From photography and fashion and Sable Island to space, a comprehensive selection of glorious books that an iPad will never replace.
You can read the entire list here or view them by category in the galleries attached to this story. (For a handy shopping list with just the titles and authors, click here. It's perfect for printing or sending to your mobile device.)
ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN
Monumental Paris By Hervé Champollion and Aude de Tocqueville, Vendome, 240 pages, $172
The ne plus ultra of coffee-table books for the francophile. Gorgeously photographed by Hervé Champollion, the folio contains hundreds of images of the great public buildings, squares, institutions, parks and monuments that are the beating heart of Paris today. There are numerous oversized panoramas – several opening to 54 by 72 inches – of the arrondissements along the Seine and further afield, including Montmartre and La Défense, which capture various high-level vantage points of the cityscape.
The Splendor of Cuba 450 Years of Architecture and Interiors, by Michael Conners, Rizzoli, 320 pages, $90
The million or so Canadians who travel to Cuba every year will treasure this beautiful volume about the still well-preserved opulence of colonial Spanish aristocratic architecture., with its grand mansions, baroquely ornate palacios and extensive coffee and sugarcane plantations. You'll never see the island in the same way again.
CCCP Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed, by Frederic Chauvin, Taschen, 312 pages, $69.99
CCCP, the playful acronym of this tome, suggests the irreverent, ironic glance it casts at Soviet architecture. The photographs taken across the former Soviet Union capture all the kitschy minutiae and over-the-top monumentalism of state-controlled design, manifest in everything from a House of Happiness (or Palace of Weddings) in Kyrgyzstan to circus buildings in Moldova and Tatarstan.
Power to the Imagination Artists, Posters and Politics, by Jurgen Doring, Hirmer, 168 pages, $31.50
We generally pass by posters hastily glued to telephone poles without a second thought. But some deserve a place in a gallery, such as this collection of political posters by artists, some of which have become icons (think Pablo Picasso's dove). More than 100 full-colour plates present a range, from a poster for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign to late-19th-century posters for political magazines.
Fallingwater Edited by Lynda Waggoner, photographed by Christopher Little, Rizzoli, 325 pages, $69
Built in 1936 by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright for Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, Fallingwater – appearing almost as part of the mountainous western Pennsylvania landscape and built over the falls of Bear Run – is widely hailed as one of the most beautiful and innovative houses of the 20th century, beautifully detailed here.
The Northern Renaissance Dürer to Holbein, by Kate Heard and Lucy Whitaker, Royal Collection Publications, 247 pages, $62.30
A well-written, comprehensive guide to the works of the Northern Renaissance. Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein are studied in detail alongside contemporaries. The book is full of engravings, woodcuts, illuminated manuscripts and oil painting from the Netherlands, France, the Holy Roman Empire and England.
Arts & Crafts of the Native American Tribes By Michael G. Johnson and Bill Yenne, Firefly, 256 pages, $49.95
Now, they are artifacts. But the uniquely decorated pouches, scabbards, clothing, jewellery, canoes and utensils of native North Americans were once an integral part of everyday life. Find out how the designs came to be and what they symbolized. This beautifully illustrated book includes a chapter on Cree, Ojibwa and Assiniboine beadwork in Western Canada.
Rain Dance By Viktor Mitic, Quattro Books, 136 pages, $40
"All these paintings were done in Toronto … under weird conditions," Viktor Mitic says of the works in this dazzling book. Whether you buy into the somewhat theatrical conceit of his creative style, in which he paints in oils then lets the elements have their way with his work, the results are stunning – fabulous, saturated colours, bold impressions, glorious juxtapositions, luscious drippy bits, gorgeous accidents – a genuine treat for the eye.
Turner and the Elements By Ortrud Westheider and Michael Philipp, Hirmer, 224 pages, $49.95
Few artists were as consumed by portraying earth, air, fire and water as J.M.W. Turner. This is an extremely detailed and profusely illustrated examination of 95 Turner works, including some previously unpublished pieces from private collections.
Black Ice David Blackwood: Prints of Newfoundland, by Katharine Lochnan et al., Douglas & McIntyre, 208 pages, $40
Behind Blackwood's primitive-looking prints is a deeply civilized attempt to capture the fading world of outport Newfoundland. This book, coinciding with the artist's 70th birthday, explores the sources of his art, and ranges from his home province's geology to its folk customs. It includes 70 prints, spanning 40 years of his work.
Great Paintings The World's Masterpieces Explored and Explained, By Karen Hosack Janes, DK, 256 pages, $33
Ever wondered why the Mona Lisa is considered so great? This book gives you easily digestible summaries of 66 masterpieces: a summary of the work, artist's biography and historical context, and a full-colour reproduction. Details are explained in magnified pullouts. The art ranges from a Chinese silk scroll c. 1100 to a discussion of Marilyn Monroe's lips on an Andy Warhol print.
Seeing Gertrude Stein Five Stories, by Wanda M. Corn and Tirza True Latimer, University of California, 403 pages, $45
"The pleasures of looking if you like to look is always a pleasure." So Gertrude Stein was known to repeat. This is a meticulous, thought-provoking and visually stunning companion to an exhibition looking at Stein's life – as artist, patron, collector, lesbian and muse for other artists – within the larger context of her visual world.
Between Sense and de Kooning By Richard Shiff, University of Chicago Press, 312 pages, $51
Confused about Abstract Art? Richard Shiff guides us through Willem de Kooning's life in 40 chapters, with 107 colour plates accompany this very in-depth book. A lovely book for lovers of abstract art and a great gift for anyone who saw the abstract expressionist show at the Art Gallery of Ontario this fall.
