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Call them survivors.
Of all the categories in publishing, perhaps none has better survived the onslaught of e-reading than the old-fashioned coffee-table book.
There is something about their glossy paper, striking colour photography and artful design that give these titles a timeless appeal -- especially in the holiday season when you are looking for just the right gift.
In today's special section, Free Press staffers and book reviewers have done some legwork to select some of the year's most noteworthy titles.
Spirit of the Wild
By Paul Nicklen
National Geographic, 208 pages, $35
Canadian photographer Paul Nicklen treats us to a moving collection of pictures of four majestic North American bear species -- polar, grizzly, black and spirit.
His personal stories and captions about each photo, along with writings by noted environmentalists, build the case for understanding these feared animals and protecting their ability to survive human encroachment.
-- Harriet Zaidman
Hachette, 288 pages, $40
Given that this book is hardcover, it's pretty hard to bend it like Beckham.
Englishman David Beckham was never the best soccer player in the world -- far from it -- but has any footballer ever marketed himself as a celebrity so well?
Here you'll find dozens of action photos of Beckham from a wee lad to his final days with Paris St. Germain, mostly in the kit of England and Manchester United, but also such clubs as Real Madrid and L.A. Galaxy, which paid him huge bucks for his uncanny ability to put a 40-yard free kick precisely where he wanted.
Many are arty black-and-white photos with one patch of red, or whatever colour was favoured by his club of the moment.
Lots of pix, too, of Beckham with wife Posh Spice, and of him posing as a model with his shirt off, displaying his abs and tattoos.
-- Nick Martin
Things Come Apart
By Todd McLellan
Thames and Hudson, 125 pages, $31.50
For anyone who's ever been tempted to rip apart their alarm clock, there it is. Not mangled and flung against a wall as you imagined, but painstakingly disassembled, all the components, right down to 60 of those flippy little numbers, 00 to 59, methodically lined up like little soldiers in formation. And there's a typewriter and an iPad, an accordion and a full upright piano.
Disassembling is what Canadian Todd McLellan has been doing since childhood. First it was his toys, taken apart with a hammer, but by high school, he was disassembling entire cars. For Things Come Apart, he has disassembled and photographed 50 design classics.
Is there a point? Well, it's clear older object were better built and worth repairing when they broke, unlike the items we have now in the throwaway age. But, mainly, the stuff just looks really cool in the photos.
-- Julie Carl
Dawn to Dark Photographs
The Magic of Light
National Geographic, 398 pages, $40
Exceptional photos capture the day around the world, from the first glimpse of dawn to the last rays of sun at dusk.
Glorious landscapes and brilliant photojournalistic pictures use light to tell the story of life in cities, villages, jungles, deserts, the Arctic and even undersea. Comments from the photographers and poetic quotes enhance the beauty of the pictures.
-- Harriet Zaidman
Lost Beneath the Ice
The Story of Investigator
By Andrew Cohen, Images selected by Parks Canada
Dundurn, 149 pages, $30
When Sir John Franklin failed to return from the Canadian Arctic, it set off what may have been the largest search-and-rescue operation in history. Some 40 ships were launched in search of Franklin's two ships, which have still not been found.
One of them was HMS Investigator, which itself became trapped in the ice in 1851. The crew, or what remained of it, was eventually rescued, but the ship was abandoned, never to be seen again until Parks Canada organized a successful expedition in 2010.
Toronto journalist Andrew Cohen and Parks Canada tell the story of Investigator in words, pictures and contemporary paintings and drawings, including underwater photographs of the wreck. It belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in Arctic history and exploration.
-- David O'Brien
The Big New Yorker Book of Cats
Foreword by Anthony Lane
Random House, 329 pages, $46
The New Yorker imprimatur should alert you that this cat-focused compendium is a cut above cute YouTube videos.
With fiction and non-fiction contributions from such august names as John Updike, Susan Orlean, James Thurber, Margaret Atwood and Roald Dahl, as well as poetry, cartoons and a surprising number of colour New Yorker covers featuring felines, there's something for every taste (though it's a tad text-heavy for a coffee-table book; those YouTube video fans among us might say "MOAR cat pix").
A lovely gift for the literary feline fancier on your list -- even Grumpy Cat would agree.
-- Jill Wilson
Humans of New York
By Brandon Stanton
St. Martin's Press, $34.50
This colourful tome contains some of the best images from photographer Brandon Stanton's Tumblr blog of the same name. The anonymous people featured in his collection of street portraits range from wild, wacky types to everyday Joes on the job, but in the photographer's eyes, they are all equally fascinating. Stanton includes captions -- either quotes from the subject or his own observations -- that add nuance to the pictures and make every shot seem like a short story. Touching, funny, sweet and sad, this is a book you'll flip through time and again.
-- Jill Wilson
Great Moments of the U.S. Open
By Robert Williams and Michael Trostel
Firefly, 212 pages, $35
Pictures are worth tens of thousands of words in this fabulously illustrated chronicle of the greatest moments at the most testing tournament in golf. There's Watson's greenside leap upon draining "the Chip" on the 17th at Pebble, and Tiger's mighty fist pump at Torrey when he sank the winning putt after limping and wincing through 91 holes on a knee that required surgery.
