Those who pick it up will find themselves pondering the lives of Bob Marley, Ronald Reagan, and everyone in between.
In The Wanted Book, artist John Nieman combines portraits with short essays as he profields various notable and influential people in modern history. Each notable figure is painted in the style of and Old West “Wanted” poster with an accompanying short essay on their life and achievements. In his introduction, Nieman describes wanting to identify heroes whose lives embody the qualities that he feels the world may lack today.
Although the list contains white men predominantly, Nieman’s subjects are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, professions, and experiences, spanning from Harry Truman to Malala Yousafcal. The portraits are all done in a heavily stylized manner with dusty colors that evoke the “Wanted” posters of the Wild West. Each of these posters includes a brief word or two about who might draw inspiration from the subject’s life. Each poster is featured opposite an essay that highlights the biographical details and special qualities that Nieman feels sets the subject apart. The final product is like a secular book of saints, as each subject’s life is boiled down to a list of achievements and qualities.
The essays range in length from just a few sentences to several paragraphs and all are written in a comfortable manner accessible to a variety of reading levels. In several of the essays Nieman shares his own experiences with the subject, such as sitting in on a lecture by noted feminist activist Gloria Steinem. Not all are written as traditional biographies; for example, John F. Kennedy’s biography is delivered as a letter to the late president.
There are some areas that could have used a second polish. A few incorrect dates (the Emancipation Proclamation is dated to 1963 instead of 1863) and confusing grammar mistakes may trip up an otherwise smooth reading experience. The portrait of Rosa Parks is also heavily pixelated, which distracts from the clear biography next to it. Although these sorts of mistakes are small, they do detract from an attractive and well-put-together book.
With The Wanted Book Nieman introduces a variety of notables from the last two hundred years and presents his argument for what made them great. This is a great book for people to sit with and flip through for inspiration. Those who do pick it up will find themselves pondering the lives of Bob Marley, Ronald Reagan and everyone in between.
Review by Constance Augusta A. Zaber