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The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion Hardcover – November 5, 2013
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"THE POWER OF GLAMOUR is another reminder why Virginia Postrel is one of our keenest cultural observers and most important social thinkers. Using lively prose, fascinating images, and examples that range from Alexander the Great to Kate Moss, Postrel brings to life an elusive subject. This book is essential reading for people in advertising, marketing, politics, and entertainment -- as well as for anyone interested in seeing our culture with fresh eyes." (Daniel H. Pink, author of TO SELL IS HUMAN and A WHOLE NEW MIND)
"[Postrel] offers a thoroughly researched, analytical, illustrated view on the characteristics, both keen and subtle, that qualify an object, person, event or location as glamorous...Postrel cites innumerable sources, weaving quotations and vignettes into each of her chapters, and the result is exhaustive and wholly entertaining. For those interested in the evolution of glamour over the ages, as well as readers with a stake in marketing, this is a must-read." (Kirkus)
“Postrel’s cleareyed and exhaustive analysis looks not only at the history of glamour, but at how it works…[Postrel] seems to be the kind of public intellectual for whom the TED Talk seems to have been invented." (The New York Times Book Review)
About the Author
Virginia Postrel is a columnist for Bloomberg View and has been a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Forbes. Formerly the editor of Reason magazine, she is the author of The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies. She teaches a special seminar on glamour in the Branding program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She lives in Los Angeles.
Top Customer Reviews
I was drawn to the book by my long interest in Virginia's work, dating back to the 1990s when she edited Reason magazine and I wrote some articles for it. (My involvement and post-Postrel break with the magazine are recounted here [see my blog for this and other links].) A decade ago, I reviewed her book The Substance of Style, which espoused a growing linkage of aesthetics and economics. (Subsequently, after marrying an architectural lighting designer, I gained some exposure to a field that exemplifies that connection.)
In her new book, Postrel distinguishes glamour from concepts with which it may blur, such as luxury, celebrity or charisma. She defines glamour as "nonverbal rhetoric" (typically conveyed by visual images) that "leads us to feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more." Glamour has, in her telling, three essential elements: "a promise of escape and transformation" (letting people project themselves into a desired situation); "grace" (hiding or removing flaws and distractions); and "mystery" (leaving some things to the audience's imagination).
The Power of Glamour ranges widely across examples of its subject. Glamour can attach to a variety of people, places and objects--as diverse as people's desires. Postrel examines various archetypes or "icons" of glamour, including aviators, princesses, superheroes, suntans, smoking, wind turbines, California and Shanghai. As this list suggests, things can become more or less glamorous over time; for instance, smoking and California have both seen more glamorous days (and nights).
Glamour has long been part of human experience, evident in Greek myths and Renaissance paintings (Postrel cites Lippi's Vision of Saint Bernard as glamorous in encouraging the audience to project itself into a scene with the Virgin Mary). Yet glamour grew in importance in the 19th and 20th centuries, she argues persuasively, since it thrives on mass audiences and a sense of social mobility.
This book is to a degree a defense of glamour but it is no whitewashing of its complex subject. Often dismissed as superficial or decried as an advertising snare, glamour can spur positive change. Besides being pleasurable, glamour can inspire people to strive for a better life and world. But there is no guarantee it will be put to good uses, and in an extreme case to the contrary terrorists attract their recruits with an idealized promise of escape and transformation--in short, glamour.
Discussing mystery as an element of glamour, Postrel offers three subcategories of that element (not mutually exclusive), which she labels "shadow," "sparkle" and "complexity." Hats, veils and Paris in the rain have the mystery of things obscured (shadow); glittering jewels and fabrics fascinate and confuse with change and ambiguity (sparkle). The third type of mystery--complexity--Postrel describes thus:
>> This form of mystery hides information not through concealment or confusion but through complexity and depth. We don't know what history or nature will produce; there are too many variables and too much detail to comprehend in a glance. Hence the mystery of rugged coastlines, verdigris patina, and twisting woodland paths. As a design element, such mystery appears in Alexander McQueen's 2009 Plato's Atlantis collection, with its phosphorescent sequins, opalescent beads, and jellyfish and reptile-skin prints. This is the mystery of the layered, the fluid, and the fractal: the mystery of complexity. <<
Me: The above passage is what I particularly had in mind at the start of this review when I wrote "As it turns out, I have a strong interest in glamour (at least certain types of it)...." Reading Virginia's passage above crystallized for me what is a significant aspect of what I like to write and read about, what sorts of art and design I tend to enjoy, and where I like to hike. I am an aficionado of the "mystery of complexity" and the glamour that stems from it. Until I read this book, I did not realize that about myself.
Tyler Cowen recently opined that The Power of Glamour is its author's "best and most compelling book" to date. I agree, and highly recommend it.
I'm 62 with a lifelong interest in art, photography, psychology, sociology, advertising, marketing & the history of pop culture. This book brought me new and deeper meaning to each other those subjects.
When I first saw this book on my local library's New Book Shelf - I wrongly assumed this was a 'Chick Book' about fashion or clothing or whatever. But, when I read the subtitle ('The Art of Visual Persuasion') I began to see it was exactly up-my-alley of interests.
If you're a guy, please don't make the huge mistake of bypassing this book due to your preconceived idea of glamour being a 'woman's thing' - cuz this book will blast that definition out of the water forever. As well it should. Especially when it examines the glamour of war and battle and gun love, the Marlboro Man, fast cars, James Bond & superheroes, etc.
This book provides a modern filter on how to correctly perceive almost every Visual we see in this media age.
Even as I was watching a rerun of the movie 'Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid' this morning... I realized the glamour aspects it portrayed about the Wild West and the freedoms associated with being an outlaw.
I not exaggerating when I say this book will change your perceptions on most everything you see, after you finish your reading.
This book should be mandatory reading for students of advertising and communications. Art. Psychology. Technology. History. Sociology. Even the fields of religion and Positive Thinking and visualization. Most everything really! And I'm not stretching the truth one bit when I say that.
This is a one-in-a-thousand book that will beneficial alter your perception of every glamourized object or concept. Most of which you haven't consciously realized as being glamorous, because glamour strikes on a largely subconscious level. That's what this book helped me realize.
It re-defines the word (and concept of) glamour.
Example: the author writes):
Glamour: "encourages viewers to project themselves into the picture". - "what creates our desire?... fosters ambition... Non-Verbal Persuasion that taps into our dreams and yearnings... transforms empires... worlds of glamour in which we are beautiful, admired, graceful, accomplished, desired, powerful, wealthy and at ease... a life devoid of mediocrity.. makes our dreams seem attainable.. makes us believe life can sparkle... we imagine ourselves in their place...transformed and living a life of excitement... an escape to an eternal summer... into the scene in which we own our desires".
The lady who wrote this book deserves a medal (in Perceptive Social Analysis or something). She has me notetaking from each page and reading this book all over again, so as to absorb it thoroughly.
Plus, I'm just now ordering another of her books called 'The Substance of Style'.
I'm kicking myself for not knowing about her earlier works - but thankful I was magically drawn to this book by the Library Angels.
By the way. I've only written about 5 Amazon Reviews in the last 12 years and can't write worth a darn. But, this fascinating book pulled this unusual review out of me. After you read it you'll definitely want to talk about it with others & recommend it highly.
And guys (photogs, artists, ad writers, marketers, bachelors or whatever). Do not make the mistake of thinking this is a female subject. Glamour is what makes us ALL tick. Let this book describe how to recognize and use it best.