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Gifts for every type of book lover on your list

From the making of Sherlock Holmes to a tribute to typewriters, Nathalie Atkinson finds this season's most giftworthy reads to satisfy every bibliophile on your list

Table of contentsBooks on booksHistorical analysisExamined livesWanderlustArtistic ambitionsCulture vulturesCrime and punishmentDesign for livingFashionable findsSmall pagesSui generisLiterary fix


The Card Catalog: Books, Cards and Literary Treasures compiled by the Library of Congress (Chronicle Books, 224 pages, $50)

A book of artifacts, curiosities and fascinating literary tidbits from the annals of analog.

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The Illustrated Dust Jacket: 1920-1970 by Martin Salisbury (Thames and Hudson, 200 pages, $53.95)

Sales of physical books are on the rise and the time is right to judge books as they were meant to be judged: by their covers. That's illustration professor Martin Salisbury's job as he appraises 50 striking designs, from Paul Nash to Milton Glaser, and how they reflect evolving artistic movements.

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel (Penguin Press, 640 pages, $60)

One of the world's leading paleographers now presides over Cambridge University's precious medieval literary documents. Here, he takes an irreverent and enthusiastic journey through a dozen great texts (such as the Book of Kells) and their tales of survival. With gorgeously reproduced artifacts, it's a real page-turner.

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper (Pantheon, 320 pages, $35.95)

For the devoted Scrabbler or cruciverbalist in your life, and worth it just for the "On Bad Words" chapter parsing the evolution of meaning in the word "bitch" and its complicated history of lexicographic micro-aggressions.

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul (Henry Holt, 256 pages, $38)

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The Bob in question here is not a Twin Peaks reference but what the editor of the New York Times Book Review calls her "Book of Books." Her memoir goes through the journal she's kept of every tome she has ever read.

The House of Fiction: From Pemberley to Brideshead, Great British Houses in Literature and in Life by Phyllis Richardson (Unbound, 480 pages, $42.95)

This cultural exploration of iconic imaginary mansions based on authors' own real homes and taste in architecture is catnip for bibliophiles with a design bent.

She Read to Us in the Late Afternoons by Kathleen Hill (Delphinium, 225 pages, $26)

An elegant memoir on the enriching reciprocity of fiction for the constant reader and book-club aficionado.

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The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 304 pages, $38)

Venturing into the gruesome and gripping details of infection and operating theatres before modern antiseptic surgery to consider how Joseph Lister elevated cleanliness one step above godliness, this is as visceral as watching The Knick. Good for science buffs who aren't squeamish.

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel (Bloomsbury, 400 pages, $37)

A sharply drawn history of the Hollywood Blacklist and the larger political era of 1950s America through the making of the underdog cinema classic. For film buffs as well as political-history aficionados, this is a fresh and vivid take on familiar territory, and especially relevant on endangered free speech and civil freedoms.

River of Life, River of Death: The Ganges and India's Future by Victor Mallet (Oxford University Press, 368 pages, $27.50)

An account that follows the banks of the holy river from its source to its mouth and combines politics, geography and religion with history.

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Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 640 pages, $40)

Several years and nearly 500 interviews create this comprehensive look at the lord of the ring, from all sides – including the conflicting elements in the boxing champion's life and soul.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jordan Fagone (Dey Street Books, 464 pages, $34.99)

In the spirit of Hidden Figures, a deeply researched biography of the talented American cryptologic pioneer Elizebeth Friedman, the equal and partner in code-breaking to her more famous husband, William Friedman. It reads like a spy thriller and finally reconstructs "a puzzle fragmented by secrecy, sexism and time" to restore her rightful place in history.

The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon (Oxford University Press, 544 pages, $38.50)

A vivid biography of the unconventional life of the dazzling British critic and pioneering literary genre novelist ( The Bloody Chamber) as well as a social history of postwar counterculture and second-wave feminism.

Chester B. Himes by Lawrence P. Jackson (W.W. Norton, 448 pages, $47)

The proudly unassimilated black writer who created Harlem police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones during civil rights-era America raged off the page as well.

