The Man Who Designed the Future by Alexandra Szerlip

Szerlip has given us a very thoroughly researched biography of Norman Bel Geddes. Through luck, timing, and charisma, Geddes was able to work his way up the ladder of the theater industry, creating revolutionary sets and theatrics, that would eventually lead to even greater, non-theater challenges.

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Because the book is so comprehensive, it can be very dense at times. The author clearly loves her subject and there is a bit of hero worship in there. But I also have to appreciate how much research went into getting every detail and every fact of every theater production Geddes was involved in. By the time we get away from theater and toward the showmanship of the New York World’s Fair, it’s clear he was a creative genius at the top of his game.

That I rate this four instead of five stars is that it was a very dry read and the title is somewhat misleading. I think Geddes and his wife made their mark in theater rather than mid century design. I was under the impression this was a book about an Eames or Saarinen type of designer – whereas Bel Geddes felt more about showmanship than actual art. All the same, I did not have much knowledge of his work and enjoyed reading especially about the Worlds Fair project. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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