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Documentary filmmaker and historian Ken Burns believes that photographs are portals “not just to a different time and space but also to dimensions and possibilities within myself.” Through photographs and illustrations, these books are guaranteed to transport you.

Apollo Remastered

Book jacket image for Apollo Remastered by Andy Saunders

Apollo Remastered: The Ultimate Photographic Record is a weighty, large-format coffee table book that beams readers right into its cosmic world. The original NASA film from the Apollo missions (which includes some 35,000 images) has been safely secured inside a frozen vault at the Johnson Space Center, but new technology has allowed digital restoration expert Andy Saunders to painstakingly remaster this treasure trove of photographs, many of which have never been published. The results are pure magic, full of clarity, sharpness and color that make readers feel like part of the team—a far cry from those grainy images that were broadcast on TV at the time. 

During their spaceflights, many astronauts were shocked by how moved they felt looking back at Earth, and readers will see why. Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell notes, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.” Apollo 9’s Rusty Schweickart recommends reading this book at night, surrounded by darkness and silence, to allow the gleaming spacecraft and spacesuits to shimmer and shine.

Our America

Book jacket image for Our America by Ken Burns

In the tradition of Walker Evans’ groundbreaking 1938 book, American Photographs, Ken Burns has assembled a collection of his favorite images in Our America: A Photographic History. “I’ve needed forty-five years of telling stories in American history, of diving deep into lives and moments, places and huge events, to accrue the visual vocabulary to embark on this book,” he writes in his introduction. 

These black-and-white photographs are arranged chronologically from 1839 to 2019, with only one on each page for full visual impact. They’re labeled by date and place (at least one for each state), with fuller explanations at the back of the book, and they are mesmerizing, drawing on a multitude of personalities, emotions and events. The images depict the brutally scarred back of an enslaved man, decomposing bodies at Gettysburg, frozen Niagara Falls, a 1909 game of alley baseball in Boston, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Elvis onstage and, finally, a stunning portrait of Congressman John Lewis from 2019.

Illustrated Black History

Book jacket image for Illustrated Black History by George McCalman

For Illustrated Black History: Honoring the Iconic and the Unseen, artist, designer and creative director George McCalman created 145 original portraits spotlighting Black pioneers in many fields, each accompanied by a short biographical essay. Moving alphabetically from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to cinematographer Bradford Young, McCalman uses a bold array of acrylics, watercolors, pen and ink and colored pencils, to capture each personality in an individualized way. “I document body language, I document exuberance, I document pain,” he writes. “I draw like a reporter because I am a reporter.” 

McCalman began this project by challenging himself to paint one such portrait every day for a month, and the result overflows with energy and color. His choices are inspiring and well-rounded, running the gamut from Frederick Douglass and James Baldwin to activist Alicia Garza and food journalist Toni Tipton-Martin.

My Travels With Mrs. Kennedy

Book jacket image for My Travels With Mrs. Kennedy by Clint Hill

Despite the mountains of books already written about the Kennedys, I couldn’t put down My Travels With Mrs. Kennedy, a conversational memoir and very personal photo album by Clint Hill. A former Secret Service agent who served under five U.S. presidents, Hill was present during John F. Kennedy’s assassination and later assigned to the first lady and her children. He’s written other books about those experiences, including several with his wife and co-author, Lisa McCubbin Hill. 

This book was sparked by the process of cleaning out the garage of Hill’s home in Alexandria, Virginia, going through boxes of memorabilia, including a forgotten steamer trunk. Dialogue between the co-authors makes the book immensely readable as they discuss their discoveries and Hill’s memories. Numerous photos bring each scene to life, capturing intimate moments that reveal the first family’s personalities, especially that of Jackie. Of their relationship, Hill writes, “It wasn’t romantic. But it was beyond friendship. We could communicate with a look or a nod.”

The Only Woman

Book jacket image for The Only Woman by Immy Humes

The Only Woman is a unique gallery of group portraits that contain a lone female figure surrounded by men. There’s Marie Curie, for instance, with her head in her hand, looking downright bored among a group of suited scientists at a 1911 conference in Belgium. There’s 9-year-old Ab Hoffman, who earned a spot on a Canadian hockey team for one season in 1956 because her coaches hadn’t noticed her gender. In a 1982 photo, a white male U.S. Army Diver candidate sneers at Andrea Motley Crabtree, a Black woman who made the training cut when he didn’t. “Most of the men hated me being there,” Crabtree recalls. “He couldn’t understand how I was better than him.” 

Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Immy Humes provides concise commentary throughout her collection, which spans from 1862 to 2020. She speaks to “the pleasure of spotting them, and then, most of all, the mystery of them: What was she doing there?”

Affinities

Affinities book cover

In need of some creative downtime? Curl up with the hefty Affinities: A Journey Through Images From the Public Domain Review and lose yourself in a delightfully imaginative, visionary game. The book’s 350-plus pages contain a miscellany of images arranged to showcase unexpected similarities. For example, one section features the shapes of outstretched arms as seen in a 16th-century drawing of a mechanical arm, an image of the Borghese Gladiator sculpture, a John Singleton Copley painting and—of all things—a photo of damage sustained to the bow of the HMS Broke during a World War I battle. 

With images old and new from around the world, all selected from the archive of the Public Domain Review, this is a book designed for random perusal. Some images come with suggested paths to different pages, creating a sort of chutes-and-ladders effect. As explained in the introduction, the result is “a maze of rootlike cut-throughs that allow you to move through the book in different ways, to disrupt the sequence and carve through your own serpentine trajectory.”

