Peace: The Biography of a Symbol

Author Ken Kolsbun
with Mike Sweeney

Published by National Geographic, 2008

The peace symbol is so familiar today that it seems difficult to believe that it hasn't always existed. But in fact it was just half a century ago that a British designer named Gerald Holtom sat down at his drawing board and invented it and this the story of how a design of extraordinary simplicity came to be one of the most iconic images in history.

It was conceived as a visual plea to end the atomic arms race that started with the devastating attack on Hiroshima during World War II and sadly, it's still needed to deliver its antinuclear message to a new generation. But since it first appeared in 1958, the peace symbol has taken on a multitude of new meanings as well, and this colorful volume explores them all.

The book takes readers on a journey through five decades as author Kolsbun presents 50 years of history in pictures and words to tell the fascinating story of mankind's elusive pursuit of peace and the symbol that represents that quest. The book contains iconic images from Kolsbun's own collection as well as a variety of historical archives, illustrating both the symbol itself and the larger history it helped shape, many of the photographs have seldom been seen before.

Kolsbun recounts the controversy inspired by the peace symbol, including several legal trials that challenged its very existence, and he debunks a number of incorrect theories about the sign such as its being a symbol of the devil.

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Although it is a sign that baby boomers identify with, it has cross-generational appeal. "Children of today easily identify it. They may not know its original meaning, but they know it stands for good things be nice to friends, be kind to animals, no fighting. This is a marvelous achievement for Gerald Holtom's simple design. Peoples around the world have marched with it, worn it, displayed it during combat, held it high on banners, and been arrested in its name. Ask any man, woman or child, 'What one thing would everyone in the world want more than anything else?' The answer would surely be world peace,' Kolsbun concludes in his epilogue.

"It spread with Kilroy like profligacy from San Francisco to Europe." Peace Symbol Tom Vanderbilt

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Peace: The Biography of a Symbol

Ken Kolsbun, self-described Jack-of-all trades, is a photographer, writer, historian, peace activist, game inventor, landscape architect, horticulturalist, baseball fan, mail-order catalog designer, husband and father. He continues to be active in the peace movement and is an authority of the peace symbol. Ken has invented numerous boardgames based on cooperative play, including their 1978 "classic" game Save the Whales. Ken and his wife Jann live in Forestville, California, 60 miles North of San Francisco. Ken can be contacted at