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The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power Hardcover – April 9, 2013
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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
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
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Remarkable to me was also the "accessibility" of his prose. It is smooth, well-stated with simple examples easily comprehended by the lay reader who is neither artist nor socio-psychological scholar. I can only speculate that the author's decades of work as an editor and writer in fields where cartoon/caricature were primary carriers of these messages made the knowledge at his fingertips readily available to lead us as students and/or interested readers into the concepts with a facility that was a joy to read. It was a can't-put-it-down read from cover to cover.
Having established those conceptual bases, then, Navasky proceeds to present a "gallery" of prominent artists of this work and an historical overview of four hundred years of the genre throughout the world. In this work he looks closely at several dozen individuals, and gives them more definition re: their historical times and peers. One cannot be more than awed by the power of this author who owns this field so completely. I was touched by the number of works that had been stored away in my own memory and can only be grateful for author Navasky's giving me a larger framework to establish a context for the work and for me. "The Art of Controversy" is a must read book for news consumers and thoughtful citizens anywhere in the world.