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Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design_By Greg Castillo

Cold War on the Home Front:  The Soft Power of Midcentury Design

by Greg Castillo
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2010
312 pp., illus. 97 b/w. Trade, $75; paper, $24.95
ISBN: 978-0-8166-4691-3; ISBN: 978-0-8166-4692-0.

Reviewed by Lisa Graham
Associate Professor of Visual Communications
University of Texas at Arlington


Cold War on the Home Front: the Soft Power of Midcentury Design is a well-written and fluid discussion of an often underappreciated area of design history: the role of designed objects in the propaganda war between the United States and the Communist Party in the U.S.S.R. In this book, Castillo focuses on the use of “Soft Power,” or the coercive attraction of such intangibles as ideology, beliefs, culture, and the perceived moral authority demonstrated via propaganda materials and designed artifacts. This fascinating book opens with a discussion of “Domesticity as a Weapon” as deployed in the landmark 1959 exhibition at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, featuring the use of such ideological munitions such as women’s nylons, refrigerators, clothing, and toys. Associate Professor Greg Castillo proceeds through the manuscript in fluently tracing the use of soft design across the decades of the Cold War, through a series of exhibitions presented across the globe featuring such titles as America at Home, Industry and Craft Create New Home Furnishings in the USA, and People’s Capitalism. These exhibitions were inspired by the deliberately formulated propaganda effort sponsored by the United States—arguably the most extensive international peace-time propaganda effort to date—that intended to compare and contrast the rewards of the capitalist way of life versus the Spartan fruits of the communist way of life.

Beautifully crafted by Castillo, this book skillfully covers the ideological tension between capitalism and communism as evidenced by propaganda and designed objects during the Cold War era. Castillo’s lively narrative and the carefully selected photographs and illustrations should engage the most discerning scholars of design and political science and, yet, is readable enough to appeal to advanced undergraduate and graduate students in architecture, graphic design, and industrial design programs.

This book was a true pleasure to read, combining fascinating historical facts with keen insight into the subversive ideological influence of design on culture and values.

Last Updated 10 October, 2010

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