The armchair historian’s wish list isn’t a tough nut to crack. Just give them a great book.
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★ From Harvest to Home

Let me be a voice in passionate support of relishing all things fall: Pile those pumpkins! Bust out the mums! Go big on apples and cinnamon! I am here for it. With From Harvest to Home, lifestyle blogger Alicia Tenise Chew speaks right to the deepest autumnal cravings with recipes, low-key crafts and lists of scary movies and top Thanksgiving TV episodes. Nachos get a fall twist (and healthy upgrade) with sweet potatoes, French 75 cocktails go goth with the addition of activated charcoal, and there’s a pumpkin gnocchi with cinnamon sage brown butter sauce that I most certainly will be requesting of my home-cook husband. Chew provides checklists of activities you might enjoy during each of the three fall months, a welcome inspo tool for us easily overwhelmed types, as well as self-care tips for the return of short days and cold weather. You don’t have to do all the fall things, of course. But you can more deeply delight in a few faves with the help of this book—and feel not a shred of shame for loving flannel and pumpkin spice lattes. 

An American in Provence

Perhaps you’ve heard this story: Highly successful urban professional departs the rat race, decamps to the countryside and achieves a slower, simpler, even more beautiful life. But you’ve never seen rustic expatriation evoked quite so lusciously as it is in An American in Provence, artist Jamie Beck’s pictorial memoir. Beck is a photographer, and alongside romantic self-portraits, still lifes, sweeping landscapes and tablescapes, she shares generously of her expertise. There are tips for photographing children, getting the most out of your smartphone camera and working with natural lighting. Along the way Beck writes of settling in the small French town of Apt, giving birth to her daughter, Eloise, and leaning into the seasonal rhythms of the region. Recipes are sprinkled throughout like herbes de Provence: a violet sorbet, daube Provençale, wild thyme grilled lamb. In total, the effect is bewitching and immersive, and quite the motivation to save for one’s own dream trip to the hills, fields and ancient villages of southeastern France.

How to Be Weird

In high school, I was often told that I was weird. I took it as a point of pride, and still do. Weird is a thing to strive for in my book, as it is in Eric G. Wilson’s How to Be Weird, which amounts to an Rx for the rote life, an antidote to crushing mundanity. The small actions and thought experiments compiled here, 99 in total, are intended to disrupt dull thinking, to help us see our world and ourselves in fresh ways. They could be applied usefully in many settings, from classroom to cocktail party to corporate retreat. And as the veteran English professor he is, Wilson connects many of the actions to history, philosophy, literature, the sciences and so on. If you don’t end up weirder in the best ways from sniffing books or inventing new curse words, you’ll at least have gleaned some solid knowledge along the way.

Set up the perfect gourd-themed tablescape, photograph it like a pro, and then invite all your weirdest friends over to partake of autumn’s bounty. If this sounds like your definition of a good time, read on.
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 Everything, Beautiful

In a world unspeakably darkened by crisis, it might seem trifling to even think about appreciating, cultivating or devoting our attention to beauty. Focusing on beauty might even read as an act of oblivious privilege. But perhaps a fuller contemplation of what beauty is, can be and has been, and what it can mean in our everyday lives, is in fact one step toward repairing massive-scale damage. Writer and illustrator Ella Frances Sanders believes it is. In Everything, Beautiful, she envisions learning to see beauty as a curative, even redemptive process, “like putting a delicate, very broken vase back together.” No matter how broken our world, it is nevertheless full of “tiny, beautiful things,” she writes. “Some are so invisible or silent that you may never see or understand them, but they are there.” Through text, illustration and guided prompts, Sanders upends and expands our notions of beauty and urges us to notice the ingredients for beauty that are all around us, such as “light, slowness, and the kind of air temperatures that feel like honey.”

Lost Places

I live in a boomtown where every old structure seems to either meet the wrecking ball or get a second life via adaptive reuse. Paging through the images in Lost Places, I’m swept into another world, one where the vestiges of America’s past are left, silent and uninhabited, to be transformed by weather and time. Heribert Niehues’ photographs of abandoned cars, houses, gas stations and other structures tell a story about our country’s past. They are also suffused with mystery: What lives did these places once contain? Who last passed through these doors? Scenes of decaying diner interiors are among the spookiest, with guests’ checks, condiment containers and fry baskets left behind. Car buffs will enjoy Niehues’ many images of rusted-out, early- to mid-20th-century models. Many of the abandoned edifices captured here fell victim to the interstate system when it rerouted travel in the 1950s and ’60; one wonders what of our present might be left behind a century from now, as climate change remaps the landscape.

Forever Beirut

Forever Beirut, a cookbook with accompanying essays and stunning photographs, was conceptualized by Barbara Abdeni Massaad as a way to help her beloved home country in the aftermath of a terrible 2020 explosion at the port of Beirut. In response to disaster and economic collapse, the book passionately preserves the treasures of Beirut’s culinary heritage, with recipes for favorites such as kibbeh, a dish of ground lamb, beef or vegetables kneaded together with bulgur; man’oushe, a traditional flatbread; mezze, small dishes served together such as chickpeas and yogurt; and semolina cake. This is the stuff of my culinary dreams: food that is aromatically spiced, uncomplicated and yet bursting with flavor, served to the reader within a deep, loving sociocultural context.

