BOND ON SET Filming Quantum of Solace, by Greg Williams, DK, 160 pages, $40
James Bond never was a man of many words, and nor is this book. With a text limited to a foreword, captions and an interview of actor Craig Daniels by the author-photographer, the rest is a visual treat of hundreds of pictures.
HORROR CINEMA Edited by Jonathan Penner and Steven Jay Schneider, Taschen, 192 pages, $32.99
From its familiar cover shot of a madly grinning Jack Nicholson in The Shining, shouting through a door he has just staved in with an ax, "Here's Johnny!," to its back-jacket image of another ax murderer, Joan Crawford, in Straitjacket, this is a history of horror films in the splendid visual style we have come to expect of this always interesting publisher. So, yes, here are the masters of the genre - Chaney, Karloff and Lugosi - but also those who only serve and entertain, the outrageous Herschell Gordon Lewis, the subversive Joe Dante. And of course, many arresting photos - and a few that may shock.
BAT-MANGA The Secret History of Batman in Japan, by Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear and Saul Ferris, translated by Anne Ishii and Chip Kidd, Pantheon, unpaginated, $69
Superstar book designer Kidd's version of Batman, Japanese-style, is a magnificent production. It may not be for everyone, but those who like it will like it a lot. Reading from right to left, as is the manga wont, this is a colourful and sumptuous collection of the winged avenger's Nipponese life, his adventures rendered in sumptuous sepia, with colour images sprinkled throughout. Unlike anything else you'll have seen. Quite a marvel (apologies to DC Comics).
WATCHING THE WATCHMEN By Dave Gibbons, Titan Books, unpaginated, $45
Dave Gibbons is the distinguished illustrator of what for many is the greatest graphic novel of all, Alan Moore's iconic Watchmen. This beautifully designed creation (by the ubiquitous Chip Kidd, with Mike Essl) allows fans to get up close and personal with the work as Gibbons offers access to his archives, preliminary sketches, discarded drawings, original character renderings and so much more. A must have for Watchmen watchers.
THE DC VAULT By Martin Pasko, Running Press, 192 pages, $52.50
"A Museum-in-a-Book," trumpets the cover of this extensive tribute to one of the fonts of comic bookdom. And it's not far off. That this is a very enjoyable compendium of the universe inhabited by Superman and his kin is just part of the fun. The real treat is in the reproductions of collectibles from the title vault: an early Batman mask, a Captain Marvel sticker, a Wonder Woman button, a cover reproduced from a 1940 Double Action Comics. For the kid who lives in all of us.
MARVEL CHRONICLE A Year by Year History Foreword by Stan Lee. Afterword by Joe Quesada, DK Publishing, unpaginated, $55
Complete with its own box and a cover sliced into the shape of an M, this profusely illustrated tale covers the Marvel comic-book empire from its start in 1939, through such titles as Millie the Model and Ringo Kid, to the 2006 saga of a civil war involving the Marvel superheroes and the 2007 death of Captain America. But it's the 1960s crop of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and similarly famous creations of writer-editor Stan Lee and his illustrators that give the history its heft.
THE DC COMICS ENCYCLOPEDIA The Definitive Guide to the Characters of the DC Universe By Scott Beatty, Robert Greenberger, Phil Jimenez and Dan Wallace, DK, 399 pages, $44
If you're a comic-book aficionado, think of this alphabetically organized update of a 2004 collection as one-stop shopping for details of DC superheroes and villains through the ages, from the classic Superman and Batman to the newer Nightwing (Batman's Robin all grown up) and villains such as King Shark. If you're a neophyte, consider this a richly illustrated guide to the minds of talented fantasists and the universe they have created from scratch.
STRANGE AND STRANGER The World of Steve Ditko By Blake Bell, Fantagraphics, 216 pages, $47.95
Steve Ditko is best known as the original artist behind Spider-Man and the mystical Dr. Strange in the Marvel comic books of the 1960s. Less familiar is his increasing obsession with the Objectivist philosophy of author Ayn Rand ( The Fountainhead), a preoccupation that diminished his later work and limited his commercial opportunities. Bell's impressive, balanced biography of the man and his work is accompanied by hundreds of illustrations from Ditko's career.
THE VERTIGO ENCYCLOPEDIA By Alex Irving, DK, 240 pages, $33
Swamp Thing, The Sandman, John Constantine: Hellblazer: Sure, it's dark and demonic, but you can't help but admire the fertile imaginations at work in this lavishly illustrated compendium of the characters and scenarios depicted in more than 200 titles - both one-shot publications and series - under DC Comics' Vertigo banner. A logical recipient for this fascinating book would be the comic-book guy (or gal) in your life, but even casual observers of the phantasmagorical might appreciate an escape into "the Sandman's dark dream."