El Anatsui When I Last Wrote to You About Africa, edited by Lisa M. Binder, Museum for African Art/University of Washington, 170 pages, $52
For anybody who missed El Anatsui's recent exhibit at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. El Anatsui is a multimedia artist from Africa. His imagination has stretched the meaning of art, seeing the beauty, colour and texture in found objects. This retrospective of a long career has beautiful colour plates that will open your eyes and imagination..
The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson By David P. Silcox, Firefly, 441 pages, $35
For all admirers of Canadian art. The 400 colour plates are not only pleasing to the eye, but some are shown for the first time. Iconically Canadian and focusing on Tom Thomson, this paperback edition is a treasure to own and warm those cold winter days.
Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration Early Printmaking in the Canadian Arctic, by Norman Vorano, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 93 pages, $31
Most people know how James Houston and Osuitok Ipeelee, in Cape Dorset, invented Inuit printmaking. Less well known are the roles of Japanese master printmakers and the Inuit themselves in transforming printmaking into an artistic industry. Half a century later, this well-illustrated exhibition catalogue is both revealing and informative.
Jack Chambers Light, Spirit, Time, Place and Life, edited by Dennis Reid, Goose Lane/Art Gallery of Ontario, 240 pages, $45
Few artists are mourned so frequently as Chambers, the brilliant draughtsman and virtuoso of the moment. During his short career, he progressed from surrealist-influenced evocations of dreams and memories to "perceptive realism" of quotidian life. This catalogue for an AGO exhibition stands on its own for its penetrating essays and photographs by Michael Ondaatje.
Shore, Forest and Beyond: Art From the Audain Collection Edited by Grant Arnold and Ian Thom, Douglas & McIntyre/Vancouver Art Gallery, 160 pages $55
Over the past 50 years, Vancouver builder/philanthropist Michael Audain has amassed an eye-popping collection of art. This catalogue for an Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition includes a stunning collection of aboriginal masks as well as master works by the likes of Emily Carr, Diego Rivera and Jeff Wall, treasures which usually hang on Audain's home and office walls.
The Art Museum Phaidon, 992 pages, $200
Most of us can't visit all the world's great galleries, but we can bring the works into our home in this comprehensive collection of almost 3,000 works spanning 3,000 years over 992 pages (weighing in at almost 18 lbs). Inspire a hunger for artistic expression and an appreciation for every conceivable art form as you move through time and around the world. This is a treasure to enrich a family home for years to come.
Children's Book of Mythical Beasts & Magical Monsters DK, 144 pages, $27.99
Sure, they all know Harry Potter and Twilight, but kids today might be gobsmacked to learn just how long humans have been obsessed with elves, vampires and other mythical beings. The best part of this book, which is jam-packed with illustrations in trademark DK style, is its cross-cultural content – how these beings show up in stories all over the globe. Simple presentation, sophisticated ideas.
The Not-for-Parents Travel Book By Michael Dubois, Katri Hilden and Jane Price, Lonely Planet, 208 pages, $21.99
This colourful and engaging volume will take school-age readers around the world in 200 pages, with a snapshot of every country on the planet, from Andorra to Zimbabwe. It's the kind of trivia (epic events! amazing animals! funky foods!) that makes preparing for a geography project a lot more fun to do with a book than with boring old Wikipedia.
The Incredible Pop-Up Body Book DK, 32 pages, $27.99
Light-years ahead of the overlapping-laminate-page diagrams that for years were the most convenient way for young people to learn about the body, this pop-up offers three-dimensional models of organs and systems accompanied by text explaining their interactions. Aimed at the 10-to-16 set, the 1.2-metre (four-foot) mini-human comes complete with a pop-up skull, chest, movable limbs and plenty of flaps to explore your inner workings.
The Lego Ideas Book Unlock Your Imagination, by Daniel Lipkowitz, DK, $27.99
Everyone who agrees Lego may just be the greatest toy ever will want this book to continue inspiring the Lego-lover in their life. It's loaded with tips and tricks for specific pieces, as well as for inspiration, structure, stability and making the most of your pieces. Sections cover planes, trains and automobiles, boats, homes, furniture, public buildings, farm life, bridges, castles, spaceships, scooters, moon walkers and, of course, aliens.
Lego Star Wars Character Encyclopedia By Hannah Dolan, DK, 205 pages, $20.99
A compendium of Lego's Star Wars mini-figures, divided into eight sections: Episodes I through IV, The Clone Wars and the Expanded Universe. Characters are shown as "versions" and "variants," which are the same characters but with modifications. Luke Skywalker, for example, has 10 variants. The mini-figures are annotated and shown much larger than life size. A "must-have" for Star Wars fans or Lego enthusiasts.
A Little History of the World By E.H. Gombrich, Yale University Press, 346 pages, $29.95
Although written for a younger audience, this is a good place to check your memory, or statements you want to make authoritatively about what happened when. This book, published in German in 1935, is delightfully non-pedantic and illustrated with maps and art (Gombrich, an art historian, penned The Story of Art in 1950).
Top Secret Shady Tales of Spies and Spying, by Laura Buller et al., DK, $21.99
Have a nosy parker on your hands? Nurture her natural instincts by introducing her to the world of espionage. Top Secret sets out the reasons for intelligence gathering, who watches who and why, and explains what leads people to become spies (ideology, money, ego), how they work, the history of spying, and the legality and morality of espionage.
3-D Dinosaur By John Woodward, DK, 72 pages, $19.99
Tired of the average two-dimensional tyrannosaurus? This is a guide to a downloadable program that will help prehistoric creatures of all sorts pop to life in three dimensions. Watch how they lived and loved for more than 100 million years. Children in the dinosaur-mania stage will thank you.