Look a little closer, and you’ll find beauty lurking in unexpected places. The three books in this month’s lifestyles column will help you spot it.
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★ Edible Plants

In Edible Plants, Jimmy W. Fike takes native North American plant specimens—such as dandelion, rocket, sassafras, spicebush and pawpaw—out of their natural surroundings and meticulously digitally photographs them against black backdrops. In each image, the stark contrast makes visible the magical potency and potential of these common living things, many of which are often dismissed as weeds. Fike colorizes the edible portions of each plant, while the inedible parts are kept a delicate, even eerie gray. These striking photographs seek to inform, similar to the horticultural photography and illustrations of eras past, perhaps making foragers of us all. But what’s more, they are painstakingly beautiful. This book would make an impressive gift for the naturalist in your life.

Cats & Books

How can we not give a shoutout to Cats & Books, a slim-and-trim, adorable celebration of felines sprawled amid TBR piles and perched on bookshelves? This is a hashtag-to-print project: The photos are crowdsourced from Instagram users worldwide who tagged their photos #CatsandBooks. Now compiled in print, short captions give glimpses of these kitties’ personalities. For example, George from Germany “is a gentle soul and the best office buddy one could ask for.” (Sweet George is shown with a paw flung possessively over a copy of Sally Rooney’s Normal People.) Any person who loves cats and also loves books obviously needs to own this small treasure.

Things You Can Do

Last night at dinner, my daughter complained about the absence of meat in her tacos, which led to a discussion of sustainable eating. She didn’t grasp the connection between a carnivorous diet and climate change, so I brought to the table Things You Can Do and read from Chapter 3, “A Climate-Friendly Diet.” I daresay I got through to her, and I imagine New York Times journalist Eduardo Garcia’s compact, well-sourced guide to fighting climate change and reducing waste will continue to help us play our small but mighty part. Grounded in science, this approachable book offers a 360-degree view of the causes and effects of a warming planet, from reliance on coal to the excesses of modern life, including the overuse of air conditioning, increased meat consumption, car culture and much more. I for one am glad to have this resource, rounded out by beautiful watercolor and gouache illustrations by Sara Boccaccini Meadows, at my fingertips for family meals and beyond.

The natural world and all of its delicate delights take center stage in this month’s roundup of the best and most beautiful lifestyles books.

Thumbing through a beautifully designed coffee-table book is a sure way to provoke a love of photography. Just in time for the holidays, here are three gorgeous photo books that are sure to please the art or nature lover on your list—and perhaps you can keep one for yourself, too.

Shop Cats of China

Cats have charmed and fascinated humans for millennia. From ancient Egypt to modern times, cats have been depicted in art, mummified in tombs and even immortalized by the popular social media account @bodegacatsofinstagram. In Shop Cats of China, Marcel Heijnen takes readers on a photographic tour of China’s many retail shops, the people who run them—and the furry loiterers who clearly know they’re the stars of the show.

Equal parts street photography, cat portraiture and whimsical poetry, Shop Cats of China is much more than cute pictures of cats. The street scenes in this book, sometimes languid and colorful, sometimes kinetic and full of city life, are lovingly punctuated with haiku and cat stories (written by Ian Row) that add a layer of sweetness and humor to each image. A man pours tea into cups while a relaxed white cat looks directly at the camera and wonders if he’s invited. Red seafood bins surround an orange cat who, ironically, doesn’t like seafood. A spotted cat sits atop a bicycle and waits for a friend. These scenes and others will delight and entertain anyone who is fascinated by the relationship between humans and their cats, while the surrounding textures and colors offer a slice of Chinese shop culture and street life.

Birds

Tim Flach is a world-class nature photographer with the heart of a painter. His new book, Birds, offers a unique and up-close view of his avant-garde wildlife photography. The glossy pages full of shockingly sharp images show many elegant and rare birds, from songbirds and parrots at rest, to raptors and birds of paradise in flight. Feathers look like landscapes, beaks glisten like gold and onyx, and the birds’ elegant postures make them all look like royalty. The bright colors are so beautiful that they seem almost unnatural, while the details look real enough that you could reach out and touch them. Full of personality and exquisite artistry, Birds will mesmerize nature lovers with its compassion and profound beauty.

Night on Earth

Though it’s normally hidden under the cover of darkness, the world can look magical at night, as photographer Art Wolfe reveals in his remarkable new book. One of the first images in Night on Earth is a stunning, almost overwhelming photograph of Mount Etna in Sicily, erupting purple ash. A perfectly round moon peeks out from behind the plumes of dangerous-looking dark smoke as pink, red and blue clouds dance around in the background of the night sky. It’s a compelling shot to start this dazzling collection, which is filled with impressive images.

To capture these cinematic nightscapes, Wolfe traveled to all seven continents and photographed starry skies, animals, humans, natural scenery and cities. The result is an assemblage of unusual sights that occur while most people are asleep—including black rhinoceroses rambling through Etosha National Park in Namibia, fishermen on stilts in Myanmar, late-night commuters in Tokyo, penguins ambling on the shores of an island in the Atlantic Ocean and an offering floating on the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. Organized into helpful chapters, such as “Stars and Shadows” and “The Creatures of the Night,” these 250 pages of vibrant color photographs will wow anyone who’s curious about the mysteries that unfold from dusk until dawn.

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Thumbing through these beautifully designed coffee-table books is a sure way to inspire a love of photography.

Mother’s Day is coming up, and these books are great for those who want to give or receive something more exciting than a greeting card. Memoirs about unconventional moms, artistic explorations of the mother-child bond and a new take on midlife make excellent food for thought—and crafting and design guides will inspire new creativity. These books celebrate motherhood in its many guises and, no matter what kind of mother you have (or are), offer something for everyone.