Wins by Arnie, the Golden Bear, Super Mex and the improbable Jack Fleck are brought back to life by vivid photos and robust storytelling.
-- Darron Hargreaves
The BBC Archives, 1962-1970
By Kevin Howlett
HarperDesign, 336 pages, $68
British author and Beatles expert Kevin Howlett has exhaustively researched the Fab Four's relationship with BBC Radio and Television, exploring in deep detail the chronology of the Beatles and the Beeb, from their first audition in 1962 (they passed, earning a spot on the Teenagers Turn program) to a final BBC interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1970 (shortly after their visit with Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau).
The dense volume is packed with rare photos, correspondence and interview transcripts, and includes a full rundown of the 88 songs performed on BBC Radio by the group's members between 1962 and 1965 (in all, there were 275 performances recorded).
The book is packaged in an album-like box and includes some extras that will thrill Beatles fans, including a rare photo of the foursome at the BBC, and a copy of the first "Application for an Audition by Variety Department" submitted by manager Brian Epstein January 1962.
-- Brad Oswald
The Major League Baseball Ultimate Book of Records
Essays by various authors
Fenn/McClelland & Stewart, 250 pages, $33
Sabermetricians and sandlot fans alike won't be able to close this book for hours. Unparalleled feats of greatness (and luck and happenstance) are brought forward in full-page black-and-white and colour photos accompanied by insightful commentary and a plateful of surprises.
Did you know the Los Angeles Dodgers have had seven team nicknames in franchise history? That's a major league baseball record.
-- Darron Hargreaves
This Land Was Made for You and Me (But Mostly Me)
By Bruce McCall and David Letterman
McClelland & Stewart, 112 pages, $35
An alternate title might have been Lifestyles of the Rich and Horrible. Writer-illustrator Bruce McCall is an expat Canadian endlessly amused by retro-futurism and gigantic structures. David Letterman is a snarky talk-show host.
Together, they offer a comedic guide to mega-conspicuous consumption, "the outrageous display of obscene wealth by the world's one per cent."
The dizzying excess includes the world's first condominium apartment tower constructed right in the centre of Victoria Falls, a nuclear-powered jacuzzi, and a ski lodge that itself schusses down mountains on sturdy metal runners, "uprooting every tree and boulder in its path."
Lavishly illustrated with McCall's inimitable paintings, this is surprising pointed satire, considering Letterman himself must surely qualify as a member of the one-percenter demographic.
-- Randall King
Edited by Tavi Gevinson
Drawn & Quarterly, 350 pages, $30
This is a beautiful compilation of 2012-2013 content of the American website Rookie. Created for teenage girls, the book offers life tips on gender issues, getting rejected from college and even farting in public without anybody noticing.
Gorgeous photographs and fantastic collages inspire you to create your own art and includes instructions for DIY stencils, journals and computers (yup, computers).
Inspirational, funny, and a source of incredible comfort, this book validates the resourcefulness of teenage girls and provides solace and guidance for anyone who picks it up.
-- Emily King
By Freeman Patterson
Beaverbrook Art Gallery/ Goose Lane Editions, $240 pages, $55
New Brunswicker Freeman Patterson's endeavour throughout his long career has been to show how still photography can express the spiritual, mystical and fundamental truths of humanity.
This beautifully crafted volume of images is not typical of most nature photography books that illustrate places and things. Instead, Patterson's work draws you in to the delicate qualities of life and the relation between matter and spirit.
"Long before I knew from science that there is no fundamental distinction or separation between matter and spirit," he writes, "I sensed it from my own experience. I realized it more consciously for the first time when I used a macro lens to peer through some tall grass with my camera."
-- Ruth Bonneville
A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps
Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages, $40
Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman looks back over his illustrious 50-year career in this full-colour oversize book that contains fold-outs and comic books within.
The 1960s saw Spiegelman unsuccessfully aping underground legends like R. Crumb, until he hit pay dirt in the '70s by creating Wacky Packages and every parent's nightmare, Garbage Pail Kids. The 1980s saw Spiegelman team up with his wife Fraincoise Mouly to create RAW, "the Comics Magazine for Damned Intellectuals."
It was in RAW that the first six chapters of his seminal work, Maus, appeared, which was later collected into a book and a sequel, won a special Pulitzer Prize and brought graphic novels into the mainstream. As the critic J. Hoberman has noted, Spiegelman has drawn his own conclusions.
-- Shane Minkin
38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty, and Life With Dogs
By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
National Geographic Society, 160 pages, $18
Faith, a two-legged part-chow that walks on her hind legs, and Rosie, a New York courthouse dog that comforts nervous children on the witness stand, are just a couple of the 38 pooches you'll meet in this poignant collection of remarkable canines and the extraordinary heroes who saved them.
Dog lovers et al will enjoy the sprinkling of fascