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A male kingsnake, a female corn snake and their hybrid offspring, from the spectacular More Than Human.

Tim Fraser


Great Buildings: The World's Architectural Masterpieces Explored and Explained
By Philip Wilkinson, DK, 254 pages, $33

A striking visual tour of 50 of the world's greatest buildings – who commissioned them and why, how they were designed and built, what makes them recognizable – illustrated with photographs and cutaway 3-D drawings, and arranged chronologically from the Great Pyramid of Giza to 2010's Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, and including such iconic buildings as Angkor Wat, the British Houses of Parliament, Fallingwater and the National Gallery of Canada.

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Engineers: From the Great Pyramids to the Pioneers of Space Travel
Edited by Adam Hart-Davis, DK, 357 pages, $45

Engineers is a visual guide to 80 of the world's greatest engineers, the men who built the world as we know it, from ancient Roman aqueducts to the Industrial Revolution and the Large Hadron Collider, from concepts to prototypes and finished designs. Copiously illustrated with technical drawings, commissioned artworks, blueprints and virtual tours.


Mona Lisa: Leonardo's Earlier Version
By Alessandro Vezzosi, John Asmus and Pascal Cotte, the Mona Lisa Foundation, 297 pages, $99

The Switzerland-based Mona Lisa Foundation spent years of exhaustive research to produce this stunningly beautiful, and no doubt controversial book. Using a combination of historical detail, expert opinion and scientific examination, the book seeks to prove beyond doubt that the so-called Isleworth Mona Lisa is not one of the many copies of the famous painting hanging in the Louvre, but a predecessor from the hand of Leonardo. A fascinating historical detective story and an unusual view of Renaissance Italy and its artists.

Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist
By Martin Clayton and Ron Philo, Royal Collection Publications, 256 pages, $25

A look into Leonardo's private sketchbook. Reproduced in 150 colour plates, the drawings are technical and hand-rendered with meticulous detail. The accompanying text translates his written notes, which are both artistic and scientific, as he studies anatomy, body proportion and biomechanics. While Leonardo's work has visual appeal for most, this book would be a real find for those with medical or anatomy backgrounds.

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Gauguin Polynesia
Edited by Suzanne Greub, Art Centre Basel/Hirmer, 400 pages, $85

Mention Paul Gauguin, and paintings of native women from Polynesia immediately come to mind. This beautifully illustrated volume, with abundant photographs of artifacts and paintings, attempts to guide us through this genius's vision. We follow him across Europe and then the Pacific. His work is opulent, but part of the artist remains enigmatic. Still, it's a wonderful journey.

A Concise History of Canadian Painting
By Dennis Reid, Oxford University Press, 528 pages, $59.95

For this lavishly illustrated history, one could scarcely be in better hands than those of Dennis Reid, former director of collections and research at the Art Gallery of Ontario. This third edition of the book contains new material on previously unacknowledged women painters in Canada, as well as Reid's insights into artists from the 1980s and 1990s, including Alex Cameron, Mary Pratt, John Scott and Joanne Tod.

Gustav Klimt
By Tobias G. Natter, Taschen, 660 pages, $200

This gorgeous monograph of Gustav Klimt's artistic oeuvre marks the master's 150th anniversary. It has been assembled by a leading scholar and museum curator of the Vienna Secession period. The compendium contains spectacular images of every Klimt painting – in satisfying, up-close detail – and a specially photographed series on the Palais Stoclet frieze. Klimt's work was provocative in its time, and the volume presents his personal written archive in counterpoint to his contemporaries' critical reactions and essays.

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Artist's Postcards: A Compendium
By Jeremy Cooper, Reaktion, 344 pages, $55

Cheap, visually rich and culturally revealing, postcards have long provided artists with creative fodder (plus, before Instagram, they came in handy). From the Dadaists of the 1920s through the sixties conceptualists to the current crop of font-happy designers, they've gleefully played with the form: Creating their own one-offs and series (often political) or slicing and dicing "found" postcards into new meanings. With 400 illustrations, including works by Yoko Ono, David Hockney and Joseph Beuys, this is rich survey of a miniature artform.


Craft: Techniques & Projects
DK, 320 pages, $44

If you're looking to make macramé tea cozies just like your grandmother's, this isn't the book for you. Most of these crafts are modern and gorgeous, and the book provides detailed descriptions, with pictures, of how to make everything from greeting cards to beaded pearl necklaces to a wire chandelier.

Dressmaking: The Complete Step-By-Step Guide to Making Your Own Clothes
By Alison Smith, DK, 319 pages, $33

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Everything you need to know to create your own wardrobe, from choosing the fabrics to techniques such as hemming and hand-stitching, as well as 12 basic scalable patterns and step-by-step instructions for 30 articles of clothing. Dressmaking is packed with advice, inspiration and patterns.