3-D Human Body By Richard Walker, DK Books, 72 pages, $19.95
This hyper-coloured, in-depth and up-close book on the body starts at the very beginning with a stunning photograph of an ovum, magnified to a size of a soccer ball. From there, it's a dizzying jaunt down vocal cords, into the nervous system and into our very bowels. Text boxes and diagrams make anatomy lessons more fun.
COMICS & GRAPHICA
The Blue Dragon By Robert Lepage and Marie Michaud, illustrated by Fred Jourdain, Anansi, 184 pages, $19.95
Playwright Lepage is known for innovation, but this is the first time he's turned a play into a graphic novel. He and Michaud have adapted their current stage production into a compelling narrative set in Shanghai, about an expatriate art dealer and his ex-lover. It's moodily, lyrically brought to life by Jourdain, who owes an equal debt to noir cinema and traditional Chinese brushwork.
75 Years of DC Comics By Paul Levitz, Taschen, 720 pages, $225
Comic books grabbed hold as the Second World War was becoming inevitable and North Americans craved heroes. Seventy-five years and 40,000 comic books later, Taschen celebrates DC's history with full-colour reproductions of covers, stills and original illustrations. Relive Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and fantasy characters through more than 2,000 images.
Pogo Through the Wild Blue Yonder, Vol. 1 of the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, by Walt Kelly, Fantagraphics, 288 pages, $49.99
Fans of what for many is the greatest of all comic strips have waited a long time for this, the first of a projected 12 volumes (1949-1950) from the brilliant Walt Kelly. The congenial Pogo Possum and his swampland friends – irascible Albert the Alligator, taciturn Porkypine, the lovably dimwitted turtle, Churchy LaFemme – spring to life in this collection of daily and Sunday comics, filled with Kelly's characteristic wordplay. One hopes this will introduce a new generation to this comic, satiric masterwork.
Mail-Order Mysteries Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads, by Kirk Demarais, Insight Editions, 156 pages, $19.95
The author, whose parents would not allow him to send away for comic-book novelties, finally satisfies his curiosity and shares the results here. In this wonderfully nostalgic catalogue of dashed dreams, he mercilessly lays bare the reality of X-Ray Spex (they're filled with feathers!), Ventrilo Voice Throwers, Sea Monkeys and the like.
Diana Vreeland The Eye Has To Travel, by Lisa Immordini Vreeland, Abrams, 256 pages, $62
Even though she died more than 25 years ago, Diana Vreeland's influence is constantly felt in the world of fashion. A trailblazer known as "the High Priestess of Fashion," Vreeland has served as inspiration to countless writers, editors and photographers. This stunning tome offers a bird's-eye view of her irreplaceable contributions to fashion.
Lady Gaga By Terry Richardson, Grand Central, 384 pages, $55
His own growing fame threatens to eclipse the fame of many of his very famous subjects, so it's wise that photographer Terry Richardson chose to turn his lens on one of the decade's most iconic artists: Lady Gaga. Richardson's seemingly limitless access to the pop star results in a collection of intimate, behind-the-glitter portraits that make the over-the-top singer seem surprisingly approachable.
Vogue The Covers, by Dodie Kazanjian, Abrams, 272 pages, $57.50
From Richard Avedon to Bruce Weber, the cover of Vogue magazine has played host to some of the biggest names in photography since its inception in 1892. This book highlights more than 300 of the most extraordinary cover images, alongside Kazanjian's commentary on the evolving cultural landscape of the time.
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, edited by Thierry-Maxime Loriot, Abrams, 424 pages, $145
If you missed this year's hyper-glamorous retrospective of Jean Paul Gaultier's work in Montreal, fear not. This hefty, glossy tome offers a more than passable replacement. Featuring extensive interviews with the designer and more than 500 images – many rarely seen, some never before published – the book provides a thorough retrospective of a storied career.
Chanel The Vocabulary of Style, Yale University Press, by Jérôme Gautier, 304 pages, $104
Fashion historian Gautier traces the life and career of Gabrielle Bonheur (Coco) Chanel, guiding spirit of the most influential fashion house of the 20th century. This elegant, beautifully designed volume features hundreds of photographs, both classic and contemporary, often shot by photographers who are themselves legendary, including such artists as Man Ray, Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz.
It's All About the Dress Savvy Secrets, Priceless Advice and Inspiring Stories to Help You Find "The One", by Randy Fenoli, Grand Central, 230 pages, $29.99
You don't have to be a bride to enjoy this book by the star of TLC's Say Yes To The Dress, but it helps. The personable Randy Fenoli shares insights on choosing the perfect gown. And with dozens of colour photographs of smiling brides of all ages and sizes, there's no shortage of inspiration. It all looks like such fun some of us may even be tempted to say yes to a dress more than once.
FILM, TV & THEATRE
Look, I Made a Hat Collected Lyrics (1981-2001) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany, by Stephen Sondheim, Knopf, 245 pages, $50
Following up on his 2010 bestseller Finishing the Hat, Stephen Sondheim reveals how he does it and confesses he is not above using a rhyming dictionary. This book covers Broadway hits Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods. Sondheim gives readers a generous glimpse into the creative process and into the wings, where the next Bernadette Peters might be warming up.
The Oprah Winfrey Show Reflections on an American Legacy, by Deborah Davis, Abrams, 240 pages, $55
This isn't a balanced look at Oprah Winfrey's 25-year reign on afternoon TV. It is unabashedly laudatory, with tributes from celebrities of every ilk and glorious photos of a glowing Oprah at work and at play. Think of it as a 240-page glossy and gorgeous love letter.
