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Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 (32 votes)

Released: 1999-10-07

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LIFE: Our Century In Pictures by Richard B. Stolley


This is an unparalleled look back at one hundred extraordinary years. Selected from the photographic archives of Life and other major collections, these spellbinding images bring alive the people and events that shaped the twentieth century. Included are classic images as well as virtually unknown pictures taken moments before and after their iconic counterparts — such as the surge of marines surrounding the newly raised flag on Mount Suribachi.

With incredible emotional impact, this book captures the triumphs and disasters, the social progress and setbacks, the heroes and villains that have brought us to the dawn of a new century. Life: Our Century in Pictures is a powerfully emotional evocation of the century we experienced so often through Life's eyes. It is a once-in-a-lifetime commemorative keepsake, distinguished from all its competitors in the depth and range of its compelling images.

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Editorial Review

Richard Stolley knows a bit about what we want from the pictures of our century. He's the LIFE magazine guy who acquired the Zapruder film of JFK being shot (the fatal instant is depicted in this book), and he basically created modern celebrity culture as the founding father of People, where he articulated his famous rules for cover photos: young is better than old, pretty better than ugly, rich better than poor–”and nothing is better than the celebrity dead.” All of the above are found abundantly in Stolley and Tony Chiu's lively, cannily selected, and sumptuously produced photo album LIFE: Our Century in Pictures.

It's not just a grab bag of 770 arresting, touching, scary, funny, alternately famous and unfamiliar images. It tells a semi-coherent story by breaking up the century into nine “epochs,” each introduced with a brief essay by a leading intellectual light (David M. Kennedy, Paul Fussell, and Garry Wills do especially well). There are fun facts aplenty: did you know Columbia Pictures' Lady Liberty-like logo was inspired by a debutante in an anti-Hun propaganda poster? Or that Ike almost chose Margaret Chase Smith instead of Nixon? Each epoch gets assigned a “Turning Point,” sometimes a defining moment or a flashy burst of upbeat cultural documentary to offset the sometimes stark violent-event photos. The World War I section breaks up the black-and-white trench-fighting scenes with a quickie history of the American musical, pages as radiant as a rainbow. Each chapter ends with “Requiem” photos of people whose passing is still news.

The layouts are often superb: you have to open the book to see how perfect a Mondrian looks next to a photo of college girls doing patriotic calisthenics that transform them into a similarly energetic grid. There are heftier historic-photo collections, like Bruce Bernard's true test of coffee-table construction, the 1,120-page Century: One Hundred Years of Human Progress, Regression, Suffering, and Hope. But you're not going to find a more popular book of its kind than Stolley and Chiu's. –Tim Appelo

Book Details

Author: Richard B. Stolley Publisher: Bulfinch Binding: Hardcover Language: English Pages: 423

Similar Books

Time America: An Illustrated History
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