Utne Reader Book Reviews

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Design Goes to Work
AGITATE! EDUCATE! ORGANIZE!:   American Labor Posters
by Lincoln Cushing and Timothy W. Drescher (Cornell University Press)
You needn’t be a card-carrying union member to marvel at the eye-popping impact and historical sweep of Agitate! Educate! Organize!, which collects what it calls “more than 250 of the best posters that have emerged from the American labor movement.” Whether they are urging workers to band together, reduce workplace accidents, or oppose NAFTA, these works combine short, sharp copywriting with bold visual statements that often rival Madison Avenue’s finest output.

Many of the posters owe stylistic debts to sources ranging from communist propaganda posters to psychedelic concert bills, and others forge a unique path and in fact have their own imitators: The book shows, for instance, how the Gap and pizza parlors have co-opted images from labor posters.

The book is visually driven, yet the earnest, workmanlike text is invaluable, explaining, analyzing, and adding crucial context. “This is our cultural record, and we must preserve it,” the authors intone, and of course they’re right. —Keith Goetzman

 

In Praise of Arthropods
THE EARWIG’S TAIL:   A Modern Bestiary of Multi-Legged Legends
by May R. Berenbaum (Harvard University Press)
Myth and misinformation about insects abound, and entomologist May Berenbaum is here to set us straight. In The Earwig’s Tale she reveals that a bumblebee’s flight doesn’t defy physics, cockroaches aren’t immune to radiation, and earwigs, despite their name, don’t inhabit human ears. Fair enough—but Berenbaum doesn’t simply kill untruths dead like a can of Raid. She uses these topics as jumping-off points for enlightening discussions about the insect world, which is so vast and incredible that it requires no exaggeration. —K.G.

 

Where Faith and Art Collide
BEARING THE MYSTERY: Twenty Years of Image
edited by Gregory Wolfe (Eerdmans)
“In the pages of Image,” writes Gregory Wolfe, editor of Bearing the Mystery, “ancient scripture and modern literature have been interrogating one another,” which “may slowly restore a measure of authority to both.” This rich anthology from the quarterly journal dissects contemporary art and religion through contributions by literary favorites such as Annie Dillard and Ann Patchett. Featuring Image’s best poetry, fiction, and essays from the past two decades, it will enrapture secular and pious alike. —Elizabeth Ryan