ALBUM COVER ALBUM Edited by Storm Thorgerson and Roger Dean, Collins Design, 160 pages, $31.95
Hey, you with the iPod: Before MPs, there were CDs. Before CDs, there were cassettes and eight-tracks. Before that, there were record albums. Artists got very creative with album covers, possibly because in those days we had time to look at them. You might recognize some of their efforts if you have time to pick up the latest edition of this engrossing book, first issued in 1977.
THE CLASH Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon and the estate of Joe Strummer, Atlantic, 384 pages, $50
The Clash, unlike most punk rockers, who courted anarchy when they courted anything, embraced a coherent anti-authoritarian leftist ideology, beginning with their debut album, The Clash in London, in 1977. Their third album, London Calling, is an all-time classic. Although they were only together for a decade, they truly were an international phenom. This book recreates something of their energy and passion through interviews, posters, artwork and photos. The only thing missing is a soundtrack of their biggest hits.
THE BAND NAME BOOK By Noel Hudson, 336 pages, Boston Mills Press, $29.95
What's not to like about Secret Trial Five, The Whole Bolivian Army, Incredible Steel Erectors, Mink Jaguar, Furious George, Penguins With Shotguns, Gay Dad, Abdominal Cavity, Coach Said Not To, Saltwater Vampires, Kevorkian Death Cycle and The Men They Couldn't Shave? Actually, you'll find there's plenty not to like about such bands, but it comes in easily digestible snippets, making this an irresistible addition to any pop-culture library.
BLACK The History of a Color, by Michel Pastoureau, translated by Jody Gladding, Princeton University Press, 210 pages, $43.95
French popular art historian Pastoureau here tackles one of the most complex and interesting colours, the favourite of "priests and penitents, artists and ascetics, fashion designers and fascists." This social history is lavishly illustrated with paintings, movie stills, photo portraits and fashion shoots.
BARCELONA 1900 Edited by Teresa-M. Sala, Cornell University Press, 216 pages, $64.95
In the period from 1880 to 1910, Barcelona was one of the most culturally and artistically fertile places in the world, with impressive contributions in music, painting, sculpture, literature and architecture, including the exotic and visionary buildings from Antoni Gaudi, and elegant interiors in the modernista style, Barcelona's version of art nouveau. The work features considerable text and nearly 200 illustrations, many in full colour, and including historical photographs.
THE ART OF MANTUA Power and Patronage in the Renaissance, by Barbara Furlotti and Guido Rebecchini, translated by A. Lawrence Jenkens, Getty Publications, 278 pages, $94.95
Mantua, a small town on the Po River Valley, was the seat of power of the lordly Gonzaga family, who ruled it from the 14th to the 18th centuries, and whose vision - and money - turned it into one of the flourishing artistic centres of the Italian Renaissance. This meaty book covers the city's history and cultural legacy in considerable depth, and features as well dozens of paintings, maps, illustrations and photographs.
DUTCH SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY GENRE PAINTING Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution, by Wayne Franits, Yale University Press, 328 pages, $54
We've come to love the verisimilitude and everyday subject matter of 17th-century Dutch art as providing a window on the real world of the time. Now comes a study that shows how tradition, market pressure and political forces shaped its themes and styles, making it not so realistic after all. But never mind, you can enjoy the book and still hold to your belief that Vermeer's Milkmaid and his Lace-Maker once existed exactly as we see them in his art.
ART The Definitive Visual Guide, Ian Chivers, chief consultant, DK, 612 pages, $55
DK (Dorling Kindersley) is known for lavish tourist guides and extensive and imaginative use of photos, maps and diagrams. It has applied that approach to art in this massive guide to more than 2,500 paintings and sculptures from prehistory to the 21st century. The editors discuss art movements, provide thumbnail artist profiles and trace themes such as the nude from the Greeks through Henry Moore. Comprehensive and yet detailed, the book is both an overview and a close-up of individual works - and the reproduction quality is very high.
LOUVRE 400 Masterpieces, by Daniel Soulié, Abrams, 544 pages, $44
The Louvre, the most famous museum in the world, contains 400,000 works of art and archeological artifacts - which explains why might explain the difficulty in finding Mona Lisa on a first visit. But now, if you're careful (the book Louvre weighs two kilograms), you can discover the world's most famous image on page 301, under Italian paintings. Although the selection of objects is "arbitrary," the illustrations, as the museum's director points out, "are intended only to stimulate the appetite."
YVES SAINT LAURENT Style, by Hamish Bowles and Florence Müller, Abrams, 258 pages, $55
This gorgeous book is designed to accompany the exhibition Forty Years of Creation in Retrospective (1962-2002), which has just finished a stay in Montreal and opened in San Francisco. The text provides a useful overview of the iconic designer's career, enriched by the hundreds of drawings and photographs of his work.
