For the last few decades, Italian design has become a synonym for avant-garde design, exploding concepts of materials, shapes, colors and even function to create a provocative range of styles. The Hot House by Andrea Branzi (MIT: $25) is a welcome survey of the new-wave design generated in Italy since the 1950s and its varied effect on architecture and the applied arts, including, in particular, interior design. One of the most controversial styles to come out of the so-called Italian "hothouse" of design was created by a group of designers labeled Memphis. Their often bizarre, campy, funky, punky, call-it-what-you-will-but-look-at-me designs, their research, results, failures and successes are reviewed and well illustrated in Memphis by Barbara Radice (Rizzoli: $35). A tantalizing tour along the cutting edge of design.