Book Review: Dynamic America: A History of General Dynamics Corporation and its Predecessor Companies

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A design classic from decades ago

Any decent history of American graphic design will mention Swiss designer Erik Nitsche and his corporate work for General Dynamics. From 1953 to 1964 he designed an impressive amount of work for the company. Usually you'll see his atomic posters and annual reports reproduced and maybe some spreads from this book. The title always gets a mention and it's regarded as his greatest corporate achievement for the company. Very few copies are available and mostly expensive but reasonable priced ones can come onto the market and that's how I got mine.

It is an awe inspiring book: published in 1958, 426 pages; 10.5 by 14.25 inches; in an attractive slipcase; just over a thousand images; printed gravure in Switzerland with a 175 screen. A nice touch are several six-by-five inch four-page inserts with historical graphics, some have music and lyrics included reflecting the times. The range of visual material is impressive. With hundreds of black and white photos plus plenty of colorful graphics to explain some historical event, period newspaper front pages, posters, blueprints, military patches, old engravings, letters and in the later pages color photos of aircraft and products.

No doubt the history of General Dynamics is fascinating but for me and other publication designers it's Erik Nitsche's art direction that is the reason to have a copy. The way he blends so many elements together throughout the pages is quite remarkable. His basic design for the book expands from the center of each spread rather than, in most publications, starting at the top of each page and working down. There are no columns here that run from the top of a page to the bottom, they stay in a block in the middle, leaving very deep margins above and below the text which are either blank or used for photos and graphics. This page design allows for a clever pacing on each spread using the pictures or graphics and none of it seems dull as the pages are turned. I think it's quite remarkable that a book designed decades ago still looks fresh and undated.

If you design for print and especially books this title is really worth searching out.

Dynamic America: A History of General Dynamics Corporation and its Predecessor Companies is available at Amazon.com

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I believe there were two versions published. One for internal company use (slipcase version) and one for sale in bookshops.

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One of several bound in four-page inserts.

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Each of the twelve chapters opens on a spread like this.

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Four page insert about Lindbergh. Inside is the music and lyrics for 'Lucky Lindy'.

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The book has several wonderful graphics like this one.

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