LIVE FOREVER By Elizabeth Peyton, Phaidon, 256 pages, $59.95
Elizabeth Peyton's rise to the top of the international art heap began in 1994 with a largely self-mounted exhibition of portraits at New York's famous Chelsea Hotel. Now, she's getting the retrospective treatment at Manhattan's New Museum of Contemporary Art, and this is the companion volume to that show (which closes Jan. 11). The 150 colour plates are mostly portraits, brushy images of friends and celebrities (Keith Richards, Jarvis Cocker, Sid Vicious) with stylistic tips o' the hat to David Hockney, Egon Schiele and Frank Auerbach.
INDIA People, Place, Culture, History, by Abraham Eraly, Yasmin Khan, George Michell and Mitali Saran, DK Publishing, 371 pages, $45
India is big, complex, beautiful and fascinating - like the country, it goes to gorgeous lengths to explain. Subsections thoroughly examine, in imaginative detail, the subcontinent's History, People, Culture, Landscape and Architecture, and offer useful travel advice and speculations about the future. There is interest - and often delight - on every page. Particularly absorbing are the mosaics of illustrated text detailing A Day in the Life of locomotive driver, dance teacher, schoolchild, nobleman, bride, priest.
WHERE TO GO WHEN - THE AMERICAS North, Central, South America & the Caribbean, edited by Joseph Rosendo, DK, 336 pages, $45
With an infinite amount of time and money, what would be the best way to spend the year ahead? This attractive book is as seductive as The New York Times travel section in winter, but useful enough to stay on your coffee table all year. It is divided, month by month, into the best cities to visit throughout the Americas, with festival listings, cost estimates and local do's and don'ts.
TASCHEN'S PARIS Hotels, Restaurants & Shops, by Angelika Taschen, Taschen, 400 pages, $47.95
If you love Paris, this sumptuous guide perfectly captures its high-end character and atmosphere. "Those, like most of us, with only a few days in the city have no desire to waste time or money on mediocre bistros or anonymous, run-of-the-mill hotels. … The usual guides always contain too much information and too few photos. Just to read them would fill an entire holiday - and often the reader is none the wiser afterwards." If money is no object, this is your Paris and your book.
ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN
INSIGHT AND ON SITE The Architecture of Diamond and Schmitt, by A.J. Diamond, Donald Schmitt and Don Gillmor, Douglas & McIntyre, 347 pages, $60
The Toronto firm of Diamond and Schmitt is responsible for some of the world's most celebrated buildings - the Ontario Science Centre, the New Brunswick Museum, the Banff Centre and, most recently, the Toronto Opera House - and is a champion of urbanism and social responsibility. The 12 essays in this book - one by famed critic Witold Rybczynski, and each centring on a group of D&S buildings - discuss such topics as context, collectivity, beauty, sustainability, the reuse of old structures and building for the arts and education.
SHAKER DESIGN Out of This World, edited by Jean M. Burks, Yale University Press, 245 pages, $99
There was much more to the Shakers than simple, well-made furniture, though that is what the 19th-century Utopians are mostly noted for today. This book looks at the furniture, of course, but also explores other aspects Shaker design, including household objects, textiles, religious drawings and the gift art that they made for each other, and how it all relates to the movement's spirituality. Nearly 200 colour illustrations.
COLIN & JUSTIN'S HOME HEIST STYLE GUIDE By Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan, Penguin Canada, 303 pages, $32
The Scottish home-decorating mavens, hosts of the HGTV show Colin & Justin's Home Heist, take the reader on a step-by-step trip from design crime to design delight, beginning with identification of the bad and the ugly and progressing through changes in both structures and accessories. Along the way, they take the time to spotlight some of the worst design crimes they've seen perpetrated.
LAKE HOUSES By Judy Ross, photographs by John de Visser, Boston Mills Press, 224 pages, $49.95
This book presents cottages to sigh for, especially as it arrives under the tree in the depths of winter. From Muskoka in Ontario to parts unknown, de Visser furnishes 200 colour photographs meant to "capture the essential spirit of lake house life." The spirit is given tangible expression with chapters dedicated to exteriors, living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, boathouses, bunkies, deck and docks, verandas and porches, wall works and fireplaces, and gardens.
LEGACY IN STONE Saskatchewan's Stone Buildings, by Margaret Hryniuk and Frank Korvemaker, photographs by Larry Easton, Coteau, 224 pages, $39.85
Many of the 50-plus stone buildings profiled in this book, richly filled with Larry Easton's clear photographs, are abandoned, the stone façades defiantly protesting against their unkept states. Built to last, these buildings are brought to our attention by the authors' descriptions of the occupants and what was happening at the time they were constructed. The reader is treated to historical as well as current images of the buildings, showing you that they stand unchanged in basic structure while the more temporal components - windows, roofs, the surrounding landscape - change or decay.