Canadian Folk Art to 1950
By John A. Fleming and Michael J. Rowan, University of Alberta/Canadian Museum of Civilization, 557 pages, $45

About 425 pieces of early Canadian folk art are gathered, each with an evocative photograph by James A. Chambers and a note from the authors. Some were created as art: rural landscapes, small-town portraiture. Most, however, were crafted for quotidian purposes: Weather vanes, chairs, tradesmen's signs, hooked rugs, game boards, butter churns – all are represented, and each is elevated by an enduring whisper of the often whimsical human spirit that created them.

Dream Catchers: Legend, Lore and Artifacts
By Cath Oberholtzer, Firefly, 145 pages, $35

To Native Americans, dream catchers are important dual-use tools: They invite in good dreams, such as prophecies about good hunting, while also filtering out the evil spirits that caused nightmares or illness. Crafted traditionally of a bone-and-feather-festooned wood circle that's netted with marrow, the more elaborate specimens are full-fledged works of art.


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Stars in Dior
Text by Jérôme Hanover, Rizzoli, 229 pages, $65

Exactly what its title says: This book collects high-end professional photographs of a wide range of film and theatre stars, models and other alluring celebrities – from Marlene Dietrich and Ava Gardner through Marilyn Monroe and Charlize Theron – dressed in some of the most stunning couture of the past six decades. What could go wrong?

Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style
DK/Smithsonian Institution, 480 pages, $50

"Definitive" may be an overstatement, since fashionistas necessarily resist the last word. But this pretty history of costume and couture wears its Smithsonian connections with pride – the scholarly approach to humanity's dress sense over 3,000 years connects clothing's practicality with fashion's ostentation, and the smartly annotated illustrations ground outlandish catwalk displays in a longer, deeper tradition of modish garb and gear.

Paris by Hollywood
Edited by Antoine De Baecque, Flammarion, 288 pages, $75

Awash in romantic twinkling lights, stacked with timeless history and filled to the brim with the latest fashions … it's no wonder Paris has maintained its magnetic hold over Hollywood for decades. And, it seems, the love affair is mutual, as the Franco-American Cultural Fund is behind this glossy pictorial journey through some of the famed films that united both cities, from Love in the Afternoon to Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge.

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Dressed to Kill: Jazz Age Fashion from Virginia's
By Virginia Bates and Daisy Bates, Rizzoli, 287 pages, $80

The Roaring Twenties were just that, and few things transport us back to the glorious decade more immediately than its ecstatic fashion. Virginia's, a London vintage-clothing shop, is spotlighted in this lavish volume, which features the jazziest of the famed outlet's Jazz Age ensembles. Craftsmanship is the focus as intricately embroidered coats shimmy alongside fringed flapper frocks in a worthy tribute to fashion's glory days.

W: The First 40 Years
Edited by Stefano Tonchi with Christopher Bagley and Joseph Logan, Abrams, 311 pages, $86

Since 1972, W magazine has stood as one of the leaders of the cultural press, with a particular look toward the ups and downs and zigs and zags of fashion. This luxurious, oversized hardcover volume looks at the glossy's first four decades, paying special attention to its eye-popping, outside-the-box photo shoots featuring bold-faced names from Woody Allen to Nicki Minaj.


Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook
Tales retold by Jane Yolen, recipes by Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 199 pages, $24.95

The punchiest Jewish joke ever goes like this: What's the definition of every Jewish holiday? Answer: They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat. This book might well accompany a celebration of those victories. A triple threat, it combines dozens of traditional Jewish food recipes (from brunch to soup to main courses and desserts) with classic, well-told tales of Jewish life in the Old World and evocative illustrations by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin. It will be a fixture in many family kitchens.

Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert
By Davin de Kergommeaux, McClelland & Stewart, 335 pages, $24.99

Davin de Kergommeaux's book was recently named Canadian winner in the Best Spirits Book category of the Gourmand Wine Books Awards, qualifying it for the world competition, with the winner to be announced in February at the Louvre, during the Paris Cookbook Fair. Canadian Whisky is a comparatively small book, but it covers hundreds of types of whiskies, and just might make the perfect gift for the spirits-drinker in your life.

Cooking Season by Season: 1,000 Recipes Using Ingredients at Their Peak
Edited by Emma Callery and Susannah Steel, DK, 496 pages, $39

Today, with so many imported foods available year-round, it is easy to forget to take advantage of our own homegrown bounty. This book, with 1,000 recipes using ingredients at their peak, is a good reminder. The recipes are organized by season, and presented with a wealth of useful information, such as the best time of year to serve haddock or leeks. Colour photographs accompany most of the dishes.

Hors d'Oeuvres
By Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille, DK, 224 pages, $24

Cute food makes good party food. To that end, Hors d'Oeuvres offers food on sticks, food on spoons, food in tartlets and food to dip. The listed menus would be ambitious to tackle during the busy holiday season, but picking up a new recipe or two to impress guests couldn't hurt. And step-by-step illustrations for recipes that can be jazzed up a million ways, like potato rosti and Parmesan shortbreads, help to ease the intimidation.


Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, Vol. 2
By Walt Kelly, Fantagraphics, 335 pages, $39

At last, Walt Kelly's hilarious, satiric, lovingly depicted world of the Okefenokee Swamp and its denizens is getting the full-volume treatment this brilliant strip deserves. Pogo, for those who don't know, is the strip's Everyman possum and the focal point for a superbly realized and huge cast of characters. Incorporating strips from 1951-52, this is not to be missed by either kids or adults.

Drawing from the City
By Teju Behan, Tara Books, 28 pages, $41.95

An oversized, artisanal book that tells the autobiographical story of Teju, a poor Indian girl who grows up in a village and moves to the city to become a self-taught artist, dreaming about the lives of the women passing by in cars and airplanes. Gorgeous black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings illustrate the daily lives of Teju, her husband and her community, often struggling to make ends meet.

Mrs. Weber's Omnibus
By Posy Simmonds, Jonathan Cape, 484 pages, $37.95

English cartoonist Posy Simmonds gained an international profile with Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe , her modern takes on works by Flaubert and Hardy. But she spent a couple of decades before that producing witty, crisply drawn, socially satirical black-and-white strips in periodicals such as the Spectator. Her first five compilations are gathered here, from 1979's Mrs. Weber's Diary to 1993's Mustn't Grumble . They're a treat to be savoured well beyond the holidays.

Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross
Edited by Chip Kidd, Random House, 240 pages, $28.95

Holy sketchpad, Batman. The process of creating iconic superheroes like Superman, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Mr. Terrific and Batgirl is explained along with hundreds of original pencil sketches and descriptions of the characters and their foibles. The artist's sketches even include positions he wants the characters to avoid in the finished comics.

Rookie: Yearbook One
Edited by Tavi Gevinson, Drawn & Quarterly, 350 pages, $29.95

You don't know about, a website for teenage girls? What are you, a rookie? For the uninitiated and the diehard follower alike, this big, fat, charismatic paperback gets everyone up to speed on first kisses, fledgling feminism, righteous fashion and proper playlists for all girly moods and occasions. Clever stuff (said with absolutely no eye-rolling sarcasm).


A Street Through Time: A 12,000-Year Walk Throughout History
Illustrated by Steve Noon, DK, 45 pages, $19.99

The story of a street: Watch history unfold and transform both land and people, from a riverside settlement in 10,000 B.C. to the bursting metropolis of today. See how people lived, what they wore and ate, and what was happening at that time from great inventions to extraordinary rulers and natural disasters. The detailed, informative illustrations and short fact boxes make learning fun.

20th Century: A Visual History of the Modern World
DK, 320 pages, $33

Witness the most poignant events, people and cultural milestones that have shaped the world's history, through words, pictures and graphics. Hundreds of extraordinary photos and facts take the reader on a journey from the Boer War in 1895 through to the digital revolution of 2011. Endlessly explorable.

The Companion to Medieval Society
By Franco Cardini, McGill-Queen's University Press, 288 pages, $49.95

A sumptuously illustrated survey of European art, society and politics through 10 centuries, The Companion traces the development of Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire through the rise of the church, aristocracies, cities, universities, literature and artists. While it offers a comprehensive examination of the era, it's also highly accessible to the layman, and the reproductions are eye-poppingly good.

London: A History in Maps
By Peter Barber, London Topographical Society/British Library, 380 pages, $45

A chronological history of London told through its maps, as selected and organized by the British Library's head of maps. This is for students and lovers of the city, but also anyone interested in the social and political evolution of Britain. For example, a map shedding light on cholera causes in the 1850s, and the Luftwaffe map of London bombing targets in the Second World War.

Military History: The Definitive Visual Guide to the Objects of Warfare
DK, 448 pages, $50

From flint dagger heads of 2,000 B.C. to nuclear subs of the 21st century, this is the Smithsonian's and the Royal Armouries' encyclopedic treatment of the weapons we have used to kill each other in wars over the centuries. Great pictures, illuminating text and the capacity to place a class of weapons into a certain historical battle. See Lord Nelson's deployment of naval warfare in the Battle of the Nile, or deadly artillery at the American Civil War's Battle of Antietam.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Warfare: From Ancient Egypt to Iraq
DK, 512 pages, $29.95

To catalogue the wars fought over the past 5,000 years is to catalogue humanity's endless capacity for cruelty. And also for innovation. With gorgeously reproduced art and photographs, this book chronicles the long march from spears and triremes to UAVs and cruise missiles. Technology changes, but states always need good generals. The best was likely Gengis Khan, whose Mongol hordes once controlled more than a fifth of the world's land mass.


