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The Learners by Chip Kidd

March 2, 2009


This is Chip Kidd’s follow-up to The Cheese Monkeys, picking where the first book left off. It’s 1961 and Happy, now out of art school, lands a job at the small New England ad agency where his instructor started his career. Much of the book is about office life, and though it may be an accurate portrayal of what it was like in an advertising agency at the time, with its slapstick humor, quippy dialogue and martini lunches, I found it all corny and too clever for its own good.

Nor did I care much for the world outside the agency or Kidd’s interjections about typeface and design. It’s not that I don’t appreciate these things—working in an ad agency myself, I was expecting this to be the most appealing part of the book—I just felt like Kidd was heavy-handed with it all.

The only thing that saves the book is when Happy is contacted by a Yale professor Stanley Milgram to create a small-space ad calling for volunteers for Milgram’s now-famous experiment in which he tested how willing people are to follow orders, even if it means hurting another person. By placing Happy in this historic moment, Kidd adds interest to what is otherwise a pretty uninteresting book. Definitely a let-down after Cheese Monkeys.

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