Retronaut: The Photographic Time Machine
Based on the popular Internet website of the same name, this hardcover book contains historical ads, photographs, illustrations, and various ephemera meant to change the common perspective of history. It is divided into five main chapters: Future Worlds, Icons Unmade, The Power of the Trivial, Alternative Realities, and It’s a Big, Small World After All; these are subdivided by thematic content. Each picture is accompanied by explanatory text, and the entire collection is framed by an introduction and an afterword.
It’s easy to understand the widespread appeal for the blog on which this book is based. From pre-photographic history to more contemporary technological concepts, these images captivate on so many levels. Whether they capture celebrities before they were famous (like Ronald Reagan posing for a sculpture class!) or involve ridiculous futuristic visions (including personal flying machines), these images can quickly challenge anyone’s fixed perception of reality. Probably the most thought-provoking are vintage photos that depict architecture in the making, especially one where two formally dressed waiters serve lunch to workers perched on lofty girders during the building of the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. The legacy of Retronaut will be how it has educated through amazement—in a tasteful and entertaining manner.