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Instant: The Story of Polaroid Hardcover – September 26, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Offers up a concise and in-depth cultural history of Polaroid and its brilliant and charismatic leader, Edwin Land. Amidst its carefully constructed narrative of Polaroid's rise, demise, and renaissance.... Land and Polaroid's story are remarkable." --Publishers Weekly, 9/3/2012

"Instant: The Story of Polaroid clocks in at a slim 192 pages, but it manages to be three books in one: a thoroughly charming, fact-filled stroll through the life and times of Edwin Land and the incredible company he built; a brief, poignant recap of Polaroid's plunge from the heights into not one but two wrenching bankruptcies; and a small but lovely collection of Polaroid images taken by well-known artists. Christopher Bonanos's well-researched and well-written book features a terrific Andy Warhol photo of Liza Minnelli, self-portraits by Chuck Close and Robert Mapplethorpe, and a David Hockney collage, along with photos by Walker Evans, Andre Kertesz, and William Wegman. It also includes several photos by Ansel Adams, who signed on as a $100-a-month Polaroid consultant in 1949, when the company made its first move into photography." -- Fortune.com

"A fascinating tale of rapid rise, catastrophic collapse, and the riveting ride between the two, at once told like never before and strangely familiar in its allegorical quality... brimming with lessons for modern tech mavericks." -- Brain Pickings

"A sympathetic and beautifully told history of Polaroid and Edwin Land, the visionary who was the company's founder and presiding genius. It is the rare design-subject book with a truly dramatic arc, and storytelling that lives up to it." -- Design Observer

"Christopher Bonanos tells Polaroid's story with fluid, energetic prose that mirrors the thrilling arc of the company's story, twining together technology, fine art, business, design and pop culture into a 175-page powerhouse. Whether you pick it up because you loved your old Polaroid camera or because you want to find out why Steve Jobs modeled Apple after the Polaroid company, you'll be delighted by this pithy snapshot of a true American icon." -- NPR.org

"Reading Instant: The Story of Polaroid by Christopher Bonanos rekindled memories of Polaroid cameras for me. And I think it will do the same for legions of others who were also mesmerized back in the day by this cool gizmo, one of America's greatest inventions." -- San Jose Mercury News

"Tells the story of the forgotten genius who turned Polaroid into a cultural phenomenon." -- Washington Post

"This cultural history of the eccentric camera company-which has fair claim to being the Apple of the '60s-is simultaneously breezy and deeply researched, making it the perfect compulsive reading for design enthusiasts and Instagram addicts alike." -- Details.com

"When I was little, long before personal computers, let alone Instagram-enabled digital camera-phones, Arthur C. Clarke wrote that advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. By far the most uncanny, sexy, insanely great piece of technological magic in our household was my parents' Polaroid. Chris Bonanos' smart, thoughtful, charming chronicle of that iconic invention and its remarkable inventor is a delight." -- Kurt Andersen, author of True Believers and Heyday, host of public radio's Studio 360

"Edwin Land was one of Steve Jobs's first heroes, and this book shows why. He created a startup in a garage that grew into a company that stood at the intersection of creativity and technology. This is a fascinating saga, both inspiring and cautionary, about innovation and visionary leadership." -- Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs

From the Author

INSTANT: THE STORY OF POLAROID is a book about a very unusual company. In the 1960s and 1970s, Polaroid was what Apple is today: the coolest technology company on earth, the one with irresistible products, the one whose stock kept climbing way past the point of logic. In its heyday, Polaroid was an absolute innovation machine--a scientific think tank that periodically kicked out a fantastically profitable, covetable product. In fact, the late Steve Jobs expressly said that he modeled his company to a great extent after Polaroid.

