November 2008

Know it all

By Andrew Zuckerman
By Liu Heung Shing
By Patrick Bonneville
By Norma Stephens
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Life lessons, love, work, peace and the future of our precious planet: these are the subjects under idiosyncratic discussion by 50 notable individuals interviewed in writer/photographer Andrew Zuckerman's sublime, engaging book Wisdom, which is accompanied by a DVD of the author's documentary of the same name. Zuckerman, who says he has always enjoyed meeting accomplished older people spent months traveling the globe to glean words of wisdom from an eclectic, over – age – 65 group of luminaries, which includes Nelson Mandela, Kris Kristofferson, Chinua Achebe, Judi Dench, Jane Goodall, Andrew Wyeth, Billy Connolly, Vaclav Havel and Clint Eastwood.

For each interview, the author composed seven original questions, asking for candid thoughts on the definition and nature of wisdom and human life here on Earth.

The far-ranging, pointed and often surprising responses, along with dramatic color photographic portraits of the interviewees, make for a hope-filled, inspirational book for all generations, as evidenced by this graceful and succinct contribution from Nelson Mandela: "A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."

The New York Times, that dominant icon of the Fourth Estate, is celebrated in all its page-one glory in The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages, 1851-2008. This is a heavyweight knockout of a book, a reprinted compilation of more than 300 front pages organized into 16 historical eras—from the Civil War (one notable, oddly low-key headline from September 1862 touts Lincoln's controversial Emancipation Proclamation by stating "Highly Important: A Degree of Emancipation") to the Cold War to our post-9/11 times of uncertainty.

This amazing encyclopedia of journalism is finely enhanced by pertinent, reflective essays written by Times staffers such as William Safire, William Grimes, Gail Collins and Thomas L. Friedman. From its witty, trenchant opening by Times executive editor Bill Keller to the final front-page weigh-in on the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal, much of the news "that's fit to print" is here, along with a magnifying glass (thankfully) and a three-DVD set of all the Times front pages, with indexing and online links to complete articles. The featured front pages have been selected with significant historical insight and artfully arranged to make an exceptional reference for aficionados of journalism, history and world affairs. A newspaper's front page is, by design, an eclectic and far – ranging mix of stories and is, says Keller, "imperfect, evolving and quite possibly endangered."

This extraordinary, eye-popping collection of reportage may, at least for now, ensure its survival.

Though the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games have passed, the world still has its collective eye on China. China: Portrait of a Country compiled by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Liu Heung Shing, and with thoughtful, intelligently nuanced essays on Chinese history and photography by journalist James Kynge and art critic Karen Smith, focuses on an often mysterious and complex culture. This groundbreaking photographic book relays a stunning visual story of the birth and growth of modern China, from 1949 to present day, in photos from 88 Chinese photographers (along with their individual biographies), including those by Chairman Mao's personal photographer, Hou Bo. From formalized propaganda shots and portraits of Party leaders to the candid recordings of daily life in cities and rural regions, China offers readers incredible insight into the country's physical, emotional and spiritual infrastructures, an intimate perspective ably enhanced by cogent, well-researched captions and quotes from Chinese intellectuals and artists, as well as international historians, diplomats and academicians. The collected images are disturbing, memorable and moving—from the frame of carnage and crushed bicycles in Tiananmen Square, to a toddler exuberantly waving a copy of Mao's Quotations, to the quiet delight of four elderly women as they totter around the Forbidden City on tiny bound feet.

Emblazoned across the cover of Canadian artist and writer Patrick Bonneville's Timeless Earth: 400 of the World's Most Important Places are Kofi Annan's wise words: "We should emphasize what unites us much more than what divides us." This gorgeous book shows, in hundreds of pages of incomparable color photos, cogent fact and wake-up-call quotations, the absolute necessity of that statement. This is a book with sweeping breadth: it is a rallying call to support mankind's common heritage, as well as an atlas and guide to at least 400 UNESCO World Heritage sites, which are natural and cultural places vital to mankind. It is a virtual passport for the armchair globetrotter and an enticement to those who long to explore our planet.

Divided into three sections, "The Natural World," "Human Culture" and "The Modern World," Timeless Earth offers concise data about each site and its present state of preservation, accompanied by sumptuous photography that almost makes the text superfluous (almost). A maps section, which locates hundreds of World Heritage Sites, rounds out the volume. Timeless Earth represents an adventure that transports readers to wilderness preserves, parks and waterways, monuments, cities and mountain ranges from the Amazon to the Serengeti, from Versailles to Istanbul and back to the Rockies. As a peerless tour leader, this information-packed reference will not disappoint.

Remember that art history class you took in college? Well, if you're a bit fuzzy on your ancient artifacts, Florentine frescoes, Klee, Klimt or Kandinsky, pick up Art—and you'll need strong biceps to do it. This stupendous compendium explores everything to do with artistic expression: use of color, composition and medium; theory and technique; themes, schools and movements, artworks and artists. Kicked off by a small poetic essay by Ross King (Brunelleschi's Dome), a team of international art experts offers a crash course in art appreciation, then leads readers through six chronological sections (from prehistory to contemporary) devoted to pre-eminent artworks and artists. Chock-full of gorgeous color reproductions and images, helpful timelines, detailed close – ups, artists' biographies, and with histories and explanations written in clear, concise prose, Art is a standout book for any student or aficionado, a volume King aptly describes as "an admirable feat and a true joy."

Norma Stephens, longtime colleague of the late, legendary photographer Richard Avedon, knew well his love of performance, especially the theater. "He looked with a reverent, unsentimental eye at performers, always acknowledging the craft and the complexity," she says in Performance: Richard Avedon, a bold, intriguing archive of more than 200 portraits capturing the performers—actors and directors, musicians, comedians and dancers—who dominated 20th-century stage and screen.

This predominantly black-and-white collection of images includes many of Avedon's best – known photos, notably the stunning nude of dancer Rudolf Nureyev and the sexy-vampy headshot of Marilyn Monroe, but also features lesser-known photo galleries of theatrical performers, musicians and dancers exuberantly engaged in their art. Enlivened by personal recollections and memoi- style essays from critic John Lahr and artists Mike Nichols, Andre Gregory, Mitsuko Uchida and Twyla Tharp, this volume will help readers appreciate anew the carefully crafted underpinnings—Avedon's own brand of staging and, thus, performance—and psychological insight of this artist's work and photographic legacy.

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