From 'The Code Breakers' to first edition James Bond novels, 'Zodiac' is a mystery lover's dream.
If David Fincher's 2007 mystery-thriller Zodiac taught us anything about cracking ciphers, it's that you need to read lots and lots and lots of books. Perhaps all you amateur code breakers out there managed to catch a glimpse at a few titles that appeared in the film, including David Kahn's The Code Breakers and John Laffin's Codes and Ciphers, but there were many other books, as well as articles and movies, that not only informed the film's characters as they worked to decode the infamous Zodiac Killer's encrypted letters but also informed the audience about the where and when the film took place.
In this video essay, H. Nelson Tracey of Hint of Film reveals all of the books, articles, music, films, and pop culture memorabilia that appeared in Zodiac, which serves as the perfect reading list for fans of the film, as well as aspiring cryptographers.
Aside from being a sweet film-based reading list (we need more of those), this collection of literature and films can tell us a lot about Zodiac. The most obvious thing we can gather from it is that it's a film about ciphers, code breaking, and general detective work, given the appearance of The Code Breakers, Codes and Ciphers, Secret Writing: The Craft of the Cyptographer, and The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy, as well as the first edition covers of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels.
However, one author whose work interestingly shows up all throughout the film is Dr. Seuss, with titles including Yertle the Turtle, McElligot’s Pool, and Fox in Socks. What is the significance of this? Is there any significance? I mean, clearly David Fincher and the film's team of set designers (Dawn Brown, Lori Rowbotham, and Jane Wuu) were deliberate in their decision to show so much literature on screen.
Perhaps it was a statement about the dichotomy between innocence and corruption, the classic good vs. evil theme. On a visual level, we're plopped inside 1969 San Francisco on the 4th of July among all of these items that are both nostalgic yet tainted by something that belongs in the adult world: Graysmith's son's metal lunchbox featuring Dick Tracy, Animal Crackers that are eaten by Inspector Toschi. These are juxtapositions of the spectrum in which humanity abides, from the innocence of children to the horrors of adults.
This dichotomy can be observed even clearer when talk show host Jim Dunbar mentions Star Trek episode "And the Children Shall Lead" to Melvin Belli. In that episode, five children are brought aboard the Enterprise after the death of their parents. Initially, they appear to be innocent but it quickly becomes apparent that they are, in fact, lead by a glowing green apparition named Gorgan who tells them to take over the crew, which they do.
But, if all of that film theory stuff is not your cup of tea, you can always just enjoy the reading list as is.
- Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (1958) by Dr. Seuss
- The Code Breakers (1967) by David Kahn
- Codes and Ciphers: Secret Writing Through the Ages (1964) by John Laffin
- Secret Writing: The Craft of the Cryptographer (1970) by James Raymond Wolfe
- The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) film directed by Eugene Lourie
- Dick Tracy Lunchbox, 1967
- Animal Crackers (cookie)
- The Most Dangerous Game (1932) film directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack
- Hair, original musical poster, show debut in 1967
- They Laughed When I Sat Down: An Informal History of Advertising in Words and Pictures (1959) by Frank Rowsome, Jr.
- McElligot’s Pool (1947) by Dr. Seuss
- TIME Magazine “Race and Reform on Campus,” Volume 93 No. 16, April 18, 1969
- The Asphalt Jungle (1950) film directed by John Huston
- The Wrong Man (1956) film directed by Alfred Hitchcock
- The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy, 1931-1951 (Anthology, 1970) by Chester Gould
- Fox in Socks (1965) by Dr. Seuss
- Curtain and The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1975) by Agatha Christie
- An Artist in America (1951) by Thomas Hart Benton
- Drawing: Seeing and Observation (1973) by Ian Simpson
- Drawing the Female Figure (1975) by Joseph Sheppard
- Mainstreams of Modern Art: David to Picasso (1961) by John Canaday
- Homicide Investigation (first published in 1944) by Lemoyne Snyder
- Rescued in the Clouds (1927) by Franklin W. Dixon -LIFE Magazine “Confrontation in Harvard Yard,” Vol. 66 No. 16, April 25, 1969
- Slinky Toy Commercial from the 1960s
- I Died A Thousand Times (1955) film directed by Stuart Heisler
- Star Trek, Season 3 Episode 4 “And the Children Shall Lead” (1968) guest starring Melvin Belli, portrayed by Brian Cox in Zodiac
- Aquavelva (alcoholic drink)
- Richard Nixon Presidential Campaign Button, 1968
- “I Am Not Avery” button
- 6 extremely rare first edition covers of Ian Fleming James Bond Novels
- Dr. No (1958)
- For Your Eyes Only (1960)
- Moonraker (1955)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
- You Only Live Twice (1964)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
- Six Crises (1962) by Richard M. Nixon
- San Francisco (first published 1969) edited by Jack McDowell and Dorothy Krell
- The Selling of the President, 1968 (1969) by Joe McGinniss
- Rubber Life Magazine, Vol. 01, No. 01, (1972)
- Dirty Harry (1971) film directed by Don Siegel
- Pong (1972) video game by Atari
- I Looked and Listened: Informal Recollections of Radio and TV (1970) by Ben Gross
- The Crime Vaccine: How to End the Crime Epidemic (1996) by Jay B. Marcus
- The FBI in Our Open Society (1969) by Harry & Bonaro Overstreet
- Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case (1961) by George Waller
- The Property Man (1914) film directed by Charlie Chaplin
- McCall’s Sewing Book (1968) by McCall Corporation
- Them! (1954) film directed by Gordon Douglas
- Illegal (1955) film directed by Lewis Allen
- The World Almanac: Centennial Edition (1968)
- The Rink (1916) film directed by Charlie Chaplin
- Conquest (1937) film directed by Clarence Brown and Gustav Marchaty
- Key Largo (1948) film directed by John Huston
- Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Nation’s Most Bizarre Mass Murderer (1986) by Robert Graysmith
If you enjoyed this reading list, check out H. Nelson Tracey's previous video essay in which he compiles all of the literature that appears in Matt Ross' Captain Fantastic.