This book is really a collection of 1-page biographies of 90 photographers who helped to define photography in the 20th century. Each photographer in the book is given a spread with one page devoted to a single image the biographer would like to talk about that is “representative” of the photographer’s greater body of work, and sometimes a smaller photo inset into the biographical details.
There are many amazing photographs and, while the biographies are occasionally written in an “overly art-snobbish” voice, the biographical details and insights into the photographers and their works is fascinating, often giving historical context to photos that, on their own, I wouldn’t necessarily view in that manner.
When I started reading the book I decided I was going to put a mini sticky note on the photographers that I wanted to check out more about. Looking at the forest of sticky notes stuck to the top is proving to be a daunting task! I decided that I would not put sticky notes on photographers like Dorothea Lang, Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and the like who I was already very familiar with and to just focus on those that I have little knowledge of, such as August Sander, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Umbo, Tina Modotti, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Heinz Hajek-Halke, Martín Chambi, Edward Weston, Arnold Newman, Yevgeny Tschaldey, Ernst Haas, Margaret Bourke-White, Willy Ronis, Paul Strand, William Klein, W. Eugene Smith, and many more. Pretty much I’m looking at over half the book. That’s gonna be a whole lot of reading!
On a Buy It, Borrow It, or Trash It scale, I’d say this is a definite Borrow It. While there are some wonderfully inspirational photos in here, for me there is no sense of cohesiveness about the photos themselves (as it should be!). The purpose of the book is to introduce you to photographers and point you in the direction of where you can find out more. Read it once, check out the ones you want to learn more about, and return it.