THE VICTORIAN HOUSE BOOK A Practical Guide to Home Repair and Decoration, by Robin Guild, Firefly, 320 pages, $49.95
This book serves two purposes: It can inspire those who wish to lovingly restore or sensitively alter a fine, old 19th-century home and offers instruction for those who might execute the plan. Victorian homes are well known for their rich detail, and that's apparent here through the photographs, text and handy architectural drawings, dealing with everything from floor plans to baluster profiles.
ARCHITECTURAL EXCELLENCE 500 Iconic Buildings, edited by Paul Cattermole, Firefly, 512 pages, $49.95
Architecture is the most public of the arts, as this ambitious compendium of cath- edrals, castles, mosques, railway stations and the occasional humble house reminds us. About 400 stunning photographs mark an international journey through the ages from Stonehenge and the Sphinx to the 21st century. En route, there is much you would expect: the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, the Chrysler Building. But there are also many surprises, including follies (Rome's Victor Emmanuel Monument) and theme parks (Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle). Habitat 67 is here, as is Buckminster Fuller's Geodesic Dome and Douglas Cardinal's Canadian Museum of Civilization.
BATTLE AT SEA 3,000 Years of Naval Warfare, by R.G. Grant, DK, 360 pages, $45
This ultimate guide to the development of conflict at sea travels from the battles between galleys in ancient Greece to the underwater and undeclared stalking wars between nuclear submarines. With about 500 full-colour photographs and illustrations, it encapsulates every major naval conflict in history.
LIFE IN THE COUNTRY With Quotations by Jane Austen, Silhouettes by Her Nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, British Library, unpaginated, $24.95
What a treat, and not just for the legions of Janeites, or amateur historians of the Regency period, but for all lovers of language and image. Austen's characteristically sharp quotes ("Give our love to the little boys, if they can be persuaded to remember us") are nicely wedded to her nephew's charming silhouettes of gentle rustic life: hunter and dog cross a hillock; a mare feeds from a hay trough while her foal feeds on her.
CHURCHILL BY HIMSELF The Definitive Collection of Quotations, edited by Richard Langworth, Public Affairs, 626 pages, $32
Not a coffee-table book, but the perfect gift for the Churchillian on your list (and surely there will be one). The famous quotes are all here, but there is so much more of interest. For instance, this to his mother, from Winnipeg in 1901: "Fancy, 20 years ago there were only a few mud huts … and last night a magnificent audience of men in evening dress & ladies half out of it, filled a fine opera house…" Never (Shakespeare aside) was so much owed by so many to so few (just one, actually). It reminds you, if you needed reminding, just what made Churchill, well, Churchill.
WHAT PEOPLE WORE WHEN A Complete Illustrated History of Costume from Ancient Times to the Nineteenth Century for Every Level of Society, edited by Melissa Leventon, St. Martin's Griffin, 352 pages, $32.95
This is one of those efforts where the title pretty much says it all. Illustrations are rich in colour and detail, as promised by the cover information that the artwork features the work of Friedrich Hottenroth and Auguste Racinet. The text provides an anchoring chronology, but the real appeal is in the visuals.
THE ATLAS OF EXPLORATION Foreword by John Hemming, Oxford University Press, 256 pages, $55
This second-edition exploration of humans' knack for discovery and dispersal over several millennia goes beyond the many famous treks across water, land and ice to include journeys to the deep sea and planets. It is richly illustrated with period maps and artists' depiction of events of the day (palm trees in upstate New York are duly noted as Champlain did battle with the Iroquois). For an intellectual exploration of how we got from there to here, this is a good starting point.
WE INTERRUPT THIS BROADCAST The Events That Stopped Our Lives, From the Hindenburg to the Virginia Tech Shooting, by Joe Garner, Sourcebooks Media Fusion, 194 pages, three audio CDs, $54.99
"We interrupt this broadcast" is an iconic phrase that tells us immediately that an unforeseeable event has occurred or that a storm of great intensity is approaching. Broadcaster Joe Garner's clear, insightful style allows the reader to comprehend the full impact of momentous events. Combined with an effective narration by Bill Kurtis and the original broadcasts, this book enables us relive history as it unfolded again and again. It also serves as a reminder that no matter how dire or difficult things seemed at the time, we endured and moved forward.
HISTORICAL ATLAS OF TORONTO By Derek Hayes, Douglas & McIntyre, 192 pages, $49.95
More than 300 maps, supplemented by period photographs and illustrations, chart Toronto's progress from remote native village to "world city." The real strength is with the early years and the careful reproduction of detail from 17th- and 18-century French and British maps. An abundance of splendid 19th-century maps portray most effectively the city's rapid growth and the immense impact of industrialization. The growth of the suburbs, the ever-changing waterfront, the controversies that came with unfettered expansion - all are here.
