November 4, 2010

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Decade, pictures edited by Eamonn McCabe,
text by Terence McNamee with Anna Rader and Adrian Johnson (2010, Phaidon, 503 pages)

At some point in the next few months, you will likely need one of those gifts for someone who has everything. Or, perhaps more accurately, for someone whose stuff you aren’t acquainted with. Holiday gift, housewarming, belated graduation gift, that sort of thing. Decade, a lovely coffee table book, is that perfect gift.

At $39.95, it feels like a bargain. It’s a hefty brick of a book. Open it anywhere and you’ll page through, say, January 2007 and see photos of: nomads camped on the bright sand of Niger, Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone, a mummy from Peru, Naomi Campbell leaving a courtroom and a giant newborn baby (14 pounds — I may not remember that story but I guarantee you that kid’s mother has thought about it every day since).

Decade captures the moments — political, scientific, cultural, pop cultural — that defined the 2000s. And, sure, you can turn purposefully to 2008 and see the Obama family walking to the stage in Grant Park in Chicago, where the just-elected Barack Obama was about to deliver his acceptance speech. It’s on page 420 and on the facing page, the significance of the events is symbolized by a photo of a crying Jesse Jackson. Or, you can turn to 2001, a year whose chapter heading is “Terror.” September starts with a photo of Ahmad Shah Massoud, an anti-Taliban Afghan leader who was killed on Sept. 9. The next pages give us the towers, George W. Bush sitting in front of a billboard and hearing about the attacks, the dust cloud resulting from a tower’s collapse, a dust-covered commuter and firefighters pulling the NYFD chaplain out of the rubble. And while these images are the most indelible from 2001, we also get photos of the suddenly ubiquitous white iPod earbuds, workers with their office belongings in boxes outside of the Enron office and a riot in Buenos Aires. It’s major events mixed with signs of the times and forgotten events.

You can also open the book at random and flip through the late summer and early fall of 2003: Britney Spears kissing Madonna, a portrait of Johnny Cash, Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign for governor, the super-modern Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, rugby star Jonny Wilkinson, a photo of the Concorde. It’s fun to take this little journey through recent history and these are the kinds of photos that will have you gazing at them for minutes, not just seconds. You can easily spend an hour with this book or just take a few moments to consider a fluorescent pig in Taiwan (page 282, a photo from January 2006).

It’s too early for true retrospective histories of the 2000s — we’re still figuring out what it all meant. But Decade is a nice way to get a handle on the 10 years we just lived through. B+

—Amy Diaz