It is hard to leaf through a book made up of 250 old magazine advertisements without getting a trifle wrought up. What innocence and offensiveness! What blatancy! The way that glittering wish objects of the past are reliably converted into ludicrous baubles! The clothes, the headlines, and the lapel-grabbing vulgarity all skirt unbelievability, combining to create a horrid fascination. It is also difficult to understand just why. Perhaps it is a print equivalent of that endlessly instructive moment when you hear a companion describe to others an experience that you both have shared: a rare chance to see with another's eyes and to perceive with another's mind.
This large paperback sets out to reflect changing images of everyday life through reproductions of over a century of magazine advertisements. The authors attempt to sort the material into themes: For social roles there are chapters on men, women, and blacks (this crass classification was reflected in advertising until about 15 years ago). The world of things is divided into inventions, transportation, food and fashion. For a quick look at advertising techniques there are chapters on anxieties, celebrities, and sex.
The three authors, who write in an uneven and anemic prose appropriate to amateur sociology, are determined to be detached: The advertisements selected "are in no way intended either to endorse or deprecate any of the manufacturers, agencies, or individuals involved." It doesn't matter - the wonderfully awful old ads will catch your interest on their own, and the authors surely deserve credit for exhuming images almost guaranteed to generate disquiet about the world we inhabit. (Delta paperback, $9.95) CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, from the book