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New Work: ‘Earth (The Book)’

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What would we leave behind to explain ourselves after the world ends, and aliens find the remnants of our civilization? That is the premise of Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race, the new book from the Comedy Central series The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. The book is a humorous summation of, well, everything—what we looked like, what we accomplished, and our achievements in society, government, religion, science and culture, all in 246 pages. The book is the follow-up to the blockbuster America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction, which sold over 2 million copies, stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for over a year and was the biggest non-fiction seller of 2004. Earth is one of the most eagerly awaited releases of the fall 2010 book season.

Pentagram designed both books in close collaboration with Jon Stewart and the Daily Show writers. America (The Book) was about government and the design was attached loosely to the format of a civics textbook, using bureaucratic and educational charts and diagrams. Earth (The Book) is modeled on an illustrated reference book like those published by Dorling Kindersley or National Geographic. Profusely illustrated with photos, graphs, charts, timelines and running sidebars, the book contains many more visual jokes than America. To design the book, Paula Scher, lead designers Drea Zlanabitnig and Rami Moghadam and a cast of thousands became indentured servants of the joke.


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The official press release for Earth jokes that the book was completed in “two laborious weeks of hard work.” In reality the design of the book took over a year, with the designers working with the Daily Show writers to fine-tune the material, all in an effort to nail the jokes and make them as timely as possible. Like most blockbuster sequels, the new book has more special effects; Earth has up to a dozen jokes per page, many of them based on complex photo illustrations that required retouching of images—thousands and thousands of images.

In the final months, a team of dedicated designers moved into Pentagram’s studio along with several of book’s writers to complete the project in time for the publication date. Putting in many sleepless nights, Zlanabitnig and Moghadam led the small army of designers in an atmosphere not unlike the writers’ rooms of television.

The work paid off in the book’s seamless mix of humor and design. One of our favorite visual jokes in the book is a rendition of the Periodic Table of the Synthetic, a chart that is both funny and beautiful. It includes elements such as Cz, for Cheez; Sg, for Soylent Green; and Ax, for Body Spray.

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Project Team: Paula Scher, partner-in-charge and designer; Drea Zlanabitnig, Rami Moghadam, designers; and Erich Nagler, Ben Ritter, Rich Petrucci, Conor Birney, Jamie Bartolacci, Erika Lee, Nikki Huganir, Amelia Hall and Mark Pernice.