Eastwood on Eastwood By Michael Henry Wilson, Cahiers du Cinema/Phaidon. 240 pages, $65
A man of piercing blue eyes and many talents who made his virile reputation in spaghetti westerns and went on to forge one of Hollywood's more remarkable careers in front of and behind the cameras, Clint Eastwood is a natural subject for a work that celebrates the art of film, an iconic figure of world cinema presented through informative essays and many photos.
MGM Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, by Steven Bingen et al., Santa Monica Press, 311 pages, $38.95
Ostensibly, a fifth of all American films were shot on the backlots of MGM. Judy Garland made The Wizard of Oz there. Gene Kelly sang Singin' in the Rain. This illustrated history takes us from Irving (Boy Wonder) Thalberg's executive office, to the writers building, to the famous commissary. Here, studio craftsmen constructed multiple, miniature worlds – the illusions that made up the larger cinematic illusions.
Monsters in the Movies 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares, by John Landis, DK, 320 pages, $45
A fabulous book for lovers of movie monsters. Director John Landis (his An American Werewolf in London is a classic) has produced a lavishly illustrated look at vampires, werewolves, mummies, ghouls, zombies, aliens and assorted other creatures that go bump in our nightmares. His running commentary is an excellent piecemeal history of the genre.
Seafood How To Buy, Prepare, and Cook the Best Sustainable Fish and Seafood from Around the World, edited by C.J. Jackson, DK, 400 pages, $39
The "sustainable" speaks to the editor's feelings of "passion" and "respect" for fish, as derived from personal history: family dinners over cooked crab in England; fishing for salmon and eel in Scotland. Recognizing that some species are in peril, Jackson maintains responsible sourcing of seafood as the overlying theme for a collection of glossily illustrated recipes.
40 Years of Chez Panisse The Power of Gathering, By Alice Waters and friends, Potter, 304 pages, $62
In recent years, authors such as Michael Pollan have made conscientious eating a top-of-mind issue for many, but restaurateur Alice Waters has been spreading the gospel of sustainable agriculture for four decades. This scrapbook chronicles her restaurant's history, complete with snapshots, essays, menus and remembrances.
Carrot City Creating Places for Urban Agriculture, by Mark Gorgolewski et al., Monacelli, 240 pages, $60
From rooftop school gardens in New York to a community greenhouse in Inuvik, one learns of projects to bring agriculture into urban environments and a healthier environment into work, school and home. Often reconfiguring buildings from their original purposes to a new, greener one, this book offers a way to grow food in places not imagined before.
A History of The World in 100 Weapons By Chris McNabb, Osprey, 385 pages, $34
Battlefields that once resonated with the sounds of screams, swords and shields now know only the thunderous explosions of asymmetrical conflicts, which pit high-tech UAVs against low-tech IEDs. Here you can meet the Fokkers – and the howitzers, Brownings and Lee Enfields – that have been so instrumental in warcraft.
Travelling the Silk Road Ancient Pathway to the Modern World, American Museum of Natural History, 250 pages, $40
In those centuries when caravans crossed deserts between Xi'an, Samarkand and Baghdad, camels served as the means by which civilizations traded goods and ideas, Today, we may live in a China-centred world of constant trade, but we owe a great debt to those early Oriental merchants who braved peril in search of riches.
The Golden Age of Flowers Botanical Illustration in the Age of Discovery 1600-1800, by Celia Fisher, British Library, 144 pages, $21
A hundred exquisite botanical illustrations capture the 17th-century craze for new plants. European aristocrats poured fortunes into plant-hunting; botanists moved in the highest circles. Colour presses advanced the mania. What we can casually purchase now at the greenhouse were once hothouse treasures brought from afar.
History of Britain & Ireland: The Definitive Visual Guide By R.G Grant, Ann Kay and Michael Kerrigan, DK, 400 pages, $45
The Tudors made for steamy TV, and Camelot is even hotter. Now, how about the history behind the seductive production values? Even if Arthur never existed, this feast of a book gives us a rich visual context for his myth-making. Touching on everything from misty Druidic prehistory to current political brouhahas, it's a great big kids book for grown-ups.
The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War By Margaret E. Wagner, Little, Brown, 254 pages, $39
Big illustrations – pictures, paintings and documents – sell this, as does the use of diaries and correspondence (including letters from poet Walt Whitman to his mother) to break down the sad story of this continent-altering conflagration into comprehensible chunks.
Smithsonian Timelines of History| DK, 512 pages, $55
This visually busy book is great to check out with a 10-year-old doing a history project, if only to see what else was happening in the world when the sought-after info is found. Alas, Canada's Confederation didn't make it into the 1867 timeline. We do make it in for the Quebec Act of 1774, the establishment of what would become the RCMP in 1873, and the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670.
The Wild West 365 By Michael Wallis, Abrams, 744 pages, $39.95
You will almost recognize photographs of a time that is embedded in our heads from childhood: the Wild West. The text and images validate stories that seemed so foreign as to be fictional. Geronimo, for instance, was not a cartoon character but an Apache leader who died of pneumonia in 1909. Each day of the calendar presents a new topic and a new story.
The New Atlas of World History Global Events at a Glance, by John Haywood, Princeton University Press, 252 pages, $53.50
The graphical format of this history of mankind allows one to view happenings in one part of the world and then see other events at the same time in different areas of the world. Unique and refreshing. Illustrations and maps peppered throughout make accessing the information enticing and easy.
Voyages To The New World and Beyond, by Gordon Miller, Douglas & McIntyre, 192 pages, $55
This well-illustrated book traces the evolution of tiny ships that managed to take their crews safely across rolling seas to unknown lands and were sturdy enough to bring at least some of them home again after remarkable adventures.