ELEPHANT MAN By Chris Gallucci, photographs by Nomi Baumgartl, Firefly, 160 pages, $39.95
The story of the 30-year relationship between Chris Gallucci, one-time biker and ex-con, and Timbo, the largest bull elephant in North America. They met on the location for the film Roar, when Gallucci, just out of jail, found a job wrangling animals. When star Tippi Hedren bought the setting to establish an animal refuge, Gallucci stayed on, keeping a daily diary. That diary forms most of the text, though Baumgartl's sensitive and moving photographs - of both man and beast - are the book's core.
WILLIAM EGGLESTON Democratic Camera - Photographs and Video, 1961-2008, by Elisabeth Sussman and Thomas Weski, Whitney Museum of American Art/Yale University Press, 304 pages, $80
U.S. photographer Eggleston, who focused on common people and places - Elvis Presley's Graceland, a freezer stuffed with food, a deserted landscape with a Gulf gasoline sign - is widely credited with giving legitimacy to colour photography as an art form. But this lavishly illustrated volume devotes considerable space to his black-and-white work from the 1950s and '60s, as well as the pioneering video art from his 1970s recordings of Memphis nightlife.
HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN PHOTOGRAPHS Plus 20,000 pictures on CD-ROM, Black Dog & Leventhal, 557 pages, $63
The creation of Encyclopedia Britannica and Getty Images, this is a 150-year journey taken through the camera's eye, "beginning in 1850 when photography transformed how the world is recorded." A 6,000-item timeline runs across the pages, providing context for thousands of photographs, drawings and paintings. Among the 1,850 tidbits - jumping rope, or skipping, is becoming popular with kids, especially in England Germany; Irish explorer Robert McClure "becomes the first to traverse the Northwest Passage." It ends with Benazir Bhutto's assassination in 2007.
LIFE The Classic Collection, Life Books, 144 pages, $32.95
Here are 100 of the most famous photos by famous photographers (Alfred Eisenstaedt, Philippe Halsman, Margaret Bourke-White) from the world's most famous magazine of photojournalism: Fred Astaire leaping, Jackie Robinson running, Bourke-White perched precariously on a Chrysler Building gargoyle. But there's a big bonus: 25 of the photos (the Kennedy brothers in consultation, the Taj Mahal at night) are removable and frameable. Nice idea.
ATHLETE By Walter Iooss, edited by Terry McDonnell, Sports Illustrated, unpaginated, $38.95
What has always distinguished Sports Illustrated is the quality of its photographs. Long-time SI photographer Walter Iooss presents 150 of his best, ranging from an action shot of tennis player Jimmy Connors from above - hair flying, expression joyful while executing a backhand - to a portrait of seven-foot behemoth Shaquille O'Neal from below - his glower pure intimidation - to an intimate look at Arnold Palmer in conversation with Jack Nicklaus. As noted by editor Terry McDonnell, each of Iooss's pictures leaves meaning that lingers. Oh, and there are images from the infamous swimsuit issues, too.
DARING TO LOOK Dorothea Lange's Photographs and Reports from the Field, by Anne Whiston Spirn, University of Chicago Press, 359 pages, $40
Here are 149 of Dorothea Lange's photographs, many not seen before, and her field reports from 1939, when 44-year-old Lange was at her pinnacle. As powerful and telling as the photographs are the words Lange wrote about the images; they flesh out our understanding of why she took each photograph. Spirn brings these images and text together for the first time and, with her own photography, shows some of the same places many years later.
THE HALF Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage, by Simon Annand, Faber & Faber, 307 pages, $45
This book lets the images of actors speak for themselves. Caught before they went onstage, in moments of reflection, distraction, boredom, half made up, vulnerable before the stage face is presented. A photograph of Joe Renton, in chain-mail armour, playing pool before being called to perform shows the juxtaposition of real life and pretend. Kevin Spacey, plucking his eyebrows as he intently stares into a circular mirror, reveals to us the man unshielded by costume and makeup.
PERFORMANCE By Richard Avedon, Abrams, 304 pages, $85
Fans of Avedon will recognize the style he developed in In The American West scattered throughout the book, but, almost jarringly, many other images of performers and performances in this monolithic collection were taken in a style recalling free-form, grainy images from the 1930s. Although the images span most of his career as documentarist to the arts, it is in those loose-framed and frequently candid photographs that we find a more human side of Avedon's work. These images are not cold or removed. More often, they share a warmth and love of life that feels intoxicating.