The Annotated Frankenstein
By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, edited by Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao, Belknap/Harvard, 387 pages, $29.95

First published in 1808, Frankenstein, Or, the Modern Prometheus , has fascinated, horrified, alarmed and even enchanted us ever since. In fact, as the editors of this usefully and delightfully annotated and illustrated edition make clear, almost as soon as the book was published, the word "Frankenstein" (so often wrongfully ascribed to the monster and not his creator) became synonymous with anything new, especially disturbing developments in science and technology. This edition will improve greatly one's understanding of the book's provenance and its era.

The Hobbit
By J.R.R. Tolkien, HarperCollins, 300 pages, $24.95

Special collector's film tie-in hardcover features a lovely cover design and brand-new reproductions of Tolkien's original drawings and maps. In this prelude to The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable life, rarely travelling far from his cozy hobbit-hole. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and 13 dwarves arrive at his circular door one day, sweeping him away on a journey to steal the treasure of a terrifying dragon.


The Complete Classical Music Guide
Edited by John Burrows, DK, 352 pages, $28

This volume begins with a brief primer on classical music fundamentals − pitch, notation, instruments − but the bulk of it is devoted to surveying the past 1,000 years of classical music history, mostly through profiles of the principal composers of each era. With so much ground to cover, the sketches are short but filled with good details, and they list the key works and milestones. The book comes in a glossy black sleeve.

Remembering John Lennon, 25 Years Later
Edited by Robert Andreas, Life Books, 128 pages, $23.95

On the anniversary of John Lennon's tragic death, Life issued this loving look at the singer/songwriter, one of the 20th century's most iconic figures. In photographs, personal reminiscences by photographers and quotes, it traces his life from his impoverished boyhood in Liverpool to his unforgettable journey with the Beatles to his years with Yoko Ono. A welcome addition to the ever-growing library of Lennon lore

Too Much Trouble
A Very Oral History of Danko Jones, by Stuart Berman, ECW, 271 pages, $25

After exploding out of Toronto's garage-punk scene in 1999, Danko Jones looked unstoppable. Through stories from rock royalty (Jello Biafra, Brendan Canning, Lemmy Kilmister), former bandmates, friends and the band members themselves, rock journalist Stuart Berman chronicles the band's tempestuous relationship with the Canadian music industry and rise to demi-god status in Europe. Beautifully photographed and wildly entertaining, this book affirms the warning of the late Bon Scott: "It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll."

Streets of Fire: Bruce Springsteen in Photographs and Lyrics 1977-79
By Eric Meola, It Books, unpaginated, $33

As Bruce Springsteen's career nears the 40-year mark, it's hard to imagine that The Boss was ever a young, tentative musician dreaming of the Promised Land. Eric Meola's book of vintage black-and-white photographs revisits his photo shoots with the young musician in 1977, after his breakthrough album Born To Run and before the release of Darkness on the Edge of Town . What Meola captured was a young rocker who had left the camaraderie of Spanish Johnny and Crazy Janey in New Jersey for the isolation of farms, dusty roads and lonely nights portrayed in Streets of Fire . The book's gritty photos on dirt roads and in flaking farm houses and late-night dinners poignantly evoke the dark ballads of Darkness .


More Than Human
Photographs by Tim Flach, text by Lewis Blackwell, Abrams, 312 pages, $75

This work by award-winning British artist Tim Flach (Equus, Dogs) raises animal photography to a stunningly beautiful art. Flach often shoots from imaginative angles and viewpoints, sometimes microscopically up close. But just as often, he brings out the "humanity" of his subjects with straightforward-seeming shots that would appear artless if they weren't so eye-catching and gorgeous.

Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man
By Andrea G. Stillman, Little, Brown, 254 pages, $44

This book features some of the most celebrated images by America's best-known photographer. The author, a former executive assistant to Adams, explores his life and technique through 20 significant images, and builds a chapter around each. Through Adams's lens, the reader sees magical scenes in the Yosemite Valley, Alaska and New Mexico, among other places.

How to Capture the Moments and Moods of Every Season
By Tom Ang, DK, 360 pages, $33

This lively and informative book combines arresting images with tips on technique and composition. Ang never rests on one topic very long, breezing through such subjects as pets in snow, indoor child portraits, woodland shadows, city bridges, industrial landscapes, splashing in puddles, mountain scenery, music festivals, marathon runners, forlorn gardens and golden sunrises. Almost any type of scene you can imagine capturing with a camera is in this book.

The Disappearance of Darkness: Photography at the End of the Analog Era
By Robert Burley, Princeton Architectural Press, 160 pages, $57

Robert Burley has beautifully photographed the interior and exterior of buildings once dedicated to the manufacture of the old analog way of making images. Giants such as Kodak and Agfa lie in ruins at the feet of the digital colossus while the steady drumbeat of progress goes on. Ironically, Burley photographs the demolition of one factory using film, while the people who once worked there use digital cameras to record it.