Instant is a business story, about what happens when a company loses its innovative spark. It is a fine-arts story, showcasing the amazing things photographers (from Ansel Adams to Andy Warhol to Chuck Close) did with Polaroid film. It is a technology story, of a company that created and maintained a niche all its own for 60 years. And it is a pop-culture history, of a friendly product that millions of people absolutely adored. I like to think that it also tells a larger story, about the rise and fall of American invention and manufacturing.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; First Edition edition (September 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616890851
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616890858
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Dionne on September 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My father was an engineer in the model shops at Polaroid--he started in 1943 and retired in 1980--and worked often with Dr. Land. Much of the story in this book was dinner-table conversation at our house. Christopher Bonanos gets the story of those years right, particularly the personality traits of Edwin Land, and tells it in a very readable way.

In the years after 1980, I paid less attention to the company (except when the corporate takeover goons took away my mother's pension and health benefits) and the book brought me up to date nicely. I think the recent parts of the story are missing from the other books about Polaroid.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an instant film and Polaroid enthusiast, I was pretty pumped about getting this book. I was even more delighted when it showed up though. It's fun to read, I knocked the whole thing down on a long day of travel, and I couldn't have been happier with it. It's a great story of the inner workings of a company and a man who had an impossible idea that he made real through with little more than genius and determination.

The book also offers many full-color photo reproductions and impressive illustrations. Whoever art-directed the book gets a high-five from me. It's beautiful.

Folks who like to read about Steve Jobs and crazy CEO-types need to get on the Edwin Land bus. That guy was the OG super controlling genius boss.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have been a long-time admirer of Polaroid (the innovative company, not the one that slaps its badges on sub-par consumer electronics). When I came across this book in my local bookstore, I was enthralled, and read the first 4 chapters in one seating. Not wanting to wait to receive the physical copy, I purchased the Kindle version which I read on my various tablet devices. Unfortunately, while the content is excellent, the presentation of the Kindle version is far inferior to the original book. Firstly, the layout was awkward, with footnotes being relocated to the end of each chapter. Secondly, the formatting was highly suspect. When I flip through the pages I frequently found whole pages missing or repeated. This was especially pronounced when one clicked through the footnote links -- attempting to return to the original text from a footnote often landed one in a completely different section of the chapter! Furthermore, each time the font size was changed, multiple paragraphs will disappear into thin air! This is totally unacceptable, and because of this, even though I ostensibly finished the e-book, I can never be sure how much of it was actually unread!

So in conclusion, 5 stars for the content, 1 star for the formatting.
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I read "Instant" in an instant...at least it felt that way. The book is a very enjoyable introduction and overview of the history of Polaroid and Edwin Land. However, after recently reading such excellent historical books like "The Idea Factory/Bell Labs" by Jon Gertner or "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, "Instant" feels like it has the depth of an extended magazine article. I was particularly hoping for far more depth regarding Edwin Land himself. And it seems like that information is readily available, if the author had chosen to include it: The book makes several repeated references to older, out-of-print biographical books about Land, which unfortunately makes me feel like I should have just read those, instead.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Looking for an addictive and breezy little non-fiction book that you can polish off on a round trip plane flight? "Instant" is your ticket. This slim little volume covering the history of one of the most recognizable names in corporate America--and purveyors of one of the world's most memorable products--is written in a friendly, conversational style that really pulled me along.

Everyone except the very youngest among us fondly remember the pre-digital thrill of snapping a photo and seeing the results just seconds later. In a time when amateur photographers dropped their film cassette off at the nearest Foto Hut and waited a week for the prints to come back from the lab, Polaroid's instant print was rather magical.

Steve Jobs has often been compared to the father of instant film and co-founder of Polaroid, Edwin Land. They shared the common trait of being passionate visionaries who built a cult-like following of true believers who wanted to work for them. They ran companies that certainly wanted to make money, but that were first and foremost dedicated to the dream of their magical product. Both men were unshakable in their own self-confidence and their unwavering belief in the righteousness of their cause. Land, a fascinating character who has already inspired books covering his life in detail, gets less attention in "Instant" than one might want, but the nature of this book is to be brief. If you're interested in following up for more, you certainly have that option elsewhere.

Part biography of Edwin Land and part company history, "Instant" also reviews the technical challenges of creating a self-contained, portable photo developing system, highlighting both its successes and notable shortcomings.
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