Picks and Pans Review: A Day in the Life of America

updated 10/20/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/20/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

produced by Rick Smolan and David Cohen

More than 250,000 photographs taken by 200 photographers this past May 2 were distilled into this often striking book. It's not an original idea. A special issue of LIFE magazine captured a similar American panorama on Sept. 5, 1974. That edition of LIFE, which still compares favorably to this book, inspired Smolan and Cohen to produce four previous Day in the Life volumes on Australia, Hawaii, Canada and Japan. (They have previously acknowledged that inspiration, and it seems odd they don't mention it in this most direct borrowing of the idea.) The pictures in this book are people-oriented. There is no Detroit assembly line, no sweeping Midwest farm vista, no major league baseball crowd. There are, however, many vivid close-ups of individuals, such as Mary Ellen Mark's touching shot of a worker at a home for the retarded applying makeup to a 25-year-old woman with Down's syndrome or Letizia Battaglia's portrait of a 12-year-old girl from a New York welfare family. A lot of the photographs in one way or another reflect positive aspects of the United States, but there are enough reflections of poverty, crime and waste to suggest a certain balance. It's hard to imagine anyone seeing this book lying on a coffee table and not picking it up—or not finding in it at least a handful of pictures to admire. (Collins, $39.95)

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