By Andrew Zuckerman, Chronicle, 300 pages, $85

A beautifully exposed flower on a white background: This is the theme of this gorgeously photographed collection by the talented Andrew Zuckerman. No text distracts from the serenity and purity of these flowers. This stunning book will please passionate photographers and lovers of flora alike.

Photographing Trees
By Edward Parker, Kew, 120 pages, $30

Famous British wildlife photographer Edward Parker, using his own photos of trees as illustrations, shows readers how to improve their photography of landscapes and wildlife, including tips and advice on camera techniques, including planning and using conditions to your advantage, the use of foreground and background, and specialized techniques such as macro or night photography.

National Geographic 125 Years: Legendary Photographs, Adventures, and Discoveries That Changed the World
By Mark Collins Jenkins, National Geographic, 383 pages, $57

This anniversary publication celebrates the best of National Geographic through 600-plus photographs – some of which have never been published before – which showcase the physical and cultural geography of the world. An introductory chapter looks at the academics and adventurers who founded the society in 1888, and another discusses the innovative techniques of photography they've pioneered.

Imagining Canada: A Century of Photographs Preserved by The New York Times
Edited by William Morassutti, Doubleday Canada, 240 pages, $45

The New York Times isn't the first place you'd think of looking for a window onto Canada, but that's what makes this handsome book so intriguing. William Morassutti has sifted through more than 24,000 prints from the newspaper's photo archive to piece together a unique view of Canada from the late 1800s to 2000. The photos are arranged by theme (Canada at War, Landscape, Icons etc.), with matching essays by the likes of Ian Brown, Peter C. Newman and Justin Trudeau. But the images, rightly, steal the show.

Life in Color
Curated by Annie Griffiths, National Geographic, 504 pages, $45

In this beautiful collection, hundreds of diverse photographs from National Geographic photographers around the globe are brought together and grouped according to their dominant hues. So the chapter on green, for example, opens with a close-up of a coiled emerald snake in Singapore and includes the aurora borealis over a Norwegian mountain, and an urban Mexican streetscape.


My Tourist Guide to the Solar System and Beyond
By Lewis Dartnell, DK, 64 pages, $16.99

If you ever wanted to know the chances of there being alien life on Uranus, or what would happen to you if you fell into a black hole, or whether you could fly on the Saturn moon Titan, this book is for the space tourist in you. With brief facts and even a little astronaut figurine, it may actually be more for the space-curious child in your life.

Extreme Planet: Exploring the Most Extreme Stuff on Earth
By Michael DuBois and Katri Hilden, Lonely Planet, 192 pages, $19.99

Make no mistake, this book is squarely aimed at the preteen set. The book resembles a live-action comic, but without plot, story panels or portability. However, it makes up for this with gobs of gross facts, lurid photos and a few groaner jokes. At the risk of being inappropriate, this could be a great bathroom book, but beware the facts that may emerge from children.

Super Nature Encyclopedia: The 100 Most Incredible Creatures on the Planet
By Derek Harvey, DK, 256 pages, $27.99

In an odd full circle, the content of this interesting book's design resembles a digital magazine for a tablet. There are stats on odd creatures, beautiful creatures and even clever creatures (the spitting fish comes to mind). It's well put together and feels authoritative. Across the breadth of the animal kingdom, the quality of photography is excellent – not an easy task for an editor.

By Laura Buller, Susan Kennedy, Jim Pipe and Richard Walker, DK, 192 pages, $16.99

Weird science made fun for the 10-plus set, Danger introduces readers to many of nature's nasties, including monsters of the sea and land, the extremes of our precarious planet, human horrors, and even the most dangerous mathematical formula in history. Presented in bite-sized chunks through lively graphics, comic strips and montages, Danger is great fun from beginning to end.

Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide
By Martin Rees, DK, 528 pages, $50

This richly illustrated tome is divided into three sections: an introduction to the basic concepts of astronomy; a tour of the solar system and beyond; and finally, the night sky, which contains detailed charts for observing the heavens every month of the year. The 2012 edition has been revised and updated to include the positions of the planets, phases of the moon and eclipses until 2019.

Fifty Minerals That Changed the Course of History
By Eric Chaline, Firefly, 224 pages, $29.95

This series, which has already featured Fifty Plants and Fifty Animals That Changed the World, has hit the nail on the head again. Fifty Minerals offers the same gor-geous design, luscious full-colour illustrations and – most important – intriguing and entertaining bits of information. Writer Eric Chaline presents dozens of elegant small essays, offbeat sidebars and captions, about every- thing from clay to diamonds and salt to arsenic. Also recently available: Fifty Machines That Changed the Course of History.

Horses: The Ultimate Treasury
By John Woodward, DK, 160 pages, $21.99

One doesn't often think about the varied and central role horses have played in human existence. This largely pictorial book runs the gamut from prehistoric cave paintings to the finer points of show jumping. The commentary ranges from annotated photos pointing out what makes a breed a breed, to historical facts, to pointers about hoof and tooth care. Thorough but not overwhelming, and enough to give joy to those obsessed with this noble animal.