Ayelet Waldman, author of the Mommy-Track Mysteries series and two novels, is also known for her essays, including a New York Times piece in which she said she loved her husband more than her children. In a subsequent “Oprah” appearance, she emphasized that her love for husband Michael Chabon doesn’t negate her love for her children and that it’s OK to find motherhood frustrating and guilt-inducing. In Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, Waldman calls for an end to unreasonable “supermom” expectations via well-written essays framed with political and historical context. While her style may be too over-the-top for some, she asks an important question: “Can’t we just try to give each other a break?”

Dreams from their mothers
In Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way, Ruth Reichl, memoirist and editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, reveals that, the year her late mother would’ve turned 100, she decided to open a box of her mother’s diaries and letters. Reichl felt she had to, as recompense for using oft-hilarious stories about her mother (so-called “Mim Tales”) in her books. The result is a finely crafted recounting of her mother’s struggles as a woman who, although smart and accomplished, felt marriage was the only road to being acceptable. Nonetheless, Reichl writes, “Mom showed me that it is never too late to find out how to [be happy].”

Hollywood agent Sam Haskell grew up in Mississippi, where his mother Mary’s guidance laid the foundation for his entertainment career. Promises I Made My Mother, with a foreword by Ray Romano (one of Haskell’s clients), includes chapters based on her advice, including “Always Seek Understanding” and “(Don’t Be Afraid to) Stand in the Light.” It worked: Haskell went from the mailroom to Worldwide Head of TV at William Morris and created the “Mississippi Rising” benefit for Hurricane Katrina survivors, building strong relationships all the while.

Here’s looking at her
From New Jersey to Mumbai, LIFE with Mother captures all sorts of moments in motherhood. This photographic tribute offers images of mothers and children at play, on the way to school, at milestone ceremonies and more. Famous moms (including Shirley MacLaine and Diana, Princess of Wales) share the pages with not-so-famous ones, and text and quotes add dimension. Readers will smile at the book’s final, hopeful image: Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha, exuberant, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

The Artist’s Mother: The Greatest Painters Pay Tribute to the Women Who Rocked Their Cradles takes a fine-art-inspired approach to the mother-child bond. National Book Award winner and New Yorker staff writer Judith Thurman notes in the introduction, “A mother’s gift is, ultimately, the example of steady, impartial discernment that each of us needs to create a self-portrait. And in whatever style they painted their mothers, the artists on these pages gratefully returned that deep gaze.” Indeed, these portraits—a museum-worthy collection including works by Constable, Picasso, Kahlo, Cassatt, Warhol, and, of course, Whistler—can only be the result of astute observation. Each entry includes insight about the painters’ and mothers’ lives, too.

Like a new woman
“Are you really going out like that?” is a question no one enjoys hearing. Longtime stylist Sherrie Mathieson is here to help with Steal This Style: Mothers and Daughters Swap Wardrobe Secrets. The “Never Cool” images are groan-inducing, but the “Forever Cool” photos depict women who look stylish and comfortable. Mathieson’s voice is friendly and respectful, and she honors the women’s taste by, say, preserving a jacket-shape but recommending a different color. This is a useful guide for women who want a clothing makeover.

For a full life makeover, Suzanne Braun Levine recommends setting new goals and enjoying one’s “second adulthood” in 50 is the New Fifty: 10 Life Lessons for Women in Second Adulthood. As the first managing editor of Ms. and a contributing editor to More, Levine knows her topic. She writes of the Fertile Void (a sort of emotional menopause) and Horizontal Role Models (women who have been there, done that) as important aspects of this exciting time. These terms explain commonalities among women, and the 10 lessons provide ways to consider and change individual situations. 50 is the New Fifty is an illuminating read for women of all ages.

Hi, Mom!
Doree Shafrir and Jessica Grose saw comedy in maternal email and text messages and started PostcardsFromYoMomma.com; two weeks later, the site had 100,000 unique visitors. The site is going strong, and now there’s a book based on the concept. Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Messages From Home contains 200 missives in categories like “I Do Actually Like Your Hair!” and “I Hope You Have a Hat With Ears.” The emails are a hoot, ranging from sex-related revelations to musings on recipes. A fun read for mom-email recipients and those who send them.

For designing mothers
The latest book from the Martha Stewart Living team is a DIYer’s delight. From beading to tin-punching, Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts: An A-Z Guide with Detailed Instructions and Endless Inspiration means readers will never again want for a project. Each topic (e.g., Botanical Pressing) includes a history of the craft, descriptions of tools and supplies, and projects (autumn-leaf curtain, pansy coasters, seaweed cards). Photos offer inspiration, and mini-tutorials should help prevent missteps. A crafting-table must-have.
Mothers-to-be can harness the nesting instinct with the aptly named Feathering the Nest: Tracy Hutson’s Earth-Friendly Guide to Decorating Your Baby’s Room by “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” design star Tracy Hutson. Mouth-watering photos of wonderfully appointed rooms are accompanied by expert advice on everything from refinishing furniture to choosing a mattress. There are how-tos, color palettes and sourcing details for four styles (vintage, contemporary, traditional and international). Eco-friendly options are on-point, and the final chapter—featuring the nursery in Hutson’s home—demonstrates that her book will help readers create a space that’s both kind to the Earth and welcoming to baby.

Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina.

