The Man Who Designed the Future

Norman Bel Geddes and the Invention of Twentieth-Century America

A ninth-grade dropout who found himself at the center of the worlds of industry, advertising, theater, and even gaming, Norman Bel Geddes designed everything from the first all-weather stadium, to Manhattan’s most exclusive nightclub, to Futurama, the prescient 1939 exhibit that envisioned how America would look in the not-too-distant sixties.

In The Man Who Designed the Future, B. Alexandra Szerlip reveals precisely how central Bel Geddes was to the history of American innovation. He presided over a moment in which theater became immersive, function merged with form, and people became consumers. A polymath with humble Midwestern origins, Bel Geddes’s visionary career would launch him into social circles with the Algonquin roundtable members, stars of stage and screen, and titans of industry.

Light on its feet but absolutely authoritative, this first major biography is a must for anyone who wants to know how America came to look the way it did.

B. ALEXANDRA SZERLIP was a two-time National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellow, a Yaddo fellow, and runner-up for London’s Lothian Prize for a first biography-in progress. She has contributed to The Paris Review Daily and The Believer, among other publications, and has worked in professional theater, as a book editor, sculptor and graphic designer. Raised on the East Coast, she lives in San Francisco.

“In this fascinating and minutely researched biography, Szerlip brings the brilliant, indefatigable industrial designer’s imagination to life…A remarkable rediscovery of a man ahead of his time.” —Booklist / American Library Association (starred review)

“Set designer, automobile stylist, architect, founding father of American industrial design, inventor of genius, Norman Bel Geddes was volcanically talented and sui generis. In her lively and scrupulously well-researched biography, B. Alexandra Szerlip gives him a deserved place as a key visionary of modernity.” —Nikil Saval, author of Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace

“I learned a lot about Norman Bel Geddes from B. Alexandra Szerlip’s book. He was a complex, controversial genius, worthy of this biography. His visionary design of GM’s Futurama exhibit for the 1939 NY World’s Fair revolutionized people’s thinking about the future.” — Don Norman, bestselling author of The Design of Everyday Things, and Director of UC San Diego’s DesignLab

“Norman Bel Geddes is one of those singularly American figures, the self-made wonder boy who comes out of the boondocks and sets fire to the worlds of fashion and commerce only to fade away again… He’s at once a summation of his moment… and absolutely odd. B. Alexandra Szerlip’s groundbreaking work places him, expertly, in his time and place: his life and work reflect a national certitude — that the world, and the future, is ours for the making. It’s a story for now, when that certitude seems to have gone astray.” —John Crowley, author of Little, Big

“Bel Geddes, who began his career as a stage designer, was a key figure—perhaps the key figure—in the first generation of industrial designers, men like Henry Dreyfuss, Russel Wright, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Raymond Loewy…. A missionary preaching the gospel of modernism.” —Paul Goldberger, author and former dean of the Parsons School of Design