Puppyhood: Life-size Portraits of Puppies at 6 Weeks Old
Photographs by J. Nichole Smith, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 128 pages, $32.95

Flip through Puppyhood , and you're guaranteed to swoon (or, if you're a dog person, physically ache at the cuteness). The gorgeous, showcase of 25 life-sized, doe-eyed puppies from photographer J. Nichole Smith is a cure-all for even the worst mood. Each page is a separate joy, since the pups vary widely, from tiny min-pin Maude (2.5 pounds) to Tater Tot, the 18-pound great Dane who, bless him, can't fit onto a full-page spread. A simple delight.

Prehistoric Life: The Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth
Edited by Angeles Gavira Guerrero and Peter Frances, DK, 529 pages, $29.95

If the editors of this information-packed paleontological chronicle of the planet's earliest life forms have left anything out, it's not readily apparent. From Earth's origins through plate tectonics and climate change, it's all here: plants, animals, fossils in every age (Triassic, Silurian, Devonian, Jurassic etc.), laid out in colourful, well-illustrated, bite-sized morsels. A reference book to savour.

Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide
By Heimo Mikkola, Firefly, 512 pages, $49.95

It is an odd sensation to be stared at by a book. Page after page, in beautiful colour photos, 249 species of owls from around the world fix their gazes on the reader as if sizing up a meal. The guide is a must-have for serious birders, with authoritative details on each owl's call, food, habitat and range, but it will repay the attention of anyone who wonders what makes owls tick.

Encyclopedia of Roses
Charles and Brigid Quest-Ritson, DK, 448 pages, $40

You'll wish you had a much larger garden as you start leafing through this full-colour catalogue of more than 2,000 rose species and cultivars, from A Caen la Paix to Zitronenfalter. The descriptions cover the flowers' histories and blooming habits, and the reasons you might or might not want them in your bouquets.

Hubble's Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images
By Terence Dickinson, Firefly, 300 pages, $49.95

The noted Canadian astronomer presents stunningly colourful and surreal photos of cosmic columns, spiral galaxies, nebulas and pulsating stars, selected from the thousands of images sent back by the Hubble space telescope over the past couple of years. The photos are accompanied by clear, accessible explanatory text.

Amazing Giant Dinosaurs
By Marie Greenwood, DK, 15 pages, $21.99

Short informational blurbs about dinosaurs' habitats and skeletons pop up throughout this board book, but the real highlights are the seven super-sized dino drawings that are revealed when you fold out a pair of large flaps. The large, vividly coloured (though occasionally gory) images of the giganotosaurus, stegosaurus and others help to bring these extinct giants to life.

Death: The Scientific Facts to Help Us Understand It Better
By Richard Béliveau and Denis Gingras, Firefly, 264 pages, $29.95

It seems reasonable to come to terms with death before it happens, since there won't be much time afterward. The authors provide an easily understandable, copiously illustrated guide to the many ways in which we may die. Puffer fish, viruses, electric shocks, wear and tear – you name it, we succumb to it. Here's how.


100 Grey Cups: This is Our Game
By Stephen Brunt, McClelland & Stewart, 256 pages, $45

The Canadian Football League celebrated its 100th championship game in November with an epic party in Toronto. Stephen Brunt's chronicle of the game's 100 years makes a nice companion. He recounts the colourful history of the title game, with rare photos from league archives adding visual accents. But Brunt goes well beyond the games, passionately arguing for the Grey Cup as important cultural and social event for Canadians.

Hockey Hall of Fame Book of Jerseys
By Steve Milton, Firefly, 192 pages, $35

A gallery of the Hockey Hall of Fame's best and most interesting jerseys, worn by professional, amateur and international champions of the sport. Ripped, worn, stained and rumpled, most jerseys are game-worn and are accompanied by an action shot and compelling story about the significance of both player and jersey.

The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC: Athens to London 1894-2012
By David Miller, Mainstream Publishing, 683 pages, $75

This dense tome recounts the modern Games (Summer and Winter), noting all the great athletes and their performances. But it's more than a catalogue of results. It also goes into the dark and controversial corners of Olympic history, including the Nazi involvement in 1936, the massacre of Israeli athletes in 1972 and the Ben Johnson steroid scandal.

18 Greatest Scottish Golf Holes
By Craig Morrison and Andrew Ross, Gene Books, 272 pages, $180

Ahhhhh, to fantasize: Extensively researched and gorgeously illustrated, this limited edition showcases layouts from the Old Course at St. Andrews, Turnberry, Carnoustie and Royal Troon, among others. Hand-printed in Italy on best-of-class paper, it weighs more than three kilograms. A sister book, 18 Greatest Irish Golf Holes, contains interviews with touring pros including Rory McIlroy, with scenes from Ballybunion, Portmarnock, Royal County Down and more.


