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Literature

Two Books to Add to Your Winter Reading List

January 26, 2021

With winter in full swing, now is the time to replenish that reading list. The following books will keep readers turning pages throughout the season.

Industrial designer and artist John Vassos (originally John Plato Vassacopoulos) designed the first mass-produced television receiver, the TRK-12, for Radio Corporation of America (RCA) which had its premier at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Vassos immigrated to the United States from Greece in 1918. His career spanned the evolution of central forms of mass media in the 20th century and his legacy shaped the way we interact with our media technologies. Vassos was focused on making radio and television attractive and accessible to millions of Americans and his life and work are examined in John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life by Danielle Shapiro.

RCA’s key consultant designer through the rise of radio and television and into the computer era, Vassos conceived a vision for the look of new technologies still with us today. A founder of the Industrial Designers Society of America, he was instrumental in the development of a self-conscious industrial design profession during the late 1920s through the 1930s and into the postwar period. Drawing on unpublished records and correspondence, Shapiro creates a portrait of a designer whose early artistic work in books like Phobia and Contempo critiqued the commercialization of modern life but whose later design work sought to accommodate it.

Behind-the-product stories of America’s design culture in the 1930s through the 1950s are included in the book which also highlights the emergence of what was to become the nation’s largest media company and provides a fascinating glimpse into its early corporate culture.

Vassos first garnered acclaim as an illustrator and books featuring his illustrations include three by Oscar Wilde- Salome, Ballad of Reading Gaol, and The Harlot's House and Other Poems, published by E.P. Dutton. His first industrial design product was created in 1924 – a type of a lotion bottle that became popular as a hip flask during Prohibition. In 1933, he designed a type of turnstile still in use today in some subway stations. The TRK-12 television is considered one of the most significant mass-produced designs of the 20th century and is featured in many museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

Vassos was also a decorated veteran of World War II and chief of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) ‘Spy School’ in Cairo, Egypt from 1942-45. He was honored by Greece with the Gold Cross of the Order of the Phoenix in 1966.

For those interested in historical fiction, The End of Sparta by acclaimed classicist Victor Davis Hanson, recreates the battles of one of the greatest generals of ancient Greece, Epaminondas. At the Battle of Leuktra, his Thebans crushed the fearsome army of Sparta that had enslaved its neighbors for two centuries. These epic historical events are seen through the eyes of Mêlon, a farmer who has left his fields to serve with Epaminondas and is swept up, against his better judgment, in the fever to spread democracy even as he yearns to return to his pastoral hillside.

With a scholar's depth of knowledge and a novelist's vivid imagination, Hanson recreates the ancient world with intimate details such as the weight of a spear in a soldier's hand to the peculiar camaraderie of a slave and master who go into battle side by side. The End of Sparta is Victor Davis Hanson’s debut novel. He is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. His many books include the acclaimed The Father of Us All, A War Like No Other, The Western Way of War, Carnage and Culture, and Ripples of Battle.

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