The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott Unseen Images from the Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by David M. Wilson, Little, Brown, 191 pages, $39
Aficionados of polar exploration will treasure this volume of recently unearthed photos by Robert Falcon Scott on his second expedition to Antarctica. They offer an intimate look at the ill-fated expedition and capture the magnitude of what Scott and his men were up against. David Wilson, grand-nephew of Scott's chief scientist, tells the tangled tale of the expedition's aftermath and how the photos came to be lost.
Explorers The Most Exciting Voyages of Discovery – From the African Expeditions to the Lunar Landing, by Andrea De Porti, Firefly, 60 pages, $29.95
Archival photographs ranging from the early African expeditions to the Apollo lunar missions give a timeline over the past 150 years of famous and lesser-known Western explorers' travels. Each journey is briefly described in fold-out poster pages with biographical and historical context, including the political and scientific significance.
The Civil War A Visual History, edited by James G. Barber, DK, 360 pages, $44
The American Civil War ran from 1861 to 1865. More than 50,000 books have been published on the war. This huge, sprawling collaborative effort, superintended by the Smithsonian Institution, is a splendid synthesis combining contemporary illustrations and observations with modern interpretations.
100 Days That Changed Canada Edited by Mark Reid, HarperCollins, 232 pages, $45
In a follow-up to the bestseller 100 Photos That Changed Canada, prominent figures such as Peter Mansbridge and Charlotte Gray focus on "key" dates from 1867 and "into the Future." Mansbridge, for example, takes on the "Flag Flap" (Dec. 15, 1964), the day Parliament embraced the red Maple Leaf. Gray, among other topics, showcases Sept. 12, 1930, the day a team of Toronto scientists invented Pablum. Popular history in easily digestible form.
Selling Canada Three Propaganda Campaigns that Shaped the Nation, by Daniel Francis, Stanton Atkins & Dosil, 192 pages, $45
The story of three major Canadian propaganda campaigns, from the posters that sold Canada as a land of plenty to immigrants, to the recruitment of soldiers in the Great War, and creating a tourism market around Banff and the West. It's a very readable history brought vividly to life by hundreds of evocative posters and photos.
NATURE & SCIENCE
The Physics Book From the Big Bang to Quantum Resurrection, 250 Milestones in the History of Physics, by Clifford A. Pickover, Sterling, 528 pages, $32.95
If you have family debates over string theory, this is probably a tad simple for you. But if you're looking for an overview of the Big Ideas – and the subatomic ones – this book is a treat. Illustrated and arranged in chronological order, it'll give you a leg up on your kid's science homework – or the next cocktail party.
Animal Life Secrets of the Animal World Revealed, by Charlotte Uhlenbroek, American Museum of Natural History/DK, 512 pages, $30.95
A fascinating romp through the animal kingdom. Organized into three parts – Animal Kingdom, Animal Anatomy and Animal Behaviour – this book conveys information in an action-packed, visually stunning way. There is a lot to look at and a lot to learn. A must for your budding zoologist.
Encyclopedia of Tropical Plants Identification and Cultivation of Over 3,000 Tropical Plants, by Ahmed Fayaz, Firefly, 720 pages, $75
This book, with its lovely illustrations, is for winter nights when you dream of having a conservatory, or for any time of the year when you are trying to coax tropical plants in your garden. The introduction explains presentation in alphabetic order of genera, species arranged in family order to make it easier to compare plants. And it has helpful separate indices of common and botanical names as well as a glossary.
Deceptive Beauties The World of Wild Orchids, by Christian Ziegler, University of Chicago, 180 pages, $45
Its apparent fragility – and stunning beauty – belies the cut-throat survival stratagems of this street-fighting flower. The orchid, in its march from the top of the rain-forest canopy to Arctic circle austerity, has yet to find a habitat it can't tackle. Tiny seeds pair with ground fungi to provide nutrients for young flowers to sprout broad petals that serve as "landing strips" for pollinating insects.
Beneath Cold Seas The Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, by David Hall, GreyStone, 160 pages, $45
You won't find SpongeBob SquarePants here, but you will find great photos of critters and phenomena from the deepest deeps of the Pacific Northwest. There isn't much light down there, and that makes these photos (and the colours!) of kelp forests and "scalyhead sculpin" that much more remarkable.
Science The Definitive Visual Guide, edited by Adam Hart-Davis, DK, 512 pages, $27.95
From prehistory to present day, significant scientific findings are laid out in this visually rich edition. Photographs, drawings and graphics expertly aid our understanding of discoveries. The chronological structure lets us see how earlier scientific discoveries often became the base of later, related breakthroughs.
A History of Earth in 100 Groundbreaking Discoveries By Douglas Palmer, Firefly, 415 pages, $29.95
As far as we know, our solar system has given rise to life on one planet alone, our own. This paperback volume explores why this is so, explaining in detail the key scientific discoveries that have laid the basis of our current understanding. Spanning the moment of the Earth's creation to the speculative future, Palmer's lucid text lays out answers to the key questions.
Violent Earth Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Mudslides, Tsunamis, by Robert Dinwiddie et al., DK/Smithsonian, 360 pages, $45
A topical, lavishly illustrated survey, incorporating the latest in scientific consensus, of the disasters to which Mother Earth is prone. Includes sections on the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Christchurch, Japan's tsunami in 2011 and the 2010 floods in Pakistan, as well as explanations of Hurricane Katrina, ocean-floor tectonics and the origins of volcanoes.
