If Playboy is known for anything -- besides the transparent "I read it for the articles" excuse -- it's known for the centerfold. This (literal) center of the magazine seems the focus of the appeal of Playboy. Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds is a coffee-table book collecting these fold-out images from 1953-2007.

Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds is 12.8" by 6.5", matching the approximate proportions of the original centerfolds. The pictures are collected chronologically, with a list at the start of each year of the names of the centerfolds (and who was Playmate of the Year, once the magazine began that particular honor). The book ends with an index of both the centerfolds and photographers.
If you want to tell people you bought this book for the articles, they're present as well. Apart from opening comments by Hugh Hefner (naturally) and David Hickey, an author contributes a page of thoughts for each decade: Robert Coover for the 1950s, Paul Theroux for the 1960s, Robert Stone for the 1970s, Jay McTierney for the 1980s, Daphne Merkin for the 1990s, and Maureen Gibbon for the, er, naughts. These vary from commentary on the photos themselves (Gibbon talks about a prominent, er, styling) to social commentary. Robert Stone says about the 1970s, "For a while it seemed as though all the ideals of the 1960s had been lost and everything vulgar and idiotic about them lingered." McTierney comments about the 1980s, "It was not exactly a contemplative or reflective decade."

There are a few celebrities present here -- Marilyn Monroe (the first Playboy centerfold), Jayne Mansfield, Erika Eleniak, Pamela Anderson (who was not the Playmate of the Year), Jenny McCarthy -- but Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds is better for an overall view of this photography than for an individual person. Rather than working on a strictly prurient level, this collection is fascinating as an evolution of an ideal of beauty over time. Looking through the book, the reader (viewer?) notes changes in body type, fashion, and even amount of nudity. (It was decades before the Playboy centerfold truly bared it all.) Some of the commentary is questionable (did powerful women like Hilary Clinton really affect the poses and looks in Playboy?) but this is a fascinating time capsule. With centerfolds.

Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds is a very good pictorial journey through history, as seem by the most popular men's magazine out there. This is both a fascinating and fun look at what people enjoyed looking at through the decades.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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