FORTY YEARS OF PHOTOGRAPHING ON THE SET Seen behind the scene, by Mary Ellen Mark, Phaidon, 264 pages, $59.95
Imagine a wedding where all guests are your friends and family, but the event is catered by a Parisian gourmand; or a tour of a natural history museum with Darwin as your guide; or even a local drawing class with Degas whispering tips in your ear. Mary Ellen Mark, photographing on movie sets between takes, is that gourmand, Darwin, Degas in this delicious tome of photojournalistic insights into actors, directors and extras as they build their tales for the silver screen. As a journalist, Mark has few in her peerage, and to apply those skills to the famous and infamous is treat.
EQUUS By Tim Flach, Abrams, 304 pages, $65
British photographer Tim Flach has assembled an astounding collection of photos as a tribute to the horse, an animal that has "carried man on his journey for centuries." This is a glorious picture book, with text confined only to captions, with photos taken in the wild and in the studio.
AFRICAN AIR By George Steinmetz, Abrams, 205 pages, $44
Every continent will have its own aerially viewed charms, but there's something special about Africa, and it's fully on display in this glorious collection from a distinguished nature photographer. Whether it's jagged sandstone pinnacles in the Chad desert (you can feel the heat and isolation), a bleakly beautiful swamp forest in the Niger delta or lions lazing in Botswana's Okavango, there's something to make you catch your breath on every page.
VANITY FAIR, THE PORTRAITS A Century of Iconic Images, Graydon Carter and the editors of Vanity Fair, Abrams, 383 pages, $72
They say nobody ever reads the text in a book of photographs. That adage holds here, despite essays by Christopher Hitchens and VF editor Graydon Carter, for how could mere words - however stylish - compete with photographs by Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Man Ray and Annie Leibovitz? For nearly a century, Vanity Fair has been amassing an archive of celebrity photographs ranging from Lillian Gish, Pablo Picasso and Augustus John to Madonna, George Clooney and Toni Morrison. Portraits are one thing, but VF delights in boundary busting - a naked and very pregnant Demi Moore - and in provocative juxtapositions, the overly-preserved and buxom Collins sisters across from the demure Gishes, the late Princess of Wales in 1997 coupled with a later portrait of her son William. In the end, a haunting portrait of the age of celebrity.
THE DAWN OF THE COLOR PHOTOGRAPH Albert Kahn's Archives of the Planet, by David Okuefuna, Princeton University Press, $59.50
When the Lumière brothers invented colour photography in 1907, one of their countrymen immediately saw in it the possibility of promoting cross-cultural understanding. Albert Kahn, a banker and pacifist from Paris, dispatched photographers around the globe to document the people they found. For the next 20 years, they immortalized Germans, Montenegrins, Egyptians, Mongolians and every other manner of global citizen. This isn't a book about photography; it's a pictorial history of the colour-saturated world that existed before we all started wearing blue jeans and Nike T-shirts.
WISDOM The Greatest Gift One Generation Can Give to Another, by Andrew Zuckerman, Abrams, 215 pages, $55
As a companion volume to the website and video interviews, this book of portraits of people past 60 and what sage words they might have to impart is clean and efficient. We are presented with the likenesses and wisdom of people; some famous, some less so. "The heart is what matters most of all," Kris Kristofferson opines. Perhaps it is these few words that best spell out the intention of this work.
POP SIXTIES Magnum Photos, introduction by Anthony DeCurtis, 191 pages, $32.95
This mid-sized book provides an immersion in one of the most turbulent decades in recent history, as seen through the eyes of some of the most talented documentary photographers of their time. Protests, politicians, rock festivals, subcultures and celebrities from Hitchcock to John Lee Hooker are chronicled in colour and black and white. Photographs of John Kennedy's election campaign and subsequent assassination prove particularly arresting at the dawning of the Obama years.
BROUGHT TO LIGHT Photography and the Invisible 1940-1900, edited by Corey Keller, with essays by Jennifer Tucker et al., Yale University Press, 216 pages, $50
Cameras, microscopes, telescopes and X-rays have allowed humans to see what no one had seen before. It's easy to take these things for granted now, but early images of human bones, the structure of snowflakes, electromagnetic patterns, the movement of stars - as well as the ghost of Abraham Lincoln - help to capture the excitement and awe that came with these 19th-century inventions.
ANIMALS A Visual Encyclopedia, edited by Carrie Love and Caroline Stamps, 304 pages,$32.99
This book is beautifully designed, and even children will enjoy its large, colourful photos (an alligator carrying its baby in its mouth, the newt in all its yellow glory), witty headings and bite-sized chunks of information on everything from that existential question, "What is a reptile?" to the hidden weapon of the world's largest toad (too scary to be revealed here). This gorgeous book is hours of fun to explore.