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Infinite Suburbia edited by Alan Berger and Joel Kotkin, with Celina Balderas Guzman (Princeton Architectural Press, 784 pages, $106)

Aerial drone shots, charts and city plans illustrate 52 essays that analyze and chronicle sprawl and suburbia's sustainable future, the findings of intensive, years-long study in the urbanism research lab at MIT. The season's definitive coffee-table book for urbanists.

France Is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child by Alex Prud'homme and Katie Pratt (Thames & Hudson, 208 pages, $47)

The Childs' great-nephew offers an intimate look at their extraordinary lives in France through the lens of Paul Child. From the bouquinistes on the banks of the Seine to fishermen and sunlit telephone booths, Child captured the daily life of the country whose food inspired a culinary legend.

The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes by Malachy Tallack, illustrated by Katie Scott (Picador, 144 pages, $28)

A whimsical mythological travelogue for the armchair traveller and daydreamer.

Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova (Graywolf Press, 400 pages, $22.99)

The people and landscapes that shape the Bulgarian border region where it meets Greece and Turkey make for a riveting book of reportage (the author is an emigré). This is a travelogue worthy of the most curious and adventurous explorer on your list.

Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London by Lauren Elkin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 336 pages, $34.80)

This cultural journey meanders through world capitals to explore the power and history of women writers and artists (from Virginia Woolf to Agnès Varda) who have found freedom and inspiration by engaging with the urban on foot.

Bridges: A History of the World's Most Spectacular Spans by Judith Dupré (Hachette, 176 pages, $38.99)

This expanded, full-colour edition of the innovative visual reference on spans includes France's Millau Viaduct and the 165-kilometre Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge in China, with a look at how these feats of gravity-defying engineering, technology and beauty altered their surroundings.

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Vivian Maier: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife by Pamela Bannos (University of Chicago Press, 352 pages, $45.50)

A mythology has been built around the fiercely private Chicago nanny in the years since her photography was posthumously discovered; Pamela Bannos offers a reappraisal of her photographic achievements and intentions and delivers the closest thing to the real story we're likely to get.

Peter Doig by Peter Doig, Richard Shiff and Catherine Lampert (Rizzoli, 432 pages, $90)

This exhaustive monograph covers the entire career to date of the acclaimed Scottish-born figurative artist and his work.

Farewell to the Muse: Love, War and the Women & Surrealism by Whitney Chadwick (W.W. Norton, 256 pages, $47)

An art historian pores over the correspondence between avant-garde artists Leonor Fini and Leonora Carrington to show how female friendship and the Second World War spurred creativity and empowered five women to become radical artists.

Calder: The Conquest of Time – The Early Years: 1898-1940 by Jed Perl (Knopf, 704 pages, $73)

The first-ever biography of the important 20 th-century American sculptor and his powerful influence, beginning with the art traditions from which he emerged to his adaptation of those many -isms into something altogether new, including his famously playful mobiles.

How to See by George Nelson (Phaidon, 248 pages, $39.95)

This 40 th-anniversary edition of the design thinker's classic primer in visual literacy seems more important than ever in an image-driven global culture. It may help to up the Instagram game of the social-media maven on your list.

Monograph by Chris Ware by Chris Ware (Rizzoli, 280 pages, $80)

The fine-art presentation of the cartoonist's work to date makes for a pleasurably dense read: It's tightly packed so that even the story roughs feature the fine print and unexpected visual innovation (with facsimiles of finished work affixed to the pages) that Ware fans expect.

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Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion by Alan Sepinwall (Abrams, 288 pages, $33.50)

For the relative who has alternate conspiracy theories about Lost and The Sopranos, everything you ever wanted to know about Walter White but were afraid to ask. With episode commentary and exclusive essays and show-runner interviews.

Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars by David Hepworth (Henry Holt, 320 pages, $39)

The heritage bands and their concert tours that kids today call "dad rock" were once a phenomenon. This book takes a lively look at that phenomenon and some of its greatest practitioners and outlines how much the music industry changed between 1955 (when Little Richard's Tutti Frutti changed everything) and 1995.

AC/DC: Album by Album by Martin Popoff (Voyageur Press, 256 pages, $39)

This is by a heavy-metal journalist known for deep examinations of artistic development, though it also includes memorabilia such as ticket stubs – and equal parts analysis and tribute.

The Story of The Face, The Magazine that Changed Culture by Paul Gorman (Thames & Hudson, 352 pages $66)

This compendium highlights the distinctive visual culture and sensibility of the influential eighties and nineties publication of youth culture and music, from Nick Knight's fashion photography to its later embrace of Britpop. It's all right if the nineties are back as long as it's the nineties of The Face.

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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: The Boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed by Mike Ripley (HarperCollins, 448 pages, $32.99)

In deconstructing a specific subgenre of popular spy fiction (Ian Fleming and Dick Francis to Len Deighton and Jack Higgins), the crime writer also crafts a lively social history of postwar Britain that will keep 007's fans warm until Daniel Craig's next outing.

Alive in Shape and Colour: 17 Paintings by Great Artists and the Stories They Inspired edited by Lawrence Block (Pegasus, 288 pages, $34.95)

An anthology of popular crime writers such as Gail Levin, Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver, each writing a short story around an evocative painting. Joyce Carol Oates opts for an enigmatic Balthus girl, while Michael Connelly finally pens a piece about his Hollywood detective Harry Bosch's namesake masterwork.

From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon by Mattias Bostrom, translated by Michael Gallagher (Mysterious Press, 648 pages, $40.50)

Even the most assiduous Sherlockian can admit that the endless reinvention and lasting pop-cultural impact of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation was not necessarily elementary. As a study in Sherlock, the case of the big business of public frenzies, literary estates and endless adaptations finally gets solved.

The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton by Jefferson Morley (St. Martin's Press, 338 pages, $38.99)

Even John le Carré himself could not create a more remarkable, sinister, delusional and eccentric character than the subject of this biography of the godfather of the modern surveillance state. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World's Most Charming Con Man by David Howard (Crown, 384 pages, $37)

Here is the story of the FBI's first white-collar undercover sting – of the Fraternity crime syndicate in the late 1970s. Think Mindhunter, but follow the money.

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Typewriters: Iconic Machines from the Golden Age of Mechanical Writing by Anthony Casillo (Chronicle, 208 pages, $57)

Beginning with the 1874 Sholes & Glidden QWERTY keyboard, the typewriter is one of the great disruptors of the modern age. With an introduction by Tom (Mr. Typewriter) Hanks himself, the book profiles antique machines as marvels of industrial engineering.

Never Use Futura by Douglas Thomas (Princeton Architectural Press, 208 pages $34.95)

This chronicle of the foundational 20 th-century typeface traces the ubiquitous and much-maligned letterform back to its 1924 Bauhaus-inspired origins and through to its use in modern advertising, design and fine art. For type nerds and anyone who's pedantic about telling Ariel from Helvetica and who wouldn't be caught dead using Comic Sans.

David Hicks Scrapbooks by Ashley Hicks (Vendome Press, 336 pages, $95)

Well-chosen reproductions from the designer's 25 meticulously crafted personal scrapbooks (fabric swatches, press and mood boards) are an inspiring trajectory of originality.

Ward Bennett by Elizabeth Beer, Brian Janusiak and Pilar Viladas (Phaidon, 280 pages, $129.95)

The first monograph on the American designer chronicles his distinctly rich minimalist aesthetic in architecture, jewellery, textiles and furniture, such as the more than 100 chairs to his credit, several still in production today. A book best prominently displayed on one of Bennett's sleek, modernist I-Beam tables.

May Morris: Arts & Crafts Designer by Jenny Lister, Joseph Studholme, Jan Marsh (Thames & Hudson, 240 pages, $54)

As a founder of the Women's Guild of Arts, May Morris was notable in her own right (as well as being the youngest daughter of Arts & Crafts movement leader William Morris). The book gathers the English designer's varied work in ceramics, embroideries, glass, jewellery and textiles and finally takes her out of her famous father's long shadow.

Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life by Adam Greenfield (Verso, 368 pages, $39.99)

Insights from a networked digital-information architect on our technological future offer a critical look at the impact of advances such as algorithms and cryptocurrencies. Sobering if not terrifying, though no surprise to giftees who already have Wired and TechCrunch bookmarked.

