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THE CIRCUS: 1870-1950 By Noel Daniel, Taschen, 543 pages, $79.99

A colourful romp through the grit and the glory of the American circus, this big top of a book is its own visual spectacle. Hundreds of pages of images document the history of the greatest show on earth, focusing on that now rare beast, the travelling circus, which during its heyday performed to huge audiences each show, holding them in thrall with tightrope walkers, horse riders, trapeze artists, lion tamers, freak shows and more. This book goes a long way in recreating the magic.

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KERTÉSZ (1894-1985) By Michel Frizot and Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq, Yale University Press, 359 pages, $78.95

From André Kertész's beginnings in Hungary to his years in Paris and New York, this book encompasses the photographic diary of his life. Shadows play prominently, mimicking the images he had focused on. Many images are presented as he shot them and then later cropped to what he thought was their essence, as in a photograph of his mother, followed by a cropped image of just her hands. Wonderful book, wonderful images.

NEW YORK: Portrait of a City By Reuel Golden, Taschen, 560 pages, $69.99

The book that never stops giving for the city that never sleeps. Leave it to Taschen to produce this spectacular homage to an immensely photographable metropolis. Here are wonderful photos of the garment district, crowds on Broadway, Central Park, Coney Island, Truman Capote's Black and White Ball (New York looks its best in black and white), many by great photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Margaret Bourke-White and Weegee.

ÉMILE PRISSE D'AVENNES: ARAB ART By Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, Taschen, 416 pages $157.50

Such terms as "Oriental" and "exotic" may be increasingly charged today, but back when artist Émile Prisse d'Avennes (1807-1879) explored Egypt and the Middle East, this was how he described his discoveries to a European audience. This enormous edition brings renewed attention to the historical art and architecture: decorative, intricate patterns on glassware, windows, mosque doors, even tomb ornamentation. To appreciate the designs in such an impressive format is the next best thing to retracing his adventures.

RAINFOREST By Thomas Marent, DK, 360 pages, $27.95

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This spectacular paperback edition has more than 500 portraits of rain forest plants and animals, ranging from a Sumatran orangutan clutching her infant, to impossibly delicate pink mushrooms, to Thai ants forming a bridge with their bodies. The book is a tribute to the beauty and diversity of these endangered ecosystems.

BUTTERFLY By Thomas Marent, DK, 280 pages, $22.95

Swiss wildlife photographer Thomas Marent writes that his fascination with this subject began in childhood, when he would catch caterpillars and watch them metamorphose into butterflies. This new paperback, with its many close-ups, inspires a childlike sense of wonder. These "flying flowers" are not only exquisitely hued, they also have beautiful markings that include deceptive eye spots and camouflage.

FROG By Thomas Marent, DK, 280 pages, $22.95

This new edition is packed with exotic and otherworldly photos of vividly coloured frogs and salamanders, and informative text about every aspect of their lives, including their food, mates and predators. There are glass frogs that are so transparent you can see their intestines and heart through their skin, and poison dart frogs whose bodies contain potentially fatal toxins.


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GREATEST OF ALL TIME: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali Taschen, 652 pages, $150

This is a reissue of the very big, very beautiful book published in a limited, signed edition in 2003. Many of the photographs are by Howard Bingham, Ali's lifelong friend, or by the great Neil Leifer, and the bulk of those have turned up elsewhere over the years. It certainly feels complete, documenting nearly every step of a man who was once the most famous on the planet. It's also pure hagiography. You won't find anything to suggest that feet of clay could also produce the Ali Shuffle.

THE HOCKEY BOOK Sports Illustrated, 256 pages, $32.95

The beauty of this book is in its sweep: historic shots of great moments, from the bloodied nose that inspired Jacques Plante to be the first goalie to routinely wear a mask to Sidney Crosby's overtime goal for a gold medal during February's Olympics. Then there are the reprints of the terrific essays and feature writing that make Sports Illustrated famous. Every page of this coffee-table book is a fascinating look back to the greats of the game.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: The Covers Sports Illustrated, 209 pages, $32.95

A nostalgia trip, this book also shows how magazine cover-design concepts have changed over the years. Every one of the magazine's covers is reproduced, most in stamp-size form, dating from the launch in 1954 through May, 2010. Who has had the most covers? Michael Jordan? Jack Nicklaus? Muhammad Ali? And what of the fabled SI Jinx: fact or fiction? Oh, and the swimsuit-issue covers are included.

