader is taken through a gallery populated with forgotten industrial prototypes, architectural models, toy ray guns, flying cavalrymen on 'helihorses,' science fiction props from Hollywood and, or course, all sorts of projects and renderings concerning transportation.

(Road and Track)

About the Author

Joseph J. Corn is senior lecturer in the department of history at Stanford University. He is the author of The Winged Gospel: America's Romance with Aviation, 1900-1950. Brian Horrigan is a curator with the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. Originally published in 1984 to accompany an exhibition by the same name organized and circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

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Customer Reviews

Very nice pictures and illustrations!
Christophe Pattou
Mr. Corn is to be congratulated on producing a high-quality,engaging and readable book on a subject fascinating to many of us, either for fun or serious study.
Ian Summers
This is a great coffee table book about a lot of what might've been in the last hundred years or so.
C. M. Levin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Wayne A. VINE VOICE on September 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
I agree with the reviewer below. It's one of the few books on this subject (I've only seen one other) so we have to live with it. On the other hand it's small, it's a bit scattered in its approach, and it feels like a museum gift-shop item/show catalogue of sorts. I would like to see someday a huge, profusely illustrated, and text-rich book on the complete history of portraying the future (positively) which is an historically recent phenomenon. It died probably around the time of the '64 World's Fair and depictions of the future since then have been largely dystopian. Nowadays they're downright awful. This is something we need to address because unless you can conjure up imagery of an upbeat future you're not likely to even try to create one. This book made me miss the days when people thought more positively and hopefully about many things, regardless of how bad it was at the time. Imagine the images in the mind of the average contemporary young person of the "World of 2050."
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
"Yesterday's Tomorrows" is a look at how both popular culture and leading scientists, from the 1800s to the 1970s viewed the future. Joseph Corn and Brian Horrigan, using a variety of source materials, present these visions, both optimistic and grim, in a manner that avoids derision or arrogance. After all, some of these came true, and, in some cases, we wish the others had come true. But, as Corn and Horrigan point out, that's the beauty of the future: anything is still possible. The best way to explore how others viewed the future is through pictures, and this book has plenty. Corn and Horrigan draw on pictures, sketches and illustrations from magazines, TV shows, movies and books. While many of these visions, such as Buck Rogers' ray gun or a helicopter in every garage, are now nostalgic, many others, such as Buckminister Fuller's houses, still invoke wonder and awe. Corn and Horrigan provide a balanced approach to their theme by drawing from both popular culture and the scientific community's conception of what our life would be like. The book runs the gamut from future visions of cities, housing, transportation and warfare. Some ideas such as lasers have become commonplace while others like the flying tanks are prototypes that were passed over in favor of more practical options. But as the authors point out, who are we to judge these ideas from the vantage point of our time? Corn and Horrigan are careful not to poke fun at these concepts, but instead present them and explain their significance to the context of the times which produced them. Both fun and thought-provoking, this book is an excellent glimpse into not only the future, but into our dreams that make our tomorrows. Highly recommended.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By OAKSHAMAN VINE VOICE on June 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
Even though this book was produced to accompany a 1984 Smithsonian exhibition, it truly holds up as a worthy work in its own right. I can't recall seeing the subject of past speculation on the future handled better. It is done in a manner that is both scholarly and interesting. You get a balance of both the popular fictional conception of the future, as well as, more "official" versions from government and corporate think tanks.
The real strength of the book is it's vast number of both color and black and white illustrations. You have everything from ink engravings from 19th century illustrated newspapers and penny dreadfuls, to the glorious 4 color covers of 1930's pulp magazines, to film stills of the "modern era" (Star Wars, Blade Runner, and Road Warrior.)
I found the ideas in the insightful text most interesting. It is pointed out that the popular image of the past changes and evolves through time. The Victorians and Edwardians seem to assumed that the future would be much like their heirarchical and elite present, just with bigger buildings and more complex machines. The first half of the 20th century was driven largely by an utopian, often socialist, vision of a better future for all. However, the vision that seems to dominate the later half of the century is a grim, corporate, cyberpunk nightmare.
As Arthur C. Clark points out in the text, the future isn't what it used to be.
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84 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Bernard K. Skoch on June 19, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Amid the other glowing reviews, let me offer a different perspective.

First, I was a bit disappointed in the size of the graphics. The book is only about 6 3/4" by 8 3/4", and the graphics and photos in many cases are difficult to see. In the cases of copies of book extracts and magazine images, they are often nearly impossible to resolve.

More troubling to me is the overall "lean" of the book. Expecting a fun book reflecting on images of the future, I was disappointed to read things like "The visual cacophony of the advertising-laden landscape was for him [Edward Bellamy of Boston in the 1880s]...the most palpable of symbols for the general depravity of the capitalist system."

And how about this quote from the section on space toys of the 1940s and '50s: "Girls who yearned to project themselves into a fantasy future through their toys had few media role models beyond the stereotype of the hero's girlfriend. The dual message to the younger generation seems clear enough--the future will be violent [too many space guns], and it will belong to men."

And here is how the book reviews the "Star Trek" series: "Though the crew, with black Uhura and the Asian Mr. Sulu, seemed to reflect newly enlightened attitudes, the program, like its 1930 relatives, was dominated by brave white males."

In discussing the future of housing, the book diverges from any discussion of future technology, and instead offers: "We ask whether the home of tomorrow will be inhabited predominantly by single-parent families, by working mothers and children. Will it contain greater numbers of couples without children at all, couples of the same sex, or other groups of adults living together, and if so with what social consequences?
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