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."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.