Mother’s Day is coming up, and these books are great for those who want to give or receive something more exciting than a greeting card. Memoirs about unconventional moms, artistic explorations of the mother-child bond and a new take on midlife make excellent food for thought—and crafting and design guides will inspire new creativity. These […]

Though pointing, clicking and sharing by people of all ages and skill levels has never been easier or quicker, thanks to the digital technology available these days, it’s still a wonderful thing to experience works by an accomplished artist, to page through a large-format book featuring images by someone who has made it their vocation to convey an emotion or capture something new or unexpected, beautiful or thought-provoking—whether in paint or on film. This quartet of coffee-table books offers the opportunity to take just that sort of foray into the world of visual art.

Photorealism, revisited
Norman Rockwell’s paintings—vibrant slice-of-life creations—are essential to any study of American pop culture. But while Rockwell’s illustrative talents are well-known, an important aspect of his process is perhaps less so: any paintings done from 1930 on were first photographs.

Ron Schick’s Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera is filled with images of the people and places that served as inspiration (and models) for the artist’s work. Many of those models were friends and neighbors; it’s fun to spot Rockwell himself mugging for the camera here and there, too. Thoughtful, detailed text by Schick provides fascinating, often humorous behind-the-scenes tidbits about each photo-turned-painting, plus information about everything from his advertising clients to lighting techniques. For example, when creating “Maternity Waiting Room, 1946,” Rockwell couldn’t find sufficiently stressed-out models, so he visited a Manhattan ad agency, where he found plenty of anxiety-ridden men to photograph.

Paging through Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera is a smile-inciting, nostalgia-inducing experience that surely will inspire renewed admiration for Rockwell’s skill: the finished works are all the more realistic when viewed in concert with their photo counterparts.

An anglophile’s delight
Mary Miers, a writer who specializes in architecture and formerly worked in the field of architectural conservation, puts her experience and expertise to excellent use in The English Country House: From the Archives of Country Life. The book is a feast of photos, and a tribute to the fine homes that have been featured in Country Life, a U.K.-based magazine that’s been published since 1897. The 400-plus images of 62 homes ranging from medieval castles to modern mansions frequently offer close-up shots of sumptuous details. For example, the Claydon House in Buckinghamshire is a Rococo delight, complete with carved chimney-pieces and colorful friezes. East Barsham Manor, in Norfolk, is a castle of molded brick, complete with gatehouse and three-story tower. And then there’s Baggy House in Devon, a cliff-top villa that’s thoroughly modern. Essays by British architectural historians provide additional detail and help to make this book a fine reading and viewing experience for aficionados of design, architecture, history, the U.K., the art of photography or some combination of the above. The English Country House is a gorgeous tour that’s sure to inspire craving for a hot cuppa.

An extraordinary museum tour
In celebration of the reopening of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, Medieval and Renaissance Art: People and Possessions, by V&A curators Glyn Davies and Kirstin Kennedy, takes readers on a personal tour of the museum’s objects and role in European art and history. The book’s chapters include Makers and Markets (about the working and trading conditions for artists in medieval and Renaissance Europe), Devotion and Display (religious objects and rituals) and People and Possessions (weaponry, music, “self-expression through ownership”). There are colorful photos on nearly every page, many of them close-ups; the ones in the Ornaments section are particularly fascinating in terms of opulence and detail.

Those who have visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London will surely find this a worthy souvenir of a visually thrilling trip through art and history; those who haven’t will get a rare opportunity to live with the museum’s pieces and scrutinize them to their hearts’ content.

A portrait of the maritime artist
John Singer Sargent, a painter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is best known for his portraits, but as Richard Ormond explains in the introduction to Sargent and the Sea, written with Sarah Cash, his marine-life and seascape paintings have until recently been just a “forgotten episode of Sargent’s art.” When he was in his late teens and early 20s, the artist produced a number of works—in oil, charcoal and watercolor—depicting the sea, ships and other maritime topics: “scenes from the seashore and rustic subjects from the countryside.” Sargent and the Sea was conceived and created in concert with a Corcoran Gallery of Art exhibit that will travel to Houston and London in 2010. Paging through this handsome volume gives readers the opportunity to observe and experience Sargent’s evolution as an artist and a person, to read and marvel as his detailed charcoal renderings of ships give way to lushly colorful paintings of children at the beach and languorous nudes—a fascinating preview of the style and subjects to come.

Linda M. Castellitto takes (amateur) photos in North Carolina.

Though pointing, clicking and sharing by people of all ages and skill levels has never been easier or quicker, thanks to the digital technology available these days, it’s still a wonderful thing to experience works by an accomplished artist, to page through a large-format book featuring images by someone who has made it their vocation […]
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My coffee table isn’t complete without a stack of beautiful photography books to savor. Here are some wonderful choices for your own stack, all bound to keep family and friends entertained for hours. Just a warning: You may want to throw in an extra coffee table as well.

PRESIDENTIAL PORTRAITS
I’m certain that Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House will be popular with my brothers, both of whom shook hands with JFK when they were boys. Although I wasn’t born in time to offer my hand, I never tire of the Kennedy saga.

Published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK’s election, this poignant book contains the photos of Cecil Stoughton, the first official White House photographer (many have never been previously published). Here, for example, is Jackie reading aboard the presidential yacht, while young Caroline snoozes on a blanket at her feet.

There are political as well as intimate photos: Jackie and the children coloring Easter eggs at a kitchen table; Caroline cartwheeling through the Oval Office; the Kennedys welcoming the president of India to a White House state dinner; John Jr. and his father at Arlington Cemetery, only 11 days before the assassination. The photos are arranged chronologically, with short commentary and captions by historian Richard Reeves. As a result, it’s possible to flip through and get a real sense of the Camelot story as it marches toward its tragic end. As a bonus, a DVD is included that contains Stoughton’s film footage, in both color and black and white.

