Schnapp, J.T. & Michaels, A. (2012). The Electric Information Age Book: McLuhan / Agel / Fiore and the Experimental Paperback. New York: Inventory Books. 

Review This book by Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Adam Michaels is entitled The Electric Information Age Book and subtitled McLuhan / Agel / Fiore and the Experimental Paperback, based on the series of books produced by the publisher Jerome Agel and the designer Quentin Fiore, who had in the book The Medium is the Massage, elaborated together with the author Marshall McLuhan, the peak of this collaboration.

The Electric Information Age Book is also a collaborative project between writer Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Adam Michaels, the latter being in charge of editing and design. Adam Michaels is also the founder of the Inventory Books publisher, of which this book is the third publication, described by him as a “platform for the synthesis of textual and visual research in the transformation of urban spaces and culture”.

The Electric Information Age Book is structured around the theme of the book in paperback format, in particular those developed by Fiore and Agel between 1966 and 1975, whose characteristics — smaller format than conventional, using photography and the use of typography in “typophotographic” terms (p. 31, from Laslo Moholy-Nagy), among others — were disseminated, “founding a new verb-visual vernacular” (p. 32). These paperbacks marked a significant phase of the publishing and media sector, becoming known as “the era of electrical [information]” [3] to which the title refers.

The central narrative of The Electric Information Age Book is based on the premise that The Medium is the Massage opened the door to an innovative type of publication in response to the daily introduction of television, and should therefore be the subject of a detailed study. In this sense, an extensive chapter is dedicated to contextualizing, decoding and exploring conceptually, textually and stylistically The Medium is the Massage, defragmenting its message and its construction, in order to detail the various details that were later applied in a similar way, other publications. This chapter entitled “An Inventoy of Inventories” — in line with the subtitle of the original The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects —, fits The Medium is the Massage and the books that followed it, in the theme “alternative to traditional books” (p. 27), which Schnapp and Michaels call “inventory books”. As a result, a historical summary of “inventory books” is made, some produced by Jerome Agel in collaboration with Quentin Fiore (War and Peace in the Global Village, Marshall McLuhan; I Seem To Be a Verb, R. Buckminster Fuller) others only by Jerome Agel (The Making of Kubrick’s 2001; Other Worlds, Carl Sagan; etc.) and yet another by Quentin Fiore (Do it ?, Jerry Rubin).

With the closing of these texts, the second and last chapter entitled “Case Studies” follows, where a short observation is made of some “example books” which, despite not having the participation of Agel or Fiore, reflect their influences and, in one way or another, they replicate the “inventory books” theories. After the main narrative of the book, it can be concluded that The Electric Information Age Book is, first, a cataloged, factual and detailed bibliographic review of “inventory books”, in order to note the effect and the meaning that the paperback had for the media theory, publishing and graphic design.

In paratextual terms (preface, introduction and afterword), the type of information contained in these elements is quite different from that present in the main narrative. Starting with the preface by Adam Michaels, this text produces a reflection based on the book The Medium is the Massage and the meaning it represents for Michaels himself, influences that led him to found the publisher Inventory Books. A parallelism is also established between books designed in the “Massage style” (page 9) and books “tendency to Fordist” [4] (page 9) in which the editorial production actors did not intersect.

The designer was responsible for the introduction. From a personal point of view, Heller focused on the relationship that the books by Agel and Fiore create with the reader, because they are visually as appealing as the text, describing them as “visual texts (…) ‘films between covers’ ”(page 14). Steven Heller also develops the importance that this type of approach has for the classification of paperback as an equally important literary reference to that of traditional books.

The afterword, by the designer Andrew Blauvelt, reflects a thought that follows the innovations achieved by the “inventory books”, of which the designer Quentin Fiore is the center of attention. In this way, the afterword is an overview of the “designer-author” ideas that start in The Medium is the Massage, going through Bruce Mau and the book S, M, L, XL (p. 217), as well as Michael Rock and the article The Design as Author (p. 219), the publishing house-design-studio Winterhouse (p. 224), among others, consequently addressing an invitation to reflect on the role of the graphic designer in editorial publishing. In short, these three paratextual elements are manifested as the starting point of historical bases and contemporary reflections for the questions that involve the designer’s role in the publication process.

In terms of contextualizing the relevance of The Electric Information Age Book to the present, we can conclude that — not being the first time that “inventory books” are revisited [5] and knowing that due to the growing interest in the author’s editorial / editorial role, will certainly be the last — The Electric Information Age Book will probably be the most complete compendium of procedural information from The Medium is the Massage conceived to date, as well as a great resource for the study of theories and languages ​​— reflected in the editorial and even in the perception that currently exists about the media book — which proceeded to its publication.

Structurally, The Electric Information Age Book is an approximation to “inventory books”, containing a well-elaborated re-interpretation of the visual style developed by Fiore, “consisting of flowing texts punctuated by visual resources” [6] and with the pinnacle on the cover of this graphic design. However, it should be noted that books like The Meddium is the Massage had short messages, conducive to that type of language. Due to its extremely in-depth content, The Electric Information Age Book is, in my opinion, a study book, appropriate as a research element or for a reader who recognizes the works covered and establishes a close connection with them. The use of The Electric Information Age Book in other contexts may become monotonous due to the repetition of factual data in a high level of detail. In this sense, the editorial structure in accordance with the “inventory books” arranged through a long narrative, is in counterpoint with its investigative, factual nature, ideally enhanced by the use of shorter sections, allowing the reader to navigate from subject to topic. subject, flipping through at random, something necessary for an object of study that seeks an effective orientation.

In conclusion, although the values ​​of its structural materialization are questionable in an idealistic editorial context, The Electric Information Age Book and its correct perception are not compromised. In this way, The Electric Information Age Book establishes itself as an instructive book for a specialized audience, particularly in areas of interest in graphic design, editorial production, media theory and areas of intersection between them, presenting a very meaningful to the history of graphic design — with a special focus on the 60s and 70s, in the book The Medium is the Massage and in the events that followed it — and can therefore be a starting point for a reflection on the future of publishing and the role of the designer in this context. by Rui Moreira

[3] Marshall, McLuhan (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. [4] the original phrase is Fordist tendencies in analogy to the method of mass production initiated by Henry Ford. [5] other references: McLuhan, Marshall & Carson, David (2011). The Book of Probes. Lupton, Ellen & Miller, J. Abbott (1993). Eye Magazine. Volume 2, number 8. [6] Heller, Steven (2012). The Revenge of the Paperback Book. Online Ed.

Back to