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Customer Review

110 of 125 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great pictures. Text - heavy going., November 21, 2008
This review is from: Mid-Century Modern: Interiors, Furniture, Design Details (Conran Octopus Interiors) (Hardcover)
What I liked about this book: It is well organised and it has lots of well-chosen, well composed, colorful and clearly printed photographs..

If you want inspiration and ideas, the excellent photographs will give you what you are looking for. Only one picture contains a human figure - the others let you concentrate on the design and the furnishings, with no distracting sign of any occupants.

Where the book falls down....

I found the writing is very heavy going.

On the dustwrapper, it mentions "Bradley also completed a master's degree in History of Art at the University of London".

It seemed to me that the book reads like a master's degree dissertation in which the writer's aim is to show his professor that he has thoroughly mastered the subject - rather than a book aiming to inform and entertain a general reader interested in the subject.

I'd read a paragraph and think "that sounds impressive - but what does it mean?" Then I'd read it again more carefully. At a third reading, I'd give up, not knowing whether it meant something profound or whether it was impressive-sounding but essentially meaningless.

A typical paragraph:

"The new styles of furniture took centre stage with the distinctive shapes that continue to typify the look today. While mid-century furniture is often recognisable by its balance of form and function, its impact resulted from its ability to convey the dynamics of lived experience in static form. Mid-century designers regarded furniture as tactile art intended to cradle the human form. Although the use of new materials and techniques pioneered a change of direction for furniture - with moulded and glued plywood, and plastics reinforced by fibreglass, among the exciting developments - the forms continued to take shape in relation to the human body. Designers used furniture to articulate the tension between movement and stillness, which can never be separated from the human body. Consequently, 1950s furniture often expressed a body-consciousness unknown to other traditions."

"... the dynamics of lived experience in static form." Huh?

".. to articulate the tension between movement and stillness, which can never be separated from the human body". Does this actually mean something that can be expressed in simple words? Dunno. Beats me.

The text is not always linked to the pictures. Descriptions of stylish objects in text, without linked illustrations are hard to follow. As just one example:

"In Isamu Noguchi's hands abstract art became applied art, In one of his sculptures, wood and glass were moulded into an arrestingly curvaceous silhouette that caught the eye of George Nelson, who identified the shape of a table in its form. An American manufacturer shared Nelson's view and in 1944 collaborated with Noguchi to transform the design into a coffee table. Organic in style, Noguchi's Coffee Table was manufactured with two wooden legs that interlocked to form a tripod, which supported a plate-glass top 2cm (3/4in) thick. Both parts of the design were reversible: the tabletop could be placed upside down or back to front, while the mirror effect of the tripod's design enabled it to maintain the same profile even when turned upside down. Needless to say, Noguchi's considered balance of sculptural form, design innovation and durable function inspired other designers of the period to pursue abstract shapes."

On checking the index, I found that there is actually a photo, earlier in the book, in which a part of such a coffee table is visible.

I recommend this book for its masses of interesting, clear and well-composed and chosen pictures of mid-century design. If you are like me, you'll finish up skipping over the text and enjoying it simply for its illustrations, which I found inspiring and first class.

Added 5 October 2010:

"About the Author" states "Bradley (...) has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society." This seems to be an error and would have been very surprising had it been correct - Fellows of the Royal Society are distinguished scientists.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 4, 2010 11:32:14 AM PDT
gill_man says:
The passage you cite is beautifully written and quite insightful. You've convinced me that this is a book worth buying for both the pictures and the text.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 7, 2010 1:49:07 AM PDT
Martin A says:
Thank you for your comment. I am delighted that you found my review useful.

It seems likely that you will obtain even more value from the book than I did - so much the better.