If you’re looking for a gift bundle, a natural add-on is The President’s Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office. This book, a companion to a PBS TV special, covers everything from early daguerreotypes of John Quincy Adams to modern views of the Obamas wearing 3-D glasses and Sasha sneaking up on her father in the Oval Office.

Here you’ll see a variety of amusing scenes over the years, including a barefoot Betty Ford dancing on an immense Cabinet Room table. These photos are intimate, humanizing glimpses of our First Families. Mixed with ordinary fun are the momentous moments, including the assassination attempt on Reagan and the horrific hours of 9/11.

Obama’s photographer Peter Souza explains what his job is like day-to-day, hour-to-hour. Author and filmmaker John Bredar also sheds light on memorable moments from previous White House photographers, including David Hume Kennerly, who grew particularly close to the Ford family and had open access—as shown by a shot of President Ford in his PJs during an early morning meeting.

THROUGH THE YEARS
Another wonderful historic time capsule is the weighty book Decade, a global photographic journey from 2000 to the present, covering everything from pop culture to politics. This book reminds me of the Life magazine photo collection books I adored as a teenager, sealing iconic photos as well as historical perspective into my brain. The scope of this book is particularly broad and intriguing, with each compelling photo immediately grabbing one’s attention.

Decade is also particularly well designed. While heavy, its 10-inch-square size makes it easy to hold, but leaves plenty of room for the photos to have full visual impact. Each year begins with a one-page overview, and each photo has its own one-line caption, along with a short paragraph containing more information.

Here’s a quick sample of the myriad of subjects you’ll encounter: a judge peering through a magnifying glass at a Florida ballot from the controversial 2000 presidential election; a shot from the set of the HBO series The Wire; a disintegrating 500-billion-ton ice sheet in Antarctica; bloody bystanders at the bombing in Mumbai, India; Chinese astronauts being lauded back on Earth after making China’s first space walk. Decade is a grand photographic stroll around the globe and through the years.

ALL THE WORLD
A stroll of a different sort awaits in The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World. With 817 images covering 229 countries, this is a big book, so be prepared to settle into your traveling armchair.

Each country has its own spread, complete with a paragraph introduction, and added information about the best time of the year to visit, top things to see, top things to do, trademarks (what the country is known for), and a final random fun fact. Who knew, for example, that yak tails from Tibet were once used to make Father Christmas beards?

Also helpful is a short reference section for each country called “Getting Under the Skin,” listing a related book, music, film, native dish and drink. Finally, there’s a phrase for greeting someone in the native language of each country. You’ll definitely have fun planning your bucket list with this big, gorgeous book.

ON THE MOVE
If you’d prefer to watch animals travel instead, sit down with Great Migrations, a companion book to a National Geographic Channel “global television event,” which premiered in November. Although migration is hardly a new subject, it remains endlessly fascinating, and this book is filled with the stunning photographs that National Geographic is known for. This volume also addresses how such issues as changing global conditions and habitat loss are affecting migration.

We see, for instance, rare pronghorns darting through traffic and trying to cross rangeland fences in northwestern Wyoming. Great Migrations tackles everything from ants to elephants, and even sea life—including Earth’s largest fish, the whale shark. The movement and images of all of these creatures is no less than breathtaking, and writer K.M. Kostyal brings all of the images into perspective with excellent accompanying text.

NATURAL LANDMARKS
Nature lovers will also relish Ansel Adams in the National Parks, filled with images from this master photographer’s visits to more than 40 parks. The volume was edited by Andrea G. Stillman, who worked for Adams in the 1970s, and 50 of the 225 photos have never been published. Insightful essays highlight interesting tidbits, including the fact that Adams’ 13-year-old son stepped into a hot pool during one photography session at Yellowstone and sustained first- and second-degree burns on his leg. Still, it is Adams’ striking photos of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and other national parks that are the real draw here—iconic photos of the wilderness he championed.
 

My coffee table isn’t complete without a stack of beautiful photography books to savor. Here are some wonderful choices for your own stack, all bound to keep family and friends entertained for hours. Just a warning: You may want to throw in an extra coffee table as well. PRESIDENTIAL PORTRAITS I’m certain that Portrait of […]

Whether through letters, lyrics or rare photos, a number of this season’s books capture the magic of the music we love so much.

Acclaimed Beatles biographer Hunter Davies has gathered, for the first time, all of John Lennon’s correspondence in a groundbreaking collection. The John Lennon Letters, published on what would have been Lennon’s 72nd birthday, includes almost 300 letters, notes, doodles, handwritten Beatles set lists, grocery lists and lyrics to never-recorded songs. Ranging from 1951 to Lennon’s reclusive years with Yoko Ono in the late 1970s, this fascinating volume contains thank-you notes to family and friends; love notes to Cynthia, his first wife (including a homemade card that celebrates their first Christmas together); a page from a homemade book, A Treasury of Art and Poetry, that he wrote when he was 11; and letters to record executives and other Beatles. With affection and insight, Davies provides elegant introductions to each of the book’s sections, setting each of the items into the fuller context of Lennon’s life and times.

