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  • Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design
  • Lisa Graham
Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design by Greg Castillo, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A., 2010. 312 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN: 978-0-8166-4691-3; ISBN: 978-0-8166-4692-0.

Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design is a well-written and fluid discussion of an often underappreciated area of design history: the role of designed objects in the propaganda war between the United States and the Communist Party in the U.S.S.R. In this book, Castillo focuses on the use of "Soft Power," or the coercive attraction of such intangibles as ideology, beliefs AND culture, and the perceived moral authority demonstrated via propaganda materials and designed artifacts. This fascinating book opens with a discussion of "Domesticity as a Weapon," as deployed in a landmark 1959 exhibition at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, featuring the use of such ideological munitions as women's nylons, refrigerators, clothing and toys. Associate Professor Greg Castillo proceeds through a series of exhibitions presented across the globe, featuring such titles as America at Home, Industry and Craft Create New Home Furnishings in the USA and People's Capitalism, and fluently traces the use of soft design over the decades of the Cold War. These exhibitions were inspired by the deliberately formulated propaganda effort sponsored by the United States—arguably the most extensive international peace-time propaganda effort to date—that intended to compare and contrast the rewards of the capitalist way of life versus the Spartan fruits of the communist way of life.

Beautifully crafted by Castillo, this book skillfully covers the ideological tension between capitalism and communism as evidenced by propaganda and designed objects during the Cold War era. Castillo's lively narrative and the carefully selected photographs and illustrations should engage the most discerning scholars of design and political science and yet the book is readable enough to appeal to advanced undergraduate and graduate students in architecture, graphic design, and industrial design programs.

This book was a true pleasure to read, combining fascinating historical facts with keen insight into the subversive ideological influence of design on culture and values. [End Page 186]

Lisa Graham
Associate Professor of Visual Communications, University of Texas at Arlington (U.S.A.). E-mail: <>.


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