MISSION SPACE A Full-Throttle Tour of the Universe, by Carole Stott, DK, 128 pages, $24.95
For space cadets everywhere, this unusual, drum-shaped book offers the latest research and information on the exploration of the great beyond. Comes complete with a fold-out chart, stickers and special cards.
HUBBLE Imaging and Time, by David Devorkin and Robert W. Smith, National Geographic, 223 pages, $57.50
A history of NASA's Hubble telescope, the book puts a face on space by revealing images of deep space taken during the course of the instrument's 20-year orbit. Most astonishing is a series of photos that transport the reader to the threshold of the universe.
AMAZING BABY By Desmond Morris, Firefly, 192 pages, $40
The British zoologist and ethnologist who first found fame in 1967 with his book The Naked Ape takes a similar approach with the astonishing story of the first two years in the life of a baby. Irresistible!
BURDOCK By Janet Malcolm, Yale University Press, 29 pages, $70
Janet Malcolm hooked me the moment I opened this gorgeous update on the botanical art book about a common weed, cursed by pet owners and gardeners alike because of its burrs. Malcolm, a celebrated New York writer, here limits herself to a two-page essay leaving the reader to ponder the meaning of 28 colour photographs of burdock leaves. She explains that she prefers "older, flawed leaves to young, unblemished specimens - leaves to which something has happened." The book is a brash concept, but it works as a spare story of decaying beauty.
FLOWERS AND HERBS OF EARLY AMERICA Lawrence D. Griffith, Photography by Barbara Temple Lombardi, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation/Yale University Press, 292 pages, $60
Hard to say whether this belongs on the coffee table or in the potting shed. Further, hard to say whether Lawrence Griffith's thorough and insightful description of plants of North America's original flora complements Barbara Lombardi's dew-speckled close-ups of the likes of borage - or vice versa. Whether you're moved by environmentalism or the love of gardening, this book might inspire and instruct if you choose to go wild with the likes of blue pimpernel or passionflower.
ANTARCTICA Secrets of the Southern Continent, by David McGonigal, Firefly, 400 pages, $59.95
This least hospitable continent has a powerful grip on the human imagination. And those who want to learn more about the vast frozen land mass at the bottom of the world will be well rewarded with this gorgeous and comprehensive book. Through breathtaking photographs, revealing relief maps and insightful text, the contributing authors explore a range of topics, including geology and geography, flora and fauna. There's also a detailed discussion of how climate change is altering the last true wilderness.
EXTRAORDINARY LEAVES Stephen Green-Armytage and Dennis Schrader, Firefly, 272 pages, $45
Exquisite photographs get you up close and personal with poinsettia, holly, lettuce, tobacco, moss and marijuana. This is an inspired celebration of colour and pattern, form and texture that will make you see leaves in a whole new light. Photographer Stephen Green-Armytage was tired of flowers getting all the glory. Botanist Dennis Schrader adds insight with his commentary.
THE OWL AND THE WOODPECKER Encounters with North America's Most Iconic Birds, by Paul Bannick, Mountaineers Books, 200 pages, one audio CD, $24.95
A definite must for bird lovers. Via stunning photographs, Bannick,, a naturalist and outdoor educator, introduces us to owls and woodpeckers either in flight or in search of food. To complement this treat, an audio naturalist has recorded their sounds on an accompanying CD. Even as a child, the author was convinced that if we got to know these beautiful, graceful creatures we would protect them, because they are nature's poetry. This lovely book certainly won't hurt his cause.
ARCTIC VISIONS Pictures from a Vanished World, by Fred Bruemmer, Key Porter, 279 pages, $45
Photographer Fred Bruemmer spent six months of each year for the past 30 years travelling through the Arctic to record an ancient and dying way of life. He followed the people on their hunting trips up a mountain or onto the vast sea of ice and thoughtfully recorded everything for posterity. The photos, shot in stark black and white, capture the pain and the laughter and the harshness of the land, but also the serenity and peace. A book for anyone who cares about the North and its people.
AVIATION CANADA The Pioneer Decades, by Larry Milberry, Canav Books, 176 pages, $50
Larry Milberry was a Toronto schoolteacher who in 1980 gave up education to launch a publishing house devoted to Canadian aircraft. So far, he has written, co-written or edited more than 20 books that are essential reading for aviation buffs. His latest sets the record straight in the very early years, starting with the Canada's first flight on Feb. 23, 1909.
O'S BIG BOOK OF HAPPINESS The Best of O, the Oprah Magazine, Oxmoor House, 336 pages, $32.95
A compilation of the best of Oprah Winfrey's magazine, it comprises 100 articles by the likes of Barack Obama, Richard Branson, Suze Orman, Dr. Phil and Martha Beck, who provide inspiring life lessons on loneliness, faith, illness, relationships and family.