SHINE A LIGHT

Fifty years after they kicked off their rollicking and raucous career at The Marquee Club in London, the Rolling Stones continue to prance across stages with their hard-driving anthems celebrating sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. The band marks the anniversary with The Rolling Stones 50, by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood. More than 1,000 illustrations from the archives of the Daily Mirror chronicle now-legendary events in the Stones’ career—from the band’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show to the 1969 concert at the Altamont Speedway. Captions from band members accompany the photographs; in a concert photo of the Stones in the Brighton Ballroom in 1964, packed with fans screaming, fainting and fist-fighting, Jagger remarks that “it was getting to be the same old thing, night after night. There was every chance that someone would get seriously hurt if this kept up.” Because it contains many rare and never-before-seen photos, this essential collection is a perfect gift from the Stones to their fans.

ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?

An entire generation of guitarists grew up imitating Jimi Hendrix’s blazing guitar solos. Yet, as Hendrix’s sister, Janie, illustrates so forcefully in her lovingly crafted collection, Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Lyric Book, Hendrix excelled as much at lyrics as he did at licks. Published in time for what would have been Hendrix’s 70th birthday, this collection of handwritten lyrics, some scribbled on hotel stationery, offers powerful insights into Hendrix’s passionate imagination and lyrical genius. Photos accompany each song, bringing to life Hendrix’s enduring legacy and his ability, in his sister’s words, to build a “bridge from past to present to future.”

Whether through letters, lyrics or rare photos, a number of this season’s books capture the magic of the music we love so much. Acclaimed Beatles biographer Hunter Davies has gathered, for the first time, all of John Lennon’s correspondence in a groundbreaking collection. The John Lennon Letters, published on what would have been Lennon’s 72nd […]

Hitting the shelves this fall are several new biographies and autobiographies of rock, country and jazz stars that reveal never-before-heard refrains of personal anguish, as well as triumph.

In 1969, Crosby, Stills & Nash emerged as a supergroup, showcasing sweet harmonies and tight arrangements. One year later, Neil Young joined the band, and the quartet rocketed to superstardom on the strength of Graham Nash’s song “Teach Your Children.” Behind the scenes, though, life wasn’t so harmonious. In his honest and well-crafted memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, Nash reveals the fierce struggles between Stills’ and Young’s titanic egos that eventually destroyed the group (although they have never officially broken up). With the lyrical flights of his best songs (“Carrie Anne,” “Our House,” “Chicago”), Nash carries readers on a journey from his often difficult childhood in the industrial north of England and the formation with Allan Clarke of the band that eventually became the Hollies, to his encounters with Mama Cass Elliot (who introduced him to David Crosby), Joni Mitchell, the Everly Brothers and Bob Dylan. While Nash holds back little, unveiling his disappointments with his own work and that of others, his love of songwriting and harmony remains: “I am a complete slave to the muse of music.”

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

While Nash tells his own story in his own words, Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant told journalist Paul Rees that he had no intention of writing a memoir because it was “too early in his career to do so.” Instead, Plant allowed Rees to have unparalleled access to his closest friends and associates to tell the story in Robert Plant: A Life. Rees chronicles Plant’s childhood as the son of an engineer in England’s industrial Midlands, where he would often hide behind the sofa and pretend to be Elvis. Deeply influenced by the blues (in particular the music of Robert Johnson), Plant began singing with local bands around Birmingham and left home at 17 to pursue a music career. But it was not until he teamed with Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page in 1968 that his ascension to rock-god status truly began. A few months later, after the band’s name was changed to Led Zeppelin, their rapid rise to fame exceeded even Plant’s wildest expectations. Rees traces the successes and excesses of Led Zeppelin, from limos, groupies and sudden wealth to plagiarism charges and “poisonous” reviews. He also explores Plant’s recent work, including his acclaimed collaboration with bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss. Plant comes across as a confident but agreeable superstar, a “preening peacock” whose long locks and powerful voice secured his place in the rock pantheon.

HELLO, I’M JOHNNY CASH

Although Johnny Cash told his own story on at least two occasions—in Man in Black (1975) and, with Patrick Carr, Cash: The Autobiography (1997)—he nevertheless remains an enigmatic figure whose life story is surrounded by as much legend as truth. Until now. Drawing on previously unpublished interviews with Cash as well as previously unseen materials from the singer’s inner circle, former L.A. Times music critic Robert Hilburn gives us the definitive biography of the Man in Black in Johnny Cash: The Life. In intimate detail, Hilburn—the only music journalist at Cash’s legendary Folsom Prison concert in 1968—elegantly traces the contours of Cash’s life and career. After a hardscrabble childhood in Dyess, Arkansas, Cash built on his early love of music and made insistent attempts to get Sam Phillips’ attention at Sun Records. Hilburn chronicles Cash’s early hits such as “Folsom Prison Blues,” his foray into television in the late 1960s with “The Johnny Cash Show,” his failed first marriage and his deep love for June Carter, as well as his drug addictions. Most importantly, Hilburn compiles an exhaustive record of Cash’s enduring contributions as a songwriter and singer to both rock and country music.

TAKE THE “A” TRAIN

In the almost 40 years since his death, Duke Ellington has remained an enigmatic figure, even as his reputation as one our greatest and most culturally prominent orchestra leaders and jazz composers continues to grow. Following his acclaimed biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops, culture critic Terry Teachout draws on candid unpublished interviews with Ellington, oral histories of the orchestra leader and his times, and other little-known primary sources to tell a mesmerizing story in Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. Teachout follows Ellington from his childhood in Washington—where he gained his name “Duke” because of his stylish dress—and the first band he formed at 20, to his move to Harlem at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance and his emotional distance from family and friends for the sake of composing his music. Teachout traces Ellington’s deep influence on various cultural movements, from the Harlem Renaissance to the Duke’s own renaissance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. Teachout brings Ellington to life in this richly detailed and engrossing biography.