The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era
By Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis, St. Martin's, 320 pages, $34.50

Spoiler alert: The First World War has ended and Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley are to wed. Their chalk-and-cheese relationship illustrates the modern world's assault on the British aristocracy. This lovely companion book to season three of the awarding-winning TV series, which will air on PBS in January, provides characters' backstories and history – especially how American money and willingness to change saved some British ancestral estates. Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as the bride's confident American grandmother and gets great lines: "Dearest Mary, now you tell me all of your wedding plans and I'll see what I can do to improve them."

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Official Movie Guide, by Brian Sibley, HarperCollins, 167 pages, 24.99

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Visual Companion, by Jude Fisher, HarperCollins, 79 pages, $21.99

These two tie-in books offer pretty much every bit of background information you might want to know about the filming of The Hobbit . The Visual Companion is thick with illustrations, of course, mostly stills from the movie, but also including a gorgeous fold-out map of Middle-earth and capsule descriptions of characters and places. The Official Movie Guide deals more with the filming process, including costume sketches and comments from the actors and behind-the-scenes artists.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Art and Creation of Walt Disney's Classic Animated Film
By J.B. Kaufman, Walt Disney Family Foundation Press, 256 pages, $35

In the 1930s, the Disney Studio was a hothouse for animation. But no one was expecting a full-length, full-colour, animated feature film, based on the traditional Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The production took three years, producing a much-loved and truly timeless classic. This gorgeous book takes readers through the movie scene by scene, with behind-the-scenes stories, all of it illustrated by more than 200 pieces of original concept sketches, background paintings, production cels, alternative character concepts, deleted scenes andprocess shots, much of it never before seen.

The Science Fiction Universe … and Beyond: Syfy Channel Book of Sci-Fi
By Michael Mallory, Universe Publishing, 256 pages, $42.50

From French director Georges Méliès's Le Voyage dans La Lune to James Cameron's Avatar , this ill ustrated overview of science fiction on big and small screens traces the evolution of the genre from early camera tricks and stage illusions to computer graphics and 3-D. It also delves into back stories, production peculiarities and trivia from the most iconic TV shows and films.

Pixar Character Encyclopedia
By Disney, DK, 208 pages, $18.99

Your little character will love this book, with fun facts and bright colourful photos of more than 200 characters from their favourite Pixar shows: Toy Story, Cars, Finding Nemo, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., Brave and more. Great for visual learners, early readers and anyone with a love for all things Disney.

21st Century Cinema
By Adam Smith, Rough Guides, 264 pages, $24.99

The 21st century has produced films that range from dark remakes of tired comic-hero franchises to complex productions from rising international stars. With this book's Rough Guide pedigree, these are not in-depth reviews, but a guide through 101 of what the author deems to be the most innovative or audacious films since Jan. 1, 2001, with glossy stills from the films and bite-sized essays on topics such as "torture porn" or up-and-coming actors.

Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary
By David West Reynolds and James Luceno, 272 Pages, $40

Ever wanted to see Count Dooku's lightsabre up close? How about inside a battle droid's head? This compendium is illustrated heavily with photographs of visual ephemera, costumes, weapons and vehicles across the entire Star Wars saga. These are not the mere stage props used in some Hollywood blockbusters; it's clear an extraordinary amount of effort was expended for realism and utility in the creation of the films' hardware.

Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle
By Ryder Windham, 328 Pages, $55

A visual chronicle, indeed. This book is loaded with behind-the-scenes material: photographs of the sets and actors, stories of how scenes were shot or conceived, and the origins of George Lucas's ideas. Additionally, there is much cultural context, lending a period air to when the films were made. The principal actors are profiled and their acting histories outlined. (Luke's original name? Luke Starkiller.)

James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters
By Alastair Dougall, DK, 320 pages, $55

Tucked into a box showing Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, armed to kill, on one side and Roger Moore in the arms of women while holding a gun on the other side, this impressive book is a poster lover's dream: all the film posters from around the world since James Bond first arrived on screen 50 years ago.

Inside HBO's Game of Thrones
By Bryan Cogman, Chronicle, 192 pages, $45

This is the perfect holiday gift for the Game of Thrones fan who can't bear the wait for the next season of HBO's blockbuster series. Like the series itself, the book's production values are lush and haunting. From the beautiful embossed cover to the sepia-toned photos and parchment-like text pages, this book has spared little expense to take you behind the scenes to meet the series author, George R.R. Martin, and the actors who portray the series' many tormented characters.


World's Best Travel Experiences: 400 Extraordinary Places
National Geographic, 320 pages, $45

For the dreamer or the actual traveller; the oversized photos of destinations ranging from ancient wonders to nature vistas to spas and hot springs will make you salivate. Commentary by such writers as Bill Bryson and Gore Vidal add to the visual splendour one expects from National Geographic.

