Golden Book of Biology

The following article was contributed by Jim Hughes and first appeared in his excellent blog, found here:

The Golden Book of Biology

Charley Harper as Illustrator: the 1960s, part I

By the 1960s Charley was one busy commercial artist; he was doing ad campaigns for Libbys Pineapple1 and Morton Salt, continuing his work for the various Ford publications, and began a major commission for Western Publishing – the Giant Golden Book of Biology.

The book, published in 1961 at the dawn of the New Frontier, was a roughly middle-school level introduction to biology. The 99-page text included hundreds of individual gauche paintings and was by far Charley’s largest commission to date. In addition to his signature nature scenes, Charley illustrated anatomy, cell biology, ecology, evolution, genetics, histology, the history of science, microbiology, physiology, even astrophysics. Here is the TOC to give you an idea:

Any illustration in the book is worth showing here – even the most scientific and diagrammatic ones. Here is a small and somewhat representative sample:

Ecosystems: woodland forest (top), prairie soil, desert at night (bottom)

Anatomy and Physiology

Harper and the Sea

Antoine Lavoisier

Gregor Mendel

Charley admitted that he had to learn the subject while he was doing the illustrations, after all, he was an artist, not a scientist. The result, however, was a masterpiece – the quintessential mid-century children’s science text. It is widely seen as his magnum illustratus and has been widely influential to two generations of illustrators and designers. Todd Oldham described it as “…one of my favorite things I’ve ever had in my life,” and the illustrator Jacob Weinstein as “the world’s most attractive textbook.”

Oxygen requirement vs. weight. Perhaps the best semi-log table ever.

Detail, Battle of the Tyrant Kings

Evolution. Another masterful Harper mosaic

“Gases from volcanoes probably formed the Earth’s first atmosphere”

1. Libbys Deep-Minted Pineapple, to be exact. Whatever that is. Sounds like a future menu item for Alinea, or maybe elBulli.

2. Ames, Gerald and Wyler, Rose. The Giant Golden Book of Biology: An Introduction to the Science of Life. New York: Golden Press, 1961. A revised edition was published in 1967 and a second edition in 1968. The book was also published in a number of European countries, e.g: Ames, Gerald and Wyler, Rose. Biology – A Colourful Introduction to the Wonder of Life. Feltham, Middlesex: Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd, 1968. C. Roux de Bezieux. Les Merveilles De La Vie. Paris: Editions Des Deux Coqs D’or, 1962. Ames, Gerald and Wyler, Rose. En Gyllene Bok om Biologi. Stockholm: Folket i Bilds Forlag, 1968.

3. Here is a photo of the original gauche on board illustration (12.1″ × 16.8″) with the printing notations:

10 Sep 2009 ‧