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BEST OF THE DECADE: Reflections on Hockey's Past Ten Years By Michael A. Berger, GreyStone, 176 pages, $29.95

A lot has changed in the last 10 years of the NHL, much of it highlighted in this very visual collection. There's the passing of the old guard (think Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic) and the bursting-onto-the-scene of the new (think Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby). There's a reflection on the decade and dozens of stunning photographs.

SECRETARIAT By Raymond G. Woolfe Jr., Derrydale Press, 228 pages, $24.95

The story of the most magnificent racehorse of all time accompanies the new Disney movie of the same name. Secretariat, won on a coin toss, went to fame and celebrity unmatched in the equine world. The lives of the people who surrounded this exceptional athlete are peripheral. Secretariat was the star, and the beautiful photographs included here attest to that fact.

TRIUMPH ON ICE: The New World of Figure Skating By Jean Riley Senft and Gérard Châtigneau, GreyStone, 144 pages, $39.95

A Canadian judge's detailed explanation of the new scoring system is paired with photography showcasing skaters in the 2010 Olympic season. The focus is on how "transitional moves" - feats of athleticism to collect points between the jumps - and complex spins and footwork have transformed the sport. The highlight: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's signature Canada goose lift.

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TESSA & SCOTT: Our Journey from Childhood Dream to Gold By Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, as told to Steve Milton, Anansi, 185 pages, $34.95

The story of Canada's first Olympic ice-dancing champions, from their first meeting, at the ages of 7 and 9, through years of competitive skating, to the 2010 Olympics. Told in the pair's own words, the book would be appealing if only for the many photographs of Virtue and Moir, candid behind-the-scenes shots, formal portraits and thrilling competition action photos.

BASKETBALL'S GREATEST STARS By Michael Grange, Firefly, 216 pages, $35

From The Globe and Mail's ace basketball writer comes a hard-court compendium shinier than LeBron James's sweaty forehead and as readable as an Elvin Hayes turnaround jump shot. Profiles of the 25 players judged the "best of the best" are packaged with photos, essays and a concise history of the game. This basketball book hits nothing but net.


THE PRINCETON FIELD GUIDES TO DINOSAURS By Gregory S. Paul, Princeton University Press, 320 pages, $35

The authoritative series that is aptly lauded for reliable information on species from albatrosses to whales has been cleverly extended to include the lost world of dinosaurs. Dino expert Gregory Paul has provided 600 images and information packs on more than 700 dinosaurs.

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ORIGINS: Human Evolution Revealed By Douglas Palmer, Mitchell Beazley, 258 pages, $41.99

Cambridge evolutionist Palmer takes us back 19 million years to tell the fascinating story of Homo sapiens, how we came into existence and how we endured, when other human-like species didn't. Featuring colour photos and maps, this meticulous book also shows how humans spread across the planet, becoming different races and people.

THE COMPLETE HUMAN BODY: The Definitive Visual Guide DK, 512 pages, $55

This fascinating look at the body is brought to life by the latest medical and microscopic imaging as well as colourful computer-generated illustrations. Readers will see exactly what makes them tick as they look deep inside the development, form, function and disorders of the body. With an interactive DVD, this is a perfect gift for young and inquiring minds.

CHILD: How Children Think, Learn and Grow in the Early Years By Desmond Morris, Hamlyn/Octopus, $35.99

Anyone with a preschooler will find insight here into learning, playing, adapting and developing. Perhaps more valuable is why the precious little one can suddenly turn into an intractable tantrum-tossing destructo-machine just when things seemed to be going so well. Hint: It has to do with a desire to control the world and the belief that one should never be told, "No."


BILLY WILDER'S SOME LIKE IT HOT Edited by Alison Castle, Taschen, 381 pages, $59.99

"Well - nobody's perfect" is one of the great movie closing lines of all time, and it belies the film that it ends. This mammoth book claims that Some Like It Hot - a daring comedy of cross-dressing and prohibition starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis - is the funniest film ever made, and then goes about showing why, with the complete script, interviews with the cast and director Billy Wilder, many rare and wonderful photos and, as bonus, a DVD of the imperishable film.