A GREENER CHRISTMAS Discover a Simpler, Greener Christmas, Hand-Crafted Gifts and Cards, Natural Decorations, Traditional Recipes, edited by Sheherazade Goldsmith, DK, 352 pages, $28
This handsome book is sprinkled with seasonal guilt: "Container ships are also now carrying record volumes of cheap, Christmas consumer goods from China - all of which are expected to have a lifespan of less than four months." But the projects are child-friendly and the instructions are easy to follow.
COOL STUFF EXPLODED Get Inside Modern Technology, by Chris Woodford, DK, 256 pages, $27.99
For parents frustrated by sons who prefer video games to literature. With easy-to-understand, chunk-sized bits of text and an explosion of pictures and graphics, the author explains secrets hidden inside machines. From helicopters to washing machines, the book blows apart the whole to show the pieces that make them work. A Pendolina train that tilts around curves is displayed on four fold-out pages, as is the European Ariane 5 rocket. Awesome facts. Cool reading. (And if it somehow becomes boring, it comes with a computer CD.)
THE OFFICIAL SCRABBLE PLAYERS DICTIONARY Illustrated Edition, Mirriam-Webster/DK, 682 pages, $38
If you're a Scrabble fan, here's how to spell W-O-W. With more than 100,000 two-to-eight-letter words, some with variant spellings, this is word play d-e-l-i-g-h-t. Look for boxes with origins and meanings of words (muscle comes from the Latin musculus, which originally meant little mouse), and lists, such as four-vowel, six-letter words (iguana) and two-to-five-letter words that contain x (nexus) and z (zineb). Zineb? An insecticide.
GEMS OF THE WORLD By Cally Oldershaw, Firefly Books, 256 pages, $35
Not all gemstones are what they seem, Cally Oldershaw writes. Some are rare, others less so, but with a similar colour. Gems can also be grown in a lab and fashioned out of plastic or glass. To the untrained eye, they all look good. If your knowledge of gems doesn't include the watermelon tourmaline or the rare alexandrite, this is good place to start your education. It explains, in textbook form, everything from properties to cutting, clarity and even cleaning. Each stone has a chapter, rich in photographs and charts, to inform and illustrate.
7000 YEARS OF JEWELRY An Illustrated History from the Collections of the British Museum, edited by Hugh Tait, Firefly Books, 256 pages, $29.95
Every civilization has its bling and, although thousands of years ago jewellery may have started as a collection of shells and coloured stones, it grew to become a symbol of wealth and status. To the historian, there's more to jewellery than something worn to show off. It also defines culture, customs and industrial development. Using hundreds of photographs of pieces from the British Museum, the book tells a fascinating story of the world's people through their jewellery.
ONE THOUSAND LANGUAGES Living, Endangered, and Lost, edited by Peter K. Austin, University of California Press, 288 pages, $38
Some 6,900 different languages are in use around the world. At one end of the scale is Zhongguohua, or Mandarin Chinese, spoken by more than a billion people. At the other we find Gong, known to just 100 villagers living in a couple of settlements in western Thailand (and, perversely, spoken in a different dialect in each village). One Thousand Languages covers all the vast territory in between these two languages, using the colourful and informative tools of modern textbook typography - pictures, maps, charts, panels - to open wide a window to the boundless diversity of human speech on this planet.
99 FEARS By Nedko Solakov, Phaidon, 110 pages, $29.95
Nedko Solakov, raised in Communist Bulgaria and by his own confession a police informer in his teens, here compiles his thoughts on a subject that he has reason to be familiar with. Each of his 99 thoughts takes the form of an ink or wash drawing with a handwritten caption, beautifully reproduced with all the texture and edge-deckling of its paper substrate, one page per piece. The drawings and the thoughts that suffuse them range from cute to dark via precious and scatological.
FOOD & DRINK
THE HEIRLOOM TOMATO From Garden To Table By Amy Goldman, photographs by Victor Schrager, Bloomsbury, 258 pages, $38.50
Everyone's favourite heirloom vegetable, and certainly the most popular recently, makes for a lovely book featuring history, botany, recipes, growing tips, seed sources and dozens of splendidly gorgeous, full-colour portraits of luscious varieties ranging from Abe Hall to Zapotec.
DRINKS Enjoying, Choosing, Storing, Serving and Appreciating Wines, Beers, Cocktails, Spirits, Aperitifs, Liqueurs, and Ciders, by Vincent Gasnier, DK, 512 pages, $21.95
Everything you ever wanted to know about alcohol. Drinks is incredibly detailed. The chapter on beer alone has 12 subsections, each of which is colour-coded and separated with useful subheadings like "thirst-quenching" and "dark and creamy". This field guide to booze is stuffed with buying, tasting and serving tips, all illustrated with typically gorgeous DK photography.