36 Hours: 125 Weekends in Europe
Edited by Barbara Ireland, Taschen, 644 pages, $49.99

No aimless wandering here. This photo-illustrated book – based on the long-running 36 Hours features in The New York Times Sunday travel section – aims to pack as much as possible into a weekend stay in a European city. Some cities even have multiple options for repeat visits, so if you've done East End London, on your next weekend you can do literary London.


Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration
By Caroline de Guitaut, Royal Collection, 120 pages, $24.95

This handsome little picture book about the Queen's diamonds is a fitting souvenir of the Diamond Jubilee year. Coming to the throne 60 years ago, the young Elizabeth updated historic pieces and fashioned a modern head-of-state look. The finest pink diamond ever discovered was given to her as a wedding gift from Canadian geologist John T. Williamson. From the original 54.5 carats, it was cut into a 23.6-carat stone and placed at the centre of a flower-shaped brooch designed by Cartier. Simply brilliant.

Optical Illusions
Edited by Fleur Star, DK, 31 pages, $21.99

It starts with the 3-D cover that could induce sea sickness and continues to the trick-playing images inside. Even if you've seen some of these optical illusions before, there's still a little thrill when you finally see the alternative image, or realize how easily your brain can be tricked. And this book has the extra fun of pop-out images, a decoder, turning wheels and even a twirling disc.

Canada Year Book 2012
Edited by Sandra Caya and Penny Stuart, Statistics Canada, 510 pages, $24.95

You might well be saying to yourself: This is a gift book? The answer is, think of that person you know who loves to browse through books packed with bits of fascinating information, who is constantly telling you about some interesting thing he or she has just read somewhere. That person will love this book. Another reason to get a copy: After a run that began in 1867, this is the last Canada Year Book Statscan will publish.

The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2013
 Edited by Sarah Jenssen, World Almanac, 1,008 pages, $13.99

Published annually since 1868, The World Almanac is the United States' bestselling reference book of all time, with more than 82 million copies sold. This work is bursting with well organized and presented information that is both educational and entertaining, on politics, economics, science and the arts.

Cycling Science: How Rider and Machine Work Together
By Max Glaskin,University of Chicago Press, 192 pages, $30

This book explores everything from the aerodynamics of bicycle helmets to reaction times to finding the perfect bicycle frame, drawing on studies from disciplines such as physics, brain science and biology. Its accessible format and broad range of topics make it well suited to satisfy the curiosity of the casual recreational rider, or even the hard-core cycling enthusiast.

By Carlo Collodi, New York Review Children's Collection, 180 pages, $28.95

With a brief introduction by Umberto Eco, and illustrations by Fulvio Testa, this is a beautiful rendering of one of the most translated and best-loved fairy tales ever written. But as Eco wisely notes, the term "fairy tale" doesn't really do justice to the story of the piece of wood transformed into a living, breathing human boy. In the many layers of its moral message, he suggests, lies the key to its universality.

The Lego Book
By Daniel Lipkowitz, DK, 256 pages, $27.99

For Lego fans, everything you ever wanted to know about the much-loved plastic toy. This edition contains 56 new pages of revisions and additions, including the history of the company and the toy, a timeline highlighting key moments, and updated information about Lego Star Wars, Lego Ninjago and Lego Friends, and discusses the Lego theme parks' animated models.

Lego Super Heroes: Batman Visual Dictionary
By Daniel Lipkowitz, DK, 96 pages, $23.99

This is another tome in the series of Lego books that visually outlay all the mini-figures and their habitats and vehicles. If you've come across one of these books, you'll know this one without having seen it yet. But this book is for kids who love Lego, not adults. It's a book kids spend hours going through, obsessing over details and comparing with their own collections.

1001 Dream Cars You Must Drive Before You Die
By Simon Heptinstall, Universe, 959 pages, $39.95

In 1918, Model Ts were invariably black and accounted for half the cars on the U.S. market. Thankfully, cars have since come in a delightfully non-conformist evolutionary parade – a procession rendered beautifully on every page of this book. A car can instantly evoke a bygone era. Did you know Britain's Swallow Sidecar Company changed its name to Jaguar in the 1930s to avoid associations with the Nazi SS? Or that James Dean died by crashing a nine-day-old Porsche 550? Recall how Arnold Schwartzenegger kicked off America's love affair with the Hummer?

Skulls: An Exploration of Alan Dudley's Curious Collection
By Simon Winchester, photographs by Nick Mann, Black Dog & Leventhal, 255 pages, $29.95

If you want to bone up on bones, this is a feast for your ocular sockets. Collector Alan Dudley has amassed more than 2,000 skulls over the years, artifacts he has lovingly polished and catalogued over decades. These skulls reveal evolution in its starkest form: The brain buckets all have the same basic building blocks, but the add-ons – horns, fangs, molars, tusks, mandibles, cranial capacity – reveal the survival stratagems of entire species.

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