THE HAMMERSTEINS: A Musical Theatre Family By Oscar Andrew Hammerstein, Black Dog & Leventhal, 236 pages, $44

Oscar Hammerstein turned Times Square into the world's theatre capital. His grandson expanded and consolidated the American musical with shows such as Showboat, Oklahoma!, South Pacific and The Sound of Music. Drawing on rare photographs, theatre programs etc., this is a family portrait, replete with highs and lows, scandals and tragedies. Invaluable for anyone interested in Broadway history.

FINISHING THE HAT: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes By Stephen Sondheim, Knopf, 443 pages, $46

Packed with behind-the-scenes and production photographs, handwritten notes etc., Sondheim's amazing collection is hard on many great lyricists (even his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II), but just as hard on his own lyrics. This technical autobiography dispenses insights into and liberates his craft from many myths that would straitjacket it. Probably the greatest book on the art and craft of lyric writing.

CIRCUS AND CARNIVAL BALLYHOO: Sideshow Freaks, Jaggers and Blade Box Queens By A.W. Stencell, ECW, 391 pages, $26.95

A former circus owner chronicles the colourful history of sideshows. Full of photos from the author's private collection and evocative slang such as "grifters" and "lot lice," the book links exhibitions of freaks and curiosities past to today's Body Worlds science shows and reality-TV contests involving the ingestion of bugs. "We are still a nation of gawkers," he writes. 

THE BOOK OF BOND BOND GIRLS BOND CARS AND VEHICLES BOND VILLAINS By Alastair Dougall, DK, 140-150 pages each, $17 each

"Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?" "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to read." The cartoon Bonds of yesteryear have yielded to the brooding hero of today. But this collection will teach even the most diehard 007 know-it-alls a forgotten detail or two. The series visually chronicles all the Aston Martins he has crashed, all the villains he has thwarted and - most crucially - all the women the suave secret agent has known.

STAR TREK The Original Series 365, by Paula M. Block, Abrams, 744 pages, $38.95

Long-time trekkies should be captivated by this authorized guide to the TV series. Based on material from the CBS archives and interviews with writers, cast and crew, this tome is packed with trivia and illustrations, 365 of them in colour. It also includes short but engaging synopses for each of the 79 episodes.

TAKE 100: The Future of Film: 100 New Directors Phaidon, 431 pages, $80

If you're exasperated by predictable Hollywood schlock, yet remain daunted by the overwhelming DVD selection in your independent video store, this may be for you. Curators from film festivals around the world zero in on 100 hot new directors and their best films, well-known and obscure, from Judd Apatow to Andrew Zvyagintsev

HARRY POTTER FILM WIZARDRY By Brian Sibley, HarperCollins, 160 pages, $44.99

Want to know how dementors fly? How designers created the noseless look for evil Lord Voldemort? Sibley reveals all. Loaded with photos, interviews and wicked movie-making secrets, the book chronicles 10 years of Harry Potter films with 10 pullout extras, including a replica of the Marauder's Maps.

STAR WARS: Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle DK/Lucas Books, 320 pages, $55

The entire Star Wars canon comprises films, actors, toys, locations, games, personalities, art and even Akira Kurosawa. This compendium has all of the foregoing as well as generous dollops of George Lucas and his far-reaching empires beyond Luke and friends. Highly recommended if you fancy a combination of biography and product evolution.

STAR WARS: Visions Abrams, 176 pages, $48

Few films engender the variety of post-production art Star Wars has: Chewbacca's family portrait, for example, rendered in oils; Princess Leia as a Manga nymph; C-3PO rocking a first nations powwow. And what concept book would be complete without a rendering of Darth Maul as an infant, subtly reminiscent of Dührer?


IDEAS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Incredible Inventions and the Stories Behind Them Edited by Camilla de la Bédoyère, DK, 256 pages, $27.99

It's all here, from the flushing toilet and the ballpoint pen to DNA and the World Wide Web. A bright, colourful book laid out in accessible, bite-sized pieces.

THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS: The Illustrated Edition By Sigmund Freud, Sterling, 560 pages, $59

Freud's seminal work definitely goes down a lot easier when surrounded by gorgeous art by Modernist and Surrealist artists. (And the paintings' titles can be amusingly apropos, such as My Mother, My Mother, My Mother, by Salvador Dali.) Pretty pictures aside, there's plenty of good reading: some biographical material and16 essays by Masson, a critic of Freud's theories.

ASK ME EVERYTHING: Facts, Stats, Lists, Records, and More Edited by Francesca Baines, DK, 297 pages, $28.99

From outer space to the human cell, from dinosaurs to the cold war: If this it doesn't answer every question you've thought of, it's close. How many canals does Amsterdam have? Five, and 160 smaller waterways. The book is stuffed with nuggets of trivia like that. For kids of all ages - and their parents.

GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS 2011 Guinness Publications, 287 pages $34.95

This crazy quilt of a book retains its hyperactive style yet manages to remain fresh. This go-to volume for chronicling world records has spawned a cottage industry of such attempts, some mundane, many bizarre. How big was the biggest gathering of superheroes? How about the largest solid object ever swallowed by a dog? A perfect bathroom book.

PILGRIMAGE AND BUDDHIST ART Asia Society Museum/Yale University Press, 212 pages, $68.50

Less a treatise on Buddhist art (the photographs describe that well enough) than an illustration of Buddhist thought, this book delivers ideas foremost. The photographs are a point of departure to descriptive passages of historical contexts and events, and the text is split between essays on Buddhism and imagery.

THE FOUR SEASONS BOOK OF COCKTAILS: Tips, Techniques, and More Than 1,000 Recipes from New York's Landmark Restaurant By Fred DuBose, Sterling, 256 pages, $23.50

Does the perfect drink elude you? Simple syrup not so simple? The folks at the famed restaurant in New York's Seagram Building promise a cure. (Apparently, accurate measuring matters. So does muddling.) They should know. Package this with a martini shaker and you'll be a pro - and the vermouth will know who's the boss.

OPUS VINO: More than 4,000 of the World's Greatest Wineries and their Wines Editor-in-chief Jim Gordon, DK, 800 pages, $85

An encyclopedia-cum-travel guide for the oenophile, with thumbnail sketches of top wineries in each country as selected by 38 writers, including visitor information and regional maps pinpointing the winery locations. Twelve pages are devoted to Canada. Also included are sidebars on personalities as well as the general quality of recent harvests in each region.

SUPERFREAKONOMICS: Illustrated Edition By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, William Morrow, 281 pages, $45

The Freakonomics franchise makes unheralded sociological statistics fun. Now, this illustrated edition of SuperFreakonomics doubles down on the data, making the earlier book's weird and wacky studies hit home. These user-friendly images give readers a better appreciation of obscure but necessary facts, such as that Americans have a greater chance of being killed by lightning than by terrorists.

DOGS By Tim Flach, Abrams, 215 pages, $60

Short of warm fur and a cold nose, nothing could please a dog lover more than this book of gorgeous images. Tim Flach won acclaim for his striking portraits of horses in Equus; here, he captures the essence of dogginess, from the flying tresses of a woolly Puli to the glacial blue eyes of a Siberian husky. Just try to resist touching the page when you see the fuzzy folds of a Chinese Shar-Pei puppy.

THE LOST SYMBOL: Illustrated Edition By Dan Brown, Random House, 505 pages, $40

Fans of Dan Brown's page-turners will love this hefty version on glossy paper with ample photographs and illustrations of the clues to the elusive messages the hero must interpret ahead of the forces of evil. Although many of the photographs appear to be stock shots, they present a look at bizarre features of Washington, D.C., which few have ever seen.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: His Life And Times Compiled by Kristen McDermott and Ari Berk, Random House, 34 pages, $24

Here's a colourful gift book for those who are steadfast believers that humble little Will of Avon grew up to wield the mighty pen of Shakespeare. It's less about his life than it is a compendium of snippets and illustrations about Elizabethan times, with hand-tipped fold-outs on nearly every page.

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