In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2010 10:01:13 AM PDT
Enteecee says:
I'm glad you feel this way. It seems that the writing is a bit more on the "pro" level than you were looking for. Nothing wrong in that, in fact there's a real demand for it. As an architect, I need books that speak this language at this level, and I usually have to wade through a dozen general interest coffee table tomes to find one. To your question, "Does this actually mean something that can be expressed in simple words?" the answer is yes and no. It actually means something, and those are about the simplest words that could express it.
I admire your willingness to accept that your experience of a product was not the definitive or sole definition of that product- a trait too absent from Amazon reviewers' usual contributions.
Kudos on a thorough, well rounded review and for your perspective of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 16, 2011 9:57:19 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 16, 2011 10:01:33 AM PST
Do you really mean it when you say that it's beautifully written and quite insightful? Or are you resorting to the petty tactic of teasing the reviewer by facetiously thanking him for convincing you to buy this book based on the very thing he criticized it for?

BTW, I don't see anything beautifully written or insightful about that passage; all I see is classic academese, writing that uses a lot of redundant, jumbled, or excessive phrasing to say something very straightforward, some of it nonsensical. All he's trying to say in the first quoted passage is that what distinguished MMC from previous styles of furniture is that its shapes became more organic, as an expression of the idea that furniture should reflect the human body and experience.

Is the way he put it beautifully written and insightful? No. What people are seeing as "beautiful" and "insightful" is merely excessive verbiage as a substitute for the more succinct words he could've used. That's typical when you can't find the "right words" to say what you mean; the next best thing is to express yourself using wordy phrases with imprecise terminology, and often in an excessive manner to compensate for the lack of succinctness. So instead of saying "agile", you say "exquisite sense of nimbleness." Instead of saying "gamine", you say "waif like presence."

Some people will disagree with me, but I've read enough "academese" to recognize it when I see it. So if the passage quoted in this review is any indication of what the rest of the text is like, then IMO he pretty much nailed it.

In reply to an earlier post on May 29, 2011 11:53:49 AM PDT
LivingFit365 says:
Often highly creative writers have a way of expressing themselves with a dramatic, poetic prose that can come across a bit long-winded, lofty and abstract. To my point, one of my favorite fictional authors is Ray Bradbury, and he writes similar to this and it's often hard to comprehend the meaning with the first go-around. I happen to appreciate this type of writing style, and I do believe it's a style and not an attempt to show-off in any manner. This type of writing often takes multiple passes to understand, and sometimes you may not totally understand the authors intent. What does happen is you're left with a feeling and mood that only this writing style can invoke.

In reply to an earlier post on May 30, 2011 3:51:49 PM PDT
Martin A says:
I disagree. I find the stories by Ray Bradbury that I have read beautiful in the clarity and simplicity of their expression. I can see no similarity whatever between Ray Bradbury's way of writing and Bradley Quinn's style.

Posted on May 6, 2012 7:22:53 AM PDT
R. Mac says:
I am 100% with the reviewer.

This is not a book designed for a small, elite, academic audience. This is a book intended for the mass market. As such, the text should be easily understood. On the first reading.

I loath writers who think that it's appropriate to make a reader jump through hoops to understand the text. Sadly, too many people (and academia) think that such a style of writing is indicative of a particular kind of brilliance and education. To me, it simply portrays a muddled mind.

In another book, on the architect John Staub, the author wrote: "The intricacy with which he staged access to the master bedroom and girls' bedroom, so that passage moved in two stages around what the plan reveals was the bathtub niche in the master bathroom, demonstrates his capacity to work with space reciprocally, to resolve practical planning issues in order to shape circumstantial spaces that dialectically framed the rooms to which they gave access as ceremonial."

What? What?

An easier way to have conveyed the same thing, and surely a better way to engage readers, might have been: In the second floor plan, note how Staub elegantly allowed the two rear bedrooms to each have its own foyer-like space - a clever solution to a protruding bathtub in the master bathroom.

So, yea, I'm with the reviewer. There's no excuse for a mass-market book not being easily understood.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 20, 2014 8:10:58 AM PDT
PNW Mom says:
And *that* is how to write!

Posted on Oct 12, 2015 8:50:45 AM PDT
123nah says:
The cited passage seems very insightful to me.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 12, 2015 2:44:44 PM PDT
Martin A says:
That's excellent. It means that, if you were to buy the book, you would almost certainly derive great benefit from reading it.
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