DnA’s 6 most intriguing books of 2016

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Here are six thought-provoking books that add to our understanding of the social impact of design, architecture and the built environment.

Many design books come across the transom at DnA. Some are sumptuous coffee table books, some are design studies aimed primarily at the profession, some are enthralling forays into where technology is taking us, and some are histories, novels and non-fiction essays that add to our understanding of the social impact of design, architecture and the built environment. What follows are six thought-provoking books that fall into the latter category, whose authors we interviewed this year. Some of these books have an alarming or curious resonance with our present time.

Cover of the May 30, 1937 New York Times Magazine. [New York Times]
Cover of the May 30, 1937 New York Times Magazine. [New York Times] (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
1) Hitler At Home, by Despina Stratigakos

Hitler at Home is a strange and horrifying story about the German dictator and the media’s fascination with his home interiors. Stratigakos explains how Nazi propagandists and Hitler’s interior designer Gerdy Troost helped sell him as a genteel bachelor to international publications including Vogue and The New York Times, domesticating his image as he cemented his power. A cautionary tale for lifestyle editors. Listen to our interview here.

2) I Hate The Internet, by Jarett Kobek

Jarett Kobek’s I Hate The Internet: A Useful Novel Against Men, Money, and the Filth of Instagram is a cry of rage, leavened with zany humor, at the tech industry and its role in destroying lives, imaginations and the once-bohemian city of San Francisco. Kobek initially could not find a publisher and co-formed his own imprint. Then the emergence of a Twitter-loving, flame-throwing presidential candidate made his book seem very prescient and it became an international hit. Listen to our interview here.

wangs-cover3) The Wangs Vs The World, by Jade Chang

Jade Chang’s debut novel The Wangs Vs. the World follows the emotional journey of a Chinese-American family that has lost everything in the 2008 economic crash — except each other. It’s also a very funny and incisive commentary on contemporary art, design and lifestyle, based on Chang’s own experience working at Angeleno magazine and Metropolis, and inspired by a lavish party she attended to celebrate the president-elect’s (never built) Trump Tower Dubai. Listen to our interview, here.

4) Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas that Shaped the World, by Wade Graham

They say there are seven basic plots in storytelling. According to Wade Graham, essayist and landscape designer, the same is true of city-building. He distills planning and urban design down to seven typologies and their driven creators — among them Frank Lloyd Wright’s pseudo-rural “homesteads,” Bertram Goodhue’s “castles” and Le Corbusier’s “slabs.” Clearly no fan of Modernism, Graham offers a provocative and accessible field guide to the formation of cities as they grow and we continue to seek Eden. Listen to our interview here.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-5-00-26-pm5) The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Midcentury Personality Study, by Pierluigi Serraino

What does the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, have to do with midcentury architects and the creative process? It turns out that former intelligence officers wound up as researchers at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research at the University of California, Berkeley and invited almost 40 of the top modernist architects of the 1950s — including Richard Neutra, Louis Kahn and Eero Saarinen — to participate in a secret study into “creativity.” Serraino explores the goals and findings of this mysterious, never before-published project. DnA’s interview with Serraino will air very soon.

6) Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away, by Lisa Napoli

Fast food is so pervasive we forget someone invented it, and the architecture and branding that goes with it. In this biography of Ray Kroc and his third wife Joan, who spent her massive inheritance on surprising liberal causes, Napoli takes us back to a time when fast food was a creative response to postwar car culture, before it became associated with poor diet, poor wages and mountains of waste packaging — and before a takeout tycoon could be nominated for Labor Secretary. Our interview with Napoli airs January 3 on DnA.

If you are hungry for more good reads about our built environment, check out Curbed LA’s “101 books about where and how we live“, a comprehensive selection compiled by Curbed editors and “urban experts” they reached out to.