Book Reviews | December 2009 | Nicholas Basbanes

Nick's Picks: Stocking Stuffers

I have a couple more gift-book suggestions to propose, each one a recent arrival that came in too late to make my holiday roundup published earlier this month in Fine Books & Collections, but which I offer now as last-minute recommendations.

Girouard.JPGElizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640, by Mark Girouard; New Haven, Yale University Press, 516 pages, $65.

Mark Girouard is internationally admired for several accessible books on architecture, most famously the best-seller Live in the English Country House. This latest effort of his has all the makings of monumentally about it--a grand subject, handled by an acknowledged authority in the field, and published sumptuously in a beautiful edition. The many considerations take in social structure, craftsmanship, patronage, continental influence, and of course execution. This copiously illustrated production is published in conjunction with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

JazzLoft.jpgThe Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith From 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965, by Sam Stephenson; Alfred A. Knopf, 268 pages, $40.

The New York jazz scene that burst forth in a constellation of brilliance in the 1950s and '60s, with such names as Miles Davis, Theolonius Monk, Johnny Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, and Bill Evans, is at the heart of this rich selection of material culled from the archive of the photographer W. Eugene Smith, who spent eight years documenting the rich culture, exposing 1,447 rolls of film comprising some 40,000 images, in the process. His base of operations was 821 Sixth Avenue, in the heart of the flower district. Sam Stephenson spent thirteen years going through the archive, now housed at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

ClassicToys.jpgClassic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: A Celebration of the Greatest Toys of All Time, by Scott G. Eberle; Philadelphia, Running Press, 264 pages, $29.95.

What kind of great stuff is in the National Toy Hall of Fame--yes, Virginia, there is such a creature, happily installed in the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York--is the subject of this evocative treat. G. I Joe, the Hula Hoop, the Radio Flyer, Barbie dolls, Crayola crayons and Monopoly games, of course, but Erector sets, Play-Doh, Lincoln Logs, and Jumbo Jacks as well, quite a feast here for the young at heart. A nice text puts it all in context; a very useful reference for toy collectors, needless to say.

GreekPoets.jpgThe Greek Poets: Homer to the Present, edited by Peter Constantine, Rachel Hadas, Edmund Keeley, and Karen van Dyck; New York, W. W. Norton, 692 pages, $39.95.

A rich canon of Greek poetry, epic, drama, and lyric--even some few precious lines that survive only in fragments--are gathered in this fat anthology of 1,000 poems that spans the centuries, many of them newly translated, and appearing in English for the first time. Four eras are defined: Classical Antiquiry, Byzantium, Early Modern, and Twentieth Century. Some 186 artists in all, Homer, Sappho, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides at one extreme, Nikos Gatsos, Odysseus Elytis, Yannis Ritsos, George Seferis at another. Quite a bounty.

China.jpgChina, principal photography by Ming Tan, edited by Guang Guo; New York, Abbeville Press, 244 pages, slipcased with a numbered print, $235.

Of all the books you might pick up showcasing the natural wonders and architectural landmarks of China, you will be hard pressed to top this truly panoramic effort, which really has pulled out all the stops in pursuit of elegance. Yes, the book is enormous--12 pounds, 18 inches by 12 inches, with a dozen gatefold spreads that open up to 44 inches, almost four feet in width, and is justified by the subject matter--the Himalayas, the Great Wall, the terracotta army of the First Qin Emperor among them. It is an amazing piece of bookmaking, not many of examples of which you are likely to see these days. The photography is crisp and beautifully reproduced, a generous gift for anyone whose passion is the history and culture of the Middle Kingdom.

VaticanBasilica.jpgThe Vatican and Saint Peter's Basilica of Rome, by Pavl Letarovilly; New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 320 pages, $125.

First published posthumously in three volumes in 1882, this remarkable suite of intricate architectural drawings of the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica was executed by Paul-Marie Letarovilly (1795-1855), "an acute, opinionated architect and a superb draftsman who devoted most of his professional life to a single massive enterprise: drawing and publishing the architecture of Rome from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries,"  Ingrid Rowland writes in the forward to this elegant new facsimile edition; it is published in conjunction with the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America, and the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame.