The holiday season brings out simple titles, not to mention simplemindedness in gift-book publishers.
Houses issue gargantuan tomes with one-word toppers such as
, figuring they've snared at least one captive market: worshippers of said object or personage.
We also do some figuring this time of year.
We figure you can figure out what's in those books, and whether anyone on your list wants them. Here we concentrate on more nuanced coffee-table winners, for a variety of tastes, that call for a bit of further explanation.
Except, of course, when we encounter a book with a one-word title about an object or personage we especially like.
The Righteous Among the Nations: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust
by Mordecai Paldiel (Collins, $59.95). You read about nasty folks all year long in the paper - try reading about some heroes. With a foreword by Elie Wiesel, produced with Yad Vashem in Israel.
by Peter Kobel and the Library of Congress (Little, Brown, $45). No, not about sitting through films without neighbors inhaling popcorn or blabbering to their dates. There was a time, young'uns, when movies came without sound, and Kobel's illustrated history beautifully recaptures the era.
by A.K. Sandoval-Strausz (Yale, $37.50). If Elvis had crooned
, it might have stood as a good review of this exquisitely cerebral history, also lovely to behold, of an institution that changed modern life. Check in if you can.
The Art of Ill Will: The Story of American Political Cartoons
by Donald Dewey (NYU Press, $34.95). More than 200 pungent examples, from the days of Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin to the present, with a smooth text that explains the special punch of editorial cartoonists.
Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery
Essay by Rick Atkinson (National Geographic, $30). Solemn, bittersweet, with 175 images, some heartbreaking.
The Onion Presents Our Dumb Century
(Crown, $23.95). Subtitled "100 Years of Headlines From America's Finest News Source," mock front pages that show how the sardonic tab would have handled big news (e.g., "Rosa Parks to Take Cab," "Kennedy Slain by CIA, Mafia, Castro, LBJ, Teamsters, Freemasons").
by Claire Nouvian (University of Chicago Press, $45). Did you know that only about 5 percent of the deep-sea floor has been mapped in any detail? Absolutely astonishing photos of the species living in those ground-floor apartments. Gives new meaning to the phrase "I'm not going there."
Life, Liberty and the Mummers
by E.A. Kennedy III (Temple University Press, $35). Trust me, someone you know wants to highstep through these 150 odd (and we do mean odd) photos, gathered over four years of snapping the New Year's Day parade. Maybe you're in one of them.
Design for Democracy: Ballot + Election Design
by Marcia Lausen (University of Chicago Press, $65). Butterflies, chads, misaligned punch holes - fascinating study, with great graphics, of ballot design and how to improve it. The thinky gift book for a political wonk.
by Barry J. Beitzel (Barron's, $50). Titanic Bible atlas, 575 gorgeous oversized pages, that takes you back to biblical lands as they looked back when, with context and useful tools galore (such as 14 pages of reference tables and a glossary of biblical terms).
Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas
Edited by Sam Durant, with a foreword by Danny Glover. (Workhouse/Rizzoli, $35). Douglas, the Black Panther Party's "Revolutionary Artist and Minister of Culture," did provocative work, gathered here and smartly contextualized.
Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations
by Vincent Virga and the Library of Congress (Little, Brown, $60). Anybody got a map? The Library of Congress boasts five million. Here, splendidly displayed, are 200 of the most evocative, including classic "mismappings" and Faulkner's hand-drawn 1936 rendering of his fictional Yoknapatawpha County.
The Oxford Companion to Italian Food
by Gillian Riley (Oxford University Press, $35). "Pig" gets five pages and "Pizza" gets one? Maybe the
would be more trustworthy. But still a treat, especially those odd entries like the one for novelist Giuseppe di Lampedusa: "See PASTA, BAKED; PASTA SHAPES."
A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life From the Pages of the Forward
Edited by Alana Newhouse (W.W. Norton, $39.95). A world departed, now recovered, in images from the fabled newspaper that celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.
by H. Michael Mogil (Black Dog & Leventhal, $24.95). Timely eye-opening synopsis by a meteorologist, a good reference to store away for our warmed-up future. Excellent chapter on "Is the Weather Really Getting Worse?" (Yes.)
MAD'S Greatest Artists: The Completely MAD Don Martin
(Running Press, boxed, $150). Can't see enough of the magazine and cartoonist that kept you sane through your coming-of-age in the '60s and '70s? How about two volumes and more than 1,000 pages? What, him lift it?
Sympathy for the Devil
by Dominic Molon, et. al. (Yale University Press, $50). Excellent panorama of the connection between "Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967," a companion volume to the current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Sports in the 21st Century
by Reuters (Thames and Hudson, $50). We're not even a decade in yet, but here are the quintessential 750-plus photos, with excellent brief explanations of where sport is heading.
Columbia Companion to Twentieth-Century Philosophies
by Constantin Boundas (Columbia University Press, $75). The world's oldest intellectual profession keeps rolling along - this fine new compendium will help you keep up with the new names for old ideas.
by Umberto Eco (Rizzoli, $45). The energetic Italian aesthetician and novelist ponders, with ample pictorial assistance, bad looks. A healthy counterweight to the season's coffee-table surfeit of beauty.
(Flammarion, $45). A fine one-word-title book, photos celebrating famous French women - Coco Chanel, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras - and many not so famous, such as some haunting members of the Resistance.