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Legion. An amalgamated journal.

By its cover

Penguin Books has a collection called Great Ideas, centered around the assumption that there are certain works which have intervened in history to “change the world.” It’s an ambitious project, if a bit unfashionably canonical for these hypersensitive times, and I would certainly buy the three sets outright if I had the wherewithal.

I can’t say, however, that I’d be buying them solely for their words, because what’s most striking about Penguin’s collection is the utterly amazing work they’ve put into the design of the books. Modern book design can be some pretty harrowing stuff (seriously, what the hell is this), but Penguin has a significant reputation to uphold. With the Great Ideas series, they prove that they’re still at the very forefront of a branch of graphic design which deserves recognition as one of the ‘legitimate arts.’

I’d like to highlight the work of David Pearson as the pinnacle of this series. What he produces is an incredible reappropriation of past styles that avoids the sort of playing-in-the-dressup-closet postmodern junk that so often plagues designers who borrow from the past. Pearson creates an aesthetic simile of past design moments by condensing them into a single, honed-down, and, most importantly, felt piece of design. In this way, the covers of these ‘great books’ in fact tell something about the moment of their creation by conveying the visual aesthetic—refined and purified through a historic lens—into which they were written. The only way to describe is through images:

And Person is not without a bit of editorial humor, either:

Garrett Dash Nelson

October 7th, 2008 at 5:05 pm

But perhaps you disagree

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The room is, as yet, filled with smoke and apprehension.