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Flickering Light: A History of Neon Hardcover – 1 Apr 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books; Tra edition (1 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780230915
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780230917
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 308,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'Ribbat is particularly good at situating the novelty of neon within its larger historical context, elucidating how its development resonated with and reflected the shaping forces of the 20th century.' - Los Angeles Review of Books

About the Author

Christoph Ribbat is Professor of American Studies at the University of Paderborn, Germany. He has written and lectured widely on American culture, sport and masculinity.

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By Adrian Cotterill on 29 Sept. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Maybe this book lost something in translation though I doubt it. Very poor, the facts about Neon are interesting enough but the book quickly digresses and simply talks about vague references to Neon in music and literature. A poor purchase.
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Amazon.com: 3 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Glow, Glow Lost, Glow Regained 15 July 2013
By Rob Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It is hard to imagine our cities without neon lights; everyone is familiar with the neon glow in the hand-blown glass tubes. They are still around, but they are of another age. In movies, shots of neon signs of nightclubs date the film to the 1930s. Neon was ultramodern, and then became passé, and has now had a boom in nostalgia and avant-garde light art. _Flickering Light: A History of Neon_ (Reaktion Books) by Christoph Ribbat, a professor of American Studies in Germany, explores the use of neon in art and advertising and its surprisingly widespread cultural legacy. Neon is showy, but Ribbat's book (translated from the German by Anthony Mathews) is a sensible and, well, enlightening view of neon's many facets.

The noble gas neon was discovered in 1898, and Parisian chemist Georges Claude found ways to make glowing tubes of it a going commercial concern worldwide. "Cinzano" was spelled out over a Paris roof in 1913; the next year there were 160 neon signs over Paris, and by 1927, over 6,000. In the US, neon started in Los Angeles in 1923 when a car dealer purchased neon signs spelling out "Packard" in Paris for his store back home. It wasn't long before the roofs of service stations and other businesses were sporting neon. Neon crosses were erected over churches. Small businesses in small towns could afford the new signs, and in big cities, there were huge, animated versions. Then the glow faded. Ribbat draws on an astonishingly broad range of neon in popular and artistic culture. He reminds us that in _It's a Wonderful Life_ (1946), when George Bailey gets his vision of Bedford Falls as it would have been if he had never been, it is far from the little town heavily scented with sweet Americana. It is, instead, a riot of neon outside of bars and other stores eager to take the citizens' money. The signs that used to mean good times and modernity and that beckoned with their fashionable glow had instead come to convey sleaze. Neon found a new home in the revitalized Las Vegas, where it can still be found in profusion, although the old neon signs get taken down all the time; the good ones go to the Museum of Neon Art. New Journalist Tom Wolfe was excited by all the glow, describing the colors in the neon palette as "tangerine, broiling magenta, livid pink, incarnadine, fuchsia demure, Congo ruby, methyl green, viridine, aquamarine, phenosafranine, incandescent orange, scarlet-fever purple, cynic blue, tessellated bronze, hospital-fruit-basket orange." There was also a "new sculpture" movement in the sixties and seventies that relied on neon's electric glow. Artists sometimes made pictures with the tubes and sometimes frankly spelled out aphorisms or platitudes the way signs used to advertise beer. Neon, surprisingly, figures strongly in country music, part of the "honky-tonk" scene found in the city. A startling reflection: "There are two genres of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in which neon has really prospered: one is light art, the other is country music."

This sort of synthesis is what Ribbat is good at, calling on connections from Kraftwerk, Nelson Algren, Simon and Garfunkel, Nabokov, Chinatowns, _Blade Runner_, and much more. His chapters are essays on different aspects of the subject, with good illustrations (of which, of course, there ought to be more). Ribbat clearly shares the sentiments of neon fans, such as those in Queens who saved a huge 1936 Pepsi sign when it was dismantled in 2004. They lobbied successfully to have it put on top of a nearby apartment building, just because the glow of the neon meant something to them. Reading the essays here, teasing out all sorts of layers of meaning, that isn't at all surprising.
Okay, but I was rather disappointed. 10 Feb. 2015
By lyndonbrecht - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'm not sure how to describe this book. You will learn a good deal about neon, but may find it, as I found it, to be somewhat superficial and disappointing. The writing is reasonably good and the illustrations very good.

It does cover something of the discovery of neon as useful lighting. The book considers how neon light and ads have come to characterize a cityscape at night. There are plenty of references to various media, and of course neon is a media in and of itself. It's somehow still enjoyable but not of much substance.

I am used to better books from this publisher.
An extensive history of neon, maybe too extensive... 6 Jan. 2015
By Dennis Bell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a pretty good book on the history of neon, but includes every possible reference to neon that was ever made in any book which was a little more than I bargained for. It does include information on the inventors of neon signage, and from it's discover as a gas that glows red when electricity arcs through it to it's extensive use in advertising and art. It also has lots of text on books where neon was only mentioned in passing, a lot of which I didn't find very interesting. Still, overall it makes for an ok read.
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