The Book of the Wind The Representation of the Invisible, by Alessandro Nova, McGill-Queen's, 223 pages, $75
How can we depict what we cannot see? This challenge has long fascinated artists intent on capturing the wind – the godlike force with powers of life and death. From luminous ancient sculptures to gleaming medieval manuscripts to swirling satellite images of El Nino, this sumptuous book explores the iconic role of wind in art and literature.
Atlas of Oceans By John Farndon, Yale University Press, 256 pages, $50
A brilliant, lavishly illustrated and timely account of the evolution of the world's marine bodies of water and the ecological disaster that is unfolding underneath, within and around them. Skillfully written for a general audience, the book reminds us we can not survive without healthy seas, and delivers a persuasive wake-up call.
Frozen Planet A World Beyond Imagination, by Alastair Fothergill and Vanessa Berlowitz, Firefly, 312 pages, $39.95
The companion to the third instalment of the BBC Earth series lands just in time for winter. Featuring top-notch field photography, it follows the life cycles of the environment and its animal inhabitants in polar regions. It explores hitherto restricted areas of the Russian Arctic and, of course, Canada's North: a pictorial sequence of a pack of wolves tracking and attacking bison is particularly arresting.
Avian Architecture How Birds Design, Engineer & Build, by Peter Goodfellow, Princeton University Press, 160 pages, $28.95
For the amateur ornithologist, this book outlines the clever ways birds build nests – not only as a home for their young, but also for courtship purposes and food supplies (for them and us; think bird's nest soup). Organized according to nest type, it includes blueprints, methods and materials, case studies and photos covering more than 100 avian architects.
Auroras Fire in the Sky, by Dan Bortolotti, photos by Yuichi Takasaka, Firefly, 143 pages, $29.95
Beautiful photos of the strange dancing lights we too rarely see in our night sky, along with text explaining the controversies over the physics of the upper atmosphere. Aurora borealis are sometimes bright enough to cast shadows on the ground, we learn, and the most intense and unusual are red – which caused terror in medieval times. An intense solar storm in March, 1989, led not only to spectacular auroras, but caused a nine-hour power outage in Quebec.
Fred Herzog Photographs, by Fred Herzog, Douglas & McIntyre, 224 pages, $60
Canada's own Robert Frank, Fred Herzog was a medical photographer working in Vancouver when he shot most of the material in this book. His detailed work, spanning the 1950s and 1960s, vividly evokes in delicious Kodachrome the multicultural, working-class populace that thronged the city's neon-lit streets. Essays by Sarah Milroy, Douglas Coupland, and Jeff Wall provide illuminating commentary.
Mountain By Sandy Hill, Rizzoli, 352 pages, $95
The aptly named Sandy Hill, also a world-class mountaineer, has traversed the jutting world to produce this spectacular collection of alpine photography. Here are the jagged peaks of the mighty Himalayas, panoramas of the Rockies, a skier on Alberta's Mount Norquay, glaciers and many, many shots of climbers doing their thing. Majestic, inspiring, and with a powerful sense of aloneness.
Iraq Perspectives, by Benjamin Lowry, Duke University Press, 120 pages, $42
"Too dangerous to simply walk," so photographer Benjamin Lowry took photographs of the war in Iraq through Humvee windows and military-issue night-vision goggles over a six-year period. The resulting images of everyday life, anxious Iraqi civilians and active U.S. solders are powerful and compelling, providing readers with an alternative view of Iraq and of war.
Marilyn Intimate Exposures: 50 Years of Enduring Fascination, by Susan Bernard, Sterling, 208 pages, $42
This superb collection showcases not only Marilyn Monroe the star, with her magic bond with the camera, but also the vulnerable, shy young woman before she became Marilyn. The splendid, intimate portraits by iconic photographer Bruno Bernard remind us why film audiences found her beauty so riveting and why she retains such a powerful hold on the imagination 50 years after her death.
Rose, c'est Paris By Bettina Rheims and Serge Bramly, Taschen, unpaginated, $79.99
This is more than just a book of erotic photography. It's a detective story without words. A poem without verse. An essay without tedium. Oh yes, and there's a feature-length film on DVD for good measure. All you really need to know is that this one-of-a-kind oeuvre marries the beauty of the female nude to the splendour of the City of Light with a surrealist twist reminiscent of Dali's mustache.
Last Call By George Webber, RMB, unpaginated, $39.95
Calgary's East Village is in the midst of a massive urban renewal that is transforming the city into what Mayor Naheed Nenshi describes as "a real jewel." With photos taken from 2004 to 2009, Last Call is a pre-gentrification "battle against time." Webber frames folks in the deep margin; iconic hotels; cast-off spaces and people in a world crashing down and vanishing. Honest, desolate and authentic.
Pilgrimage By Annie Leibovitz, Random House, 244 pages, $55
A meditation of and homage to thinkers and artists such as Dickinson, O'Keeffe, Thoreau, Woolf, Freud and Darwin. A co-project originally intended with partner Susan Sontag before her death, this collection has a gravitas atypical of Leibovitz's celebrity glamour work. But here is stunning portrait-taking of a different kind: Long-departed subjects emerge through an exploration of their dwellings and belongings.
The Human Body Close-Up By John Clancy, Firefly, 320 pages, $29.95
In this microscopic journey from 4x up to 18,000x magnification, the body resembles stunning landscapes, seascapes and fantastical worlds more beautiful and grotesque than anything that could be imagined. Fields of sea anemones wave in our nasal passage, mucous and retinal cells. Lymphatic vessels are tangled root systems. This fascinating book encourages discovery of how the body is its own natural wonder.
