7 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The blackest days,
This review is from: The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History (Hardcover)A very telling comment from one of the survivors of the Dust Bowl was that the dust got everywhere in their home and it was impossible to stop it blowing in. Homes are rightly regarded as safe havens once inside the front door, an escape from the outside world except in a dust storm. Those years in the Thirties must have been extraordinary times for the thousands who lived on the southern Plain States.
Ken Burns' documentary makes these years come alive with plenty of archive news film, photos and spoken commentary from people who witnessed it all (I've seen a few clips). Unfortunately I didn't think the book looked as good as it should using some of this material. The text certainly captures the period but is set in rather large type suggesting that maybe this title was aimed at the educational market. There are far too many snapshots of people and families (about seventy-seven) just looking at a camera. To the people in these photos, of course, they are precious memories and in Burns' documentary he has the luxury of having a rostrum camera pull into a photo and then pan across the faces suggesting movement even though it is a flat photo. In the book they are static on the page. The quality of the photos throughout the pages varies enormously, too dark, too light or badly framed but that is the nature of amateur snapshots.
The way the photos (especially the family ones) and graphics have been used is very bland and unimaginative. Ones that are poor technically but nevertheless have something to say are large and overpower some that are full of detail but small. Graphics like newspaper cuttings and maps are too small for the reader's benefit (a map on page 208 is so small as to be useless). The best pages are the twelve chapter openers where interesting photos run right across a spread.
If only the book's editorial presentation had been as creative as the documentary this would have been a fine visual history that really captured the feel of those terrible years.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 3, 2012 9:51:50 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Dec 17, 2012 5:49:05 PM PST
Debbie K says:
Thanks for the review Robin. I am a collector of depression-era books as well and I always hope to find a review by you on a book I am interested in. (And I do 99.9% of the time!) I also greatly appreciate the time you take to upload pictures as it's all about the photos when I buy a book.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2012 12:42:00 AM PDT
Robin Benson says:
DK: thanks for the kind comment.
Posted on Nov 16, 2012 7:03:15 AM PST
"Far too many snapshots of people just looking at a camera". Really? This makes me recall Roosevelt's directive to the great photo-journalists of our time, sent to the Dust Bowl to document the disaster: "I want to see their EYES." As someone who has great regard for the photos of Walker Evans, the words of Timothy Egan, and the film work of Ken Burns, I think we need more "eye contact" and less art direction.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 16, 2012 10:52:42 AM PST
Robin Benson says:
Yes, no doubt one point of view. I was conscious while reading the book that there was a lack of art direction. To see so many family and individual snaps that show no sign of the Dust Bowl and hard times seems a lack of editorial judgement. Their use in these pages only really shows up the quality of the photos that do reveal the suffering of so many. FDR might well have said, if he saw this book, why are all these folk smiling while looking at the camera?
Posted on Nov 19, 2012 8:34:05 PM PST
David Mohr says:
This review by Robin Benson is honest, but it does the book a disservice. I suspect that she watched the documentary, immediately ordered the book, and was ... disappointed. After all, the film version will probably win every award it's eligible for. The book is merely ... superb.
Most of the flaws Robin discusses are valid, but they are not that important. However, I disagree with her assessment of the family photos. Most people smile for the camera. These dust bowl victims almost never smiled. Doubt and worry was etched on all their faces. The family photos also give faces to the book's many names.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 31, 2012 1:53:57 PM PST
Freudian Shrimp says:
Just thought you should know that Robin Benson is a he, not a she; he's a mister, not a sister.
Happy New Year!
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