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Images that made history

They're not just for the coffee table anymore.

The 20th century is drawing to a close, as the purists among us know, and paging through "Photos that Changed the World" is a fascinating and provocative look back. What a long, strange trip it's been. Editor Peter Stepan has compiled over 100 images, with guest commentary, beginning with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and ending with an absorbing aerial of the 40,000-panel AIDS Memorial Quilt spread across the National Mall in Washington in 1996.

Part photo book, part history lesson, Stepan's compilation invites us to take a closer look at photos that are familiar, such as Dorothea Lang's Depression-era "Migrant Mother," Nelson Mandela's release from prison, and "Execution in Saigon." Stepan declares that "rarely" are they a "simple mirror of events." Look again at that photo of troops firing on demonstrators outside the Winter Palace during the Russian Revolution. In fact, it's a still from a 1925 propaganda film, but it's been passed off over the years as an eyewitness account. "Photographs can speak to us only after we have mistrusted and challenged them," writes Stepan. Many of these photos have indeed changed the world by their impact on governments to right a wrong, or by transforming the way that we see people and places, from Woodstock to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Greg Palmer is on the Monitor's photo staff.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society