The Natural World Close-Up By Giles Sparrow, Firefly, 319 pages, $29.95
Whether it's the transformation of an earthworm into a stunning sculptural image or a scanning electron microscope image of a gecko's feet that explains how they stick to walls, these images allow us to see the natural world on a different scale. Focusing on magnified details of plants, animals and geology in more than 300 colour photos, with succinct explanations, this is both an art and a science book.
Rock Seen By Bob Gruen, Abrams, 287 pages, $52
In 1965, when the crowd at the Newport Folk Festival booed Bob Dylan for going electric, Bob Gruen was there shooting photos. When Sean Lennon was born, Gruen was the one John called. Looking through this collection of iconic images is like having the ultimate backstage pass to rock 'n' roll history.
Queen Elizabeth II Portraits By Cecil Beaton and Suzanna Brown, 128 pages, $40
Cecil Beaton was one of the premier photographers of the rich and powerful of his era. This collection of portraits of a woman beyond rich or powerful is stiff and dated by today's standards, evocative black-and-white shots and formal colour portraits in full regalia. More interesting are examples of the photographer's contact sheets showing the shots that made it to posterity and those, sometimes more interesting, that didn't.
Back in the Bigs How Winnipeg Won, Lost and Regained Its Place in the NHL, by Randy Turner, Winnipeg Free Press, 208 pages, $35
From the moment the Winnipeg Jets signed Bobby Hull, the city's hockey fans felt like they were in the big time. This is a meaty history of the arrival, loss and return of top-level hockey on the Prairies, amply illustrated. From stars like Hull and Dale Hawerchuk to cult figures like the bumbling Sergei Bautin, the stories and images will be too much for nostalgic Jets fans to resist.
Reflections 2011 The NHL Hockey Year in Photographs, by Michael A. Berger, GreyStone, $27.95
Any young hockey player will pore over the scenes captured here: locker-room camaraderie, the anticipation of taking the ice, acrobatic clashes, celebratory salutes, interaction with fans, the joy of victory and solace in defeat. While the photos give moments, the stats at the back tell the final story.
NHL Records Forever Hockey's Unbeatable Achievements, by Andrew Podnieks, Fenn/M&St, 209 pages, $32.99
A detailed guide to hockey achievements that are virtually unbeatable. Decades of unbreakable records, grouped by category: career, season and game. Information about each achievement gives the record, how it was done and why it will never be equalled, with sidebars about the players and archival photos.
The Sports Book The Games, the Rules, the Tactics, the Techniques, edited by Bob Bridle et al., DK, 435 pages, $21.95
A comprehensive, attractive guide to more than 200 sports, divided into 12 categories, including Olympic Events, Target Sports, Extreme Sports and Animal Sports. Each has explanatory graphics, game-winning strategies, up-to-date rules, statistics and equipment.
Hockey's Original Six Great Players of the Golden Era, by Mike Lionetti, GreyStone, 138 pages, $45
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the NHL had only six teams and perhaps 150 players. This beautiful, text-light book features gorgeous colour action shots of the top handful from that era, scarred, Brylcreemed and passionate. For enthusiasts of an era when good colour sports photography was as rare as a player agent or a six-figure salary.
The Big Show Charles M. Conlon's Golden Age Baseball Photographs, by Neal McCabe and Constance McCabe, Abrams, 224 pages, $40
Legendary sports photographer Charles M. Conlon took 30,000 photographs of baseball players from 1904 to 1942. This follows his first collection ( Baseball's Golden Age) in drawing from a cache of rare photos. The black-and-white gems are complemented by quotes from and stories about players, including Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth.
Canada Thirty Years of the Game at its Best, edited by Gare Joyce, Viking Canada, 256 pages, $39
From Dave Morrison's uplifting description of Canada's victory in 1982, Mike Sands's description of the unnerving newness of playing in Leningrad with Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Dave Andreychuk in 1983 (the talent was so deep that Doug Gilmour was a late cut), right up to Canada's stunning loss in 2011, every hockey name in Canadian history is here in living colour. Lively storytelling, great context.
TRAVEL & GEOGRAPHY
The Sacred Headwaters The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass, by Wade Davis, GreyStone, 145 pages, $50
The fight is on to save the sacred headwaters in the mountains of Northern British Columbia from massive mining projects that would destroy one of the continent's most untouched tracks of wilderness and an important source of life-giving rivers. Aerial pictures of the vast landscape complement ecologist extraordinaire Davis's narrative of what makes this land so worth fighting for.
The Roof at the Bottom of the World Discovering the Transantarctic Mountains, by Edmund Stump, Yale University Press, 254 pages, $31
Antarctica is for most of us a place of dreams, where only a few intrepid explorers have dared to venture. They paved the way for Edmund Stump, a geologist who has painstakingly worked to redefine the forbidding mountainous landscape. Through maps, old and new, finely wrought essays and his own stunning photographs, Stump charts a voyage of discovery well worth taking.
Sable Island By Damian Lidgard, Nimbus, 102 pages, $27.95
One of the few regular visitors to the magnificent island off Nova Scotia known as "the graveyard of the Atlantic," photographer Lidgard captures all its iconic beauty, from the sculptural sand formations to the sturdy, mysterious wild horses and tiny Ipswich sparrows. This book makes you want to grab your parka and go there – high praise indeed for the chronicler of such a bleak and strangely beautiful treasure.
Sable Island The Wandering Sandbar, by Wendy Kitts, Nimbus, 96 pages, $15.95
A perfect companion book to Damian Lidgard's. Besides the wild horses for which it is famous, the island hosts tens of thousands of seals, "singing" sands and "wandering" dunes, and treacherous patches of quicksand. Kitts introduces the wonders and stark realities of this wild place in this accessible, exciting look at a protected, untamed ecosystem.