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Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style by Shantrelle P. Lewis (Aperture, 144 pages, $45.50)

Contemporary photographs taken around the globe trace this colourful and historical street-style subculture.

Schiaparelli and the Artists by Suzy Menkes, André Leon Talley, Christian Lacroix (Rizzoli, 256 pages, $115)

A who's who of fashion's front row pen essays on the interplay between the Italian fashion designer and the many artists with whom she had collaborative relationships, from Pablo Picasso and Man Ray to Jean Cocteau and Andy Warhol.

GingerNutz: The Jungle Memoir of a Model Orangutan by Michael Roberts (MW Editions, 80 pages, $34.95)

Everyone dreams of being a fashion influencer, apparently; even the red-haired Borneo orangutan of this tongue-in-cheek but also completely sincere illustrated faux memoir. Inspired by and with a foreword from legendary editor Grace Coddington.

Love, Cecil by Lisa Immordino Vreeland (Abrams, 144 pages, $62.50)

A mixed-media portrait about the photographer and designer Cecil Beaton as reflective as the companion books for the author/filmmaker's previous documentary subjects Diana Vreeland and Peggy Guggenheim.

Shoes: The Meaning of Style by Elizabeth Semmelhack (Reaktion Books, 320 pages, $51.55)

The curator of Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum explores the shifting status and social meaning of footwear and its evolving cultural value across designs and eras.

The Price of Illusion: A Memoir by Joan Juliet Buck (Atria Books, 416 pages, $39.99)

The former Paris Vogue editor is candid in her inside account of fashion and friendships with Charlotte Rampling, Yves St. Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. She has an eye and phrase for the telling detail but is even better at cutting through the glamour.

Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip by Phyllis Magidson and Donald Albrecht (The Monacelli Press, 160 pages, $60)

The celebrity and worlds were turned on their head during the Youthquake years, and this book covers how manufacturing techniques and fabric of clothing were forever changed too.

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Me and You and the Red Canoe by Jane E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Phil (Groundwood Books, 32 pages, age 5+ $18.95)

The descriptive and poetic story of siblings on a lake camping trip, accompanied by scratchy art in acrylic-on-wood panels that gives it the feel of a timeworn classic.

Toys Talking by Leanne Shapton (Drawn & Quarterly, 44 pages, $14.95)

An offbeat illustrated board book of stuffed animals speaking in non sequiturs. A class menagerie.

My Foolish Heart by Nick Bantock (Chronicle, 18 pages, $18.50)

The creator of Griffin and Sabine keeps it short and sweet with this interpretive pop-up about love.

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Holidays in Soviet Sanatoriums by Maryam Omidi (FUEL Publishing, 192 pages, $42.50)

A Soviet health-farm stint was once considered a vacation, though that's hard to imagine without irony because the resort structures and their devices documented here look forbidding, if not torturous.

It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs (Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, $36)

Every holiday gathering has someone who's incessantly researching and mapping the family history: Since they already have an membership, this is for that person.

RuPaul's Drag Race Paper Dolls (Bluestreak, 74 pages, $25.95)

Self-explanatory, for the office reality queen.

Wise Trees by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (Abrams, 192 pages, $49.95)

A dazzling tour of landscapes and communities across five continents, told through portraits of more than 50 inspirational and historic trees.

The Green Witch by Arin Murphy-Hiscock (Adams Media, 256 pages, $22.99)

Eye of newt? The recipes stop short of incantations and spells and instead offer natural cures and remedy rituals.

The Science of Why? Squared by Jay Ingram (Simon & Schuster, 224 pages, $29.99)

But why? How come? Hand them this book.

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The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson (W.W. Norton, 656 pages, $53.95)

Emily Wilson is the first woman to translate the epic eighth-century BC adventure story into English, and it is sinewy, unpretentious and thrilling.

A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin (Viking, 352 pages, $35.99) and The Shadow in the Garden by James Atlas (Pantheon, 400 pages, $38.95)

Two leading contemporary biographers turn their gaze inward in these memoirs on the art of literary biography, and both brim with texture and pathos.

Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire (William Morrow, 304 pages, $33.50)

The author of Wicked reimagines the backstory of the Brothers Grimm nutcracker holiday legend.

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