Three vibrant coffee-table books caught our eye. The Look of the Book: Jackets, Covers, and Art at the Edge of Literature (Ten Speed Press, $50) by book designer Peter Mendelsund and Harvard professor David Alworth is a lush exploration of modern book design — the why and how of dust jackets and blurbs coupled with behind-the-scenes publishing tales and trends. The focus is on the twentieth century, and it takes particular aim at exploring how a book gets represented graphically in numerous ways over time, posing, for example, the questions, “Which is your Madame Bovary? … And which is your Lolita?” alongside a collage of book covers from various editions of each title. Remarkable Diaries: The World’s Greatest Diaries, Journals, Notebooks and Letters (DK, $30) is a glossy, easy-to-flip-through volume of mini histories of manuscripts by the likes of Da Vinci, Kahlo, and Kafka. And, if you're a Philly bibliophile, don't forget about Making the Renaissance Manuscript: Discoveries from Philadelphia Libraries (Penn Libraries/Oak Knoll, $55), which we reviewed back in September.
For the scholarly set, the new Oxford Illustrated History of the Book (Oxford University Press, $39.95), edited by James Raven, would certainly be a welcome gift. Critics have praised its accessibility, its multicultural focus, and its “sumptuous” photography.