The World's Must-See Places A Look Inside More Than 100 Magnificent Buildings and Monuments, DK, 264 pages, $28
This collection features 103 castles, cathedrals, temples and other man-made wonders everyone should visit – if only through the pages of this book. Photographs and 3-D illustrations take readers right inside structures from the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt through to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
Off the Tourist Trail 1,000 Unexpected Travel Alternatives, by Eyewitness Travel, DK, 336 pages, $23.95
Gorgeous images of mountains to rival Everest, medieval towns less overrun than Prague and more journeys, treks and races than a person can achieve in a lifetime. The bad news is that there are more fantastic things to see than you can possibly hope to get to.
Mountaineers Great Tales of Bravery and Conquest, by Ed Douglas, DK/Smithsonian, 360 pages, $45
They are all here, from Hannibal's historic alpine trek with elephants to today's world-class climbers. Packed in between, complete with startling black-and-white and colour images and maps, are accounts of the epic ascents made by the likes of Edmund Hillary, Canada's Yvon Chouinard and Poland's Jerzy Kukuczka. Inspiring.
10 Celebrating Ten Years of the Tour d'Afrique Bicycle Race and Expedition, edited and designed by David Houghton, Open Circle, 252 pages, $55
If you want to know what is required to undertake the gruelling, 4½-month bike trip from Cairo to Cape Town, this is the book for you: stunning photographs taken by the decade's worth of explorers who have essayed the event, as well as quotes that document the life-transforming consequences riders have experienced. Introduction by Tour d'Afrique founder Henry Gold, whose once-madcap idea has been more than validated.
Yukon A Wilder Place, by Fritz Mueller and Teresa Earle, GreyStone, 160 pages, $50
This collection of amazing photographs is the work of a husband-and-wife team who spent two decades venturing into some of the North's wildest places. The scenery is stunning and the images of ice-encrusted grizzlies, migrating caribou and remote rivers are breathtaking.
Persuasion An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Robert Morrison, Belknap/Harvard, 341 pages, $36
Jane Austen's last work, published posthumously in 1817, is her deepest and most introspective. Austen's view of the drawing apart and coming together of Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth is both wintry and warm. This lovely version features period illustrations, a fine introduction by the editor and enough annotation to amplify our understanding of this classic.
Charles Dickens At Home By Hilary Macaskill, Frances Lincoln, 144 pages, $45.95
Dickens was a homebody, intensely interested in the decor in his many houses, even in brief stays abroad. Some of these make appearances in his writing; Gad's Hill, in Kent, was the scene of the dance in The Pickwick Papers. He kept exquisite order in his study despite living with multiple children. Macaskill entwines these details into a history of his domestic life, his prodigious literary output, the breakdown of his marriage and his relationship with Ellen Ternan.
Car The Definitive Visual History of the Automobile, DK, 355 pages, $42
Fundamentally, any car is just a mode of conveyance, whether it's the 40-mile-per-hour Model T or a 240-mile-per-hour Ferrari Enzo. Yet it is also a feat of engineering and design. Consider the fins of the 1950s Cadillac Eldorado, the gull wings of the 1970s DeLorean or even the compact simplicity of the $2,000 Tata Nano, designed in India a couple of years ago for Third World drivers.
The Best Homes from This Old House By Kevin O'Connor, photographs by Michael Casey, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 228 pages, $40
This Old House has been broadcast on PBS since 1979, making it easily the longest-running home-improvement show on the airwaves, and a good part of the charm is host Kevin O'Connor. Here he selects the 10 houses from the past decade that have undergone the most complete and satisfying renovations, displayed (before and after) in scrumptious photographic detail.
Malcolm Gladwell Collected The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, the Definitive Editions, Little, Brown, 768 pages, $85
This handsome gift package is a perfect introduction for those who haven't yet discovered Gladwell and his bestseller-list-dominating works. (Also for those who have worn out their original books.) This boxed set comes with more than 200 drawings by famed illustrator Brian Rea.
Pearl Jam Twenty Compiled By Jonathan Cohen with Mark Wilkerson, Simon & Schuster, 384 pages, $40
An oral history of the first two decades of the Seattle-based band, one of alt-rock music's most distinctive and influential groups, with an introduction by Cameron Crowe. In addition to lead vocalist Eddie Veder and the other principals, we hear from Neil Young, Peter Townsend, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl.
George Harrison Living in the Material World, by Olivia Harrison, 397 pages, $45
During the making of the documentary that shares this book's title, the widow of the iconic Beatle gave filmmaker Martin Scorsese unprecedented access to photos and personal effects. Beautifully designed, rich with images from the Beatles' heyday, as well as memorabilia reflecting the more spiritual latter-day George, the book traces the arc of Harrison's extraordinary life.
Built for Adventure The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt, by Clive Cussler, Putnam, 227 pages, $57.50
Fans of Cussler's Dirk Pitt stories will recognize in this sleek book several of the classic vehicles that sped, sank and crashed their way through his many adventures. Cussler gives you those cars and more with gorgeous photographs and histories of his collection, from a 1906 Stanley Steamer to a 1948 Talbot-Lago Grand Sport Coupé. You'll need sunglasses with all the shiny chrome.
Alphabets A Miscellany of Letters, introduction by David Sacks, Black Dog, 240 pages, $45
Everything you ever wanted to know about the alphabet and its relation to art, design, typography, kids books, signage and so on between two covers in a thoroughly entertaining and visually arresting romp. For once, truly, a gift for all ages, and if it were to be given a grade, especially for clever execution – a clear A+.