Wow! That word aptly describes John Langdon’s Wordplay, a fascinating look at “the philosophy, art, and science of ambigrams” - words that look the same right side up and upside down. Even the title of this book can be read this way, and the author’s name on both the front and the spine. From that alone, plus the knowledge that Dan Brown, author of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, wrote the forward to Wordplay, that some of John Langdon’s ambigrams are used in Angels and Demons, and that Brown used Langdon’s very name as inspiration for his main character of Richard Langdon, I could tell that this would be a book with a heavy “cool” factor to it.
Langdon is influenced by several elements in his art and wordplay, none probably more important than Taoism and the ideas and philosophy of the yin-yang symbol. The chapters he spends on these influences are almost as interesting as the magic he creates with the many ambigrams and other word creations he liberally spreads throughout Wordplay. He is also influenced by mathematics and science, and has created ambigrams of the words philosophy, mathematics, algebra, and normal distribution. Langdon makes reference to Albert Einstein, T.S. Eliot, Pete Seeger (the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!”), and many others, observable proof that his interests are eclectic and widespread.
Ever wonder who came up with the trademark ambigram of Aerosmith’s name on their album covers? Yes, it was John Langdon. He also came up with an ambigram for the word “Starship” for the rock group Jefferson Starship, and wrote all of the ambigrams included in Angels and Demons, which are branded on the chests of the victims by a mysterious assassin. A generous section of color photographs of some of Langdon’s work comprises 16 pages, and there are many more black and white examples and the stories behind specific ambigrams.
There are also examples of “chain ambigrams,” such as one in the color section which I particularly liked where when words surrounding a yin-yang symbol in a circular pattern are read clockwise, the reader sees the word “Light” repeated around the circle. However, when reading counterclockwise, one sees only the word “Dark”. There is also a photograph in this section of Salvador Dali-like animals and objects which Langdon painted on oil and canvas in which the word “Salvador” is spelled out by the animals and objects, and the spaces between spell out “Dali”.
Are there enough ambigrams and other examples of wordplay to fill out an entire book and keep as fresh and interesting from the beginning to the end? I was unsure when I first opened up the Wordplay as to whether it would be of a high quality throughout. The answer I got when I finished the book was, “Heck, yeah, there are!” This book is sure to appeal to anyone who likes Dan Brown novels, ambigrams and other wordplay, Oriental philosophy, and just plain “cool” elements in a book. Highly recommended, and a good book to set out on a coffee table and watch people’s expressions when they open up this book and see one “cool” example after another of Mr. Langdon’s artistic and linguistic talents.