OLD FRIENDS

We often remember our favorite album covers and photos of our favorite musicians as much as their music. For more than four decades, Columbia Records staff photographer Don Hunstein snapped memorable shots of figures as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone, Miles Davis, Leonard Bernstein, Mitch Miller, Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan, catching rare private moments of public lives. A collection of gorgeous, never-before-seen photos from the Columbia Records archive, Keeping Time: The Photographs of Don Hunstein illustrates Hunstein’s ability to capture artists relaxing and being themselves. Photos of Johnny Cash on his family’s farm in 1959, a weary Duke Ellington talking to Langston Hughes at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, and Cassius Clay and Sam Cooke teaming up in the recording studio in 1964 are just a few of the gems included here. In the words of New York Times music writer Jon Pareles, who contributes the book’s brief text, Keeping Time is “a quietly revealing close-up of artists who graced and transfigured the twentieth century.”

Hitting the shelves this fall are several new biographies and autobiographies of rock, country and jazz stars that reveal never-before-heard refrains of personal anguish, as well as triumph. In 1969, Crosby, Stills & Nash emerged as a supergroup, showcasing sweet harmonies and tight arrangements. One year later, Neil Young joined the band, and the quartet […]
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If you’re reading BookPage, it’s a safe bet that at least someone on your holiday shopping list will be unwrapping a book this season, but it can be hard to match the perfect selection to its ideal reader. For your consideration, here are a few fascinating and quirky books that are sure to delight the right recipient.

Photographer Christopher Boffoli places tiny human statues amid food and creates a world unlike any other in Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food. Each photo is offset by a caption that’s funny, thoughtful or both. The cover shot of a woman using a push mower to cut lengthy strings of peel from an orange takes on emotional zing inside the book: “It was so like Patty: right idea, wrong execution.” On other pages, impatient commuters wait for a late bus on a stalk of celery, and tourists marvel at a Stonehenge made of Rice Krispies treats. Organized into six courses, from breakfast through dessert plus drinks and a snack, Big Appetites blends the creative spark of single-panel comics with sculpture and photography to create something new and lively. You’ll have cause to laugh and think, and almost surely do a double-take the next time you open the fridge.

VINTAGE PLAYTHINGS

As a kid did you obsessively save your allowance to spend it on My Little Pony accessories? Crack open a Magic 8-Ball to see if the fluid inside was Windex? Or were you obsessed with the board game Mousetrap and its infuriatingly breakdown-prone 3-D board? If any of this rings a bell, you’re going to love Toy Time!. Author Christopher “The Toy Guy” Byrne highlights toys from the 1950s through the ’80s, looking at how they worked, what drove their popularity, and where they ended up. Many, from Crayola crayons to Play-Doh, LEGO blocks and Silly Putty, have endured and are still beloved. Some toys fell out of favor due to user injuries that may have been real, but might also have been the stuff of urban legend. While plastic “clackers” likely did cause a number of bruises, Byrne notes that there are still places to buy them online. (He covers himself by adding, “If you go there, you’re on your own.”) The gorgeous layout and glossy photos on retro pastel backdrops make every page pop, and Byrne’s thorough research and gum-snapping take on these treasures make for a fun time. Read it to your G.I. Joes on a frosty afternoon while baking something tiny in your Easy-Bake Oven.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

The Secret Museum takes readers into museums the world over, but not the parts that are open to the public. The treasures on display here are archived out of public view, but author Molly Oldfield gained access and got the skinny on these “secret” items. A Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum (calfskin) in New York City’s Morgan Library & Museum seems a sensible thing to keep out of harm’s way, but why is the New York Public Library bogarting a letter opener made from the paw of Charles Dickens’ cat? Oldfield, host of the BBC program “QI” (Quite Interesting), turns to the experts to place these items in historical context. As a result, The Secret Museum is chockablock with fun facts and trivia about everything from native Brazilian religious customs to Queen Victoria’s dental fetish. It’s a world tour and gazetteer in one, and a fine place to get lost for a day or two.

BURNING QUESTIONS

Would you rather read a book that educates and entertains, or one that provokes serious contemplation? If the latter is your cup of tea, here’s good news: The Book of Questions is back, in a revised and updated edition. The basic format’s the same—it’s literally a book with a question on each page—but the ethics and morals probed now reflect the impact technology has had in the 25 years since the book’s first appearance. Author Gregory Stock includes follow-ups below some questions for deeper rumination; after asking about the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done, there’s this: “Do you wish you’d been more or less cautious in your life?” The Book of Questions is a quick icebreaker when passed among new friends, but it can also take established relationships much deeper. You can read the book in order, tackling a question each day, or simply open at random and see where it leads you.

If you’re reading BookPage, it’s a safe bet that at least someone on your holiday shopping list will be unwrapping a book this season, but it can be hard to match the perfect selection to its ideal reader. For your consideration, here are a few fascinating and quirky books that are sure to delight the […]

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Carter Sickels’ The Prettiest Star imagines a difficult prodigal son homecoming. It’s 1986, and Brian Jackson has returned to his small southern Ohio hometown. Six years before, Brian left home for New York City, where he found friends, a measure of acceptance and love with his partner, Shawn. Now Brian is 24 and ill with late-stage AIDS. He’s also alone; Shawn has already died, isolated in a hospital ward. 

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