The Best Gifts to Give (or Receive) About Paleofuturism

Books and DVDs make up our expert’s gift guide of more ideas for this holiday season

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for that paleofuturist in your life, might I suggest a few of the books and DVDs currently sitting on my shelf? Well, not these books exactly. But different copies of these books that you can buy from a reputable retailer. You get the picture.

Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future by Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan ($31.95)

I’ve often called Yesterday’s Tomorrows the retro-futurist’s bible. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it quite literally changed my life by allowing me to see this silly topic I loved so much (meal pills, flying cars and jetpacks) as something that was worthy of serious consideration; a way to study history through a very specific lens while discovering what those visions of the future meant to people at that time. The book was published in 1984 in conjunction with the Smithsonian exhibit of the same name and includes gorgeous photos and illustrations of futurism from the 19th and 20th century. Also, I’ve met both of the authors and they’re super swell guys.

Future: A Recent History by Lawrence R. Samuel ($45 print, $14.75 Kindle edition)

This 2009 book is the kind you’d likely see as required reading for any university course on 20th century retro-futurism. Samuel’s history of the future begins in 1920 and spends a little more time with pure science fiction than I do here on the blog, but it’s a fantastic look at 20th century futurism. Unlike Yesterday’s Tomorrows, this one doesn’t have any glossy pictures but it’s still a great look at the futures that never were.

Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth-Century Future by Norman Brosterman ($7.97)

Brosterman’s 2000 book looks at everything from the early 20th century picture postcards which whimsically depicted various cities of the future to the streamlined spaceships of the Space Age. Aside from having hundreds of gorgeous color illustrations, the book is well-researched and is a nice companion to Yesterday’s Tomorrows.

The Wonderful Future That Never Was by Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics ($15.64)

Nebula award-winning science fiction author Gregory Benford‘s 2010 book The Wonderful Future That Never Was takes retro-futurists into the Popular Mechanics archive. Benford highlights the fascinating early and mid-20th century predictions that Americans were assured could be just around the corner. If you’re looking for pure tech-optimist pop, this is the book for you. The dust jacket even folds out into a poster. Neato!

The City’s End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears and Premonitions of New York’s Destruction by Max Page ($9.98)

Much of what people often think of as retro-futurism tends to deal in the techno-utopian: flying cars, rockets to the moon, meal pills. But there’s a dark side to retro-futurism. Max Page explores the dystopian and catastrophic by looking at the various ways that New York City has been fictionally destroyed over the past 200 years. Through the movies, comics, video games, magazines and books that have imagined New York’s destruction Page examines why we like to see such dark visions of the future, and why those mushroom clouds are so often looming over Manhattan.

Tomorrowland: Disney in Space and Beyond DVD set ($26.93)

I know this is supposed to be a recommended reading list, but this DVD set is just too fun to leave out. Throughout the 2000s Disney would release 3 or 4 different DVD sets per year under their Walt Disney Treasures line. The collection included releases like On The Front Lines which collected the short propaganda films that the studio produced during WWII, and Disney Rarities which contains rarely-seen short films from the 1920 to the 1960s. But my favorite release was in 2004 when they put out “Tomorrowland,” a collection of Disney’s coolest Space Age films and TV episodes. The DVD set includes classic “Disneyland” TV episodes like 1957′s Mars and Beyond along with never-before released film detailing the original plan for EPCOT in 1966. The original marketing gimmick of the Treasures collection was that every DVD set was limited edition and each was individually numbered (I have number 081,710 of 105,000) but seeing as how you can still buy new copies on Amazon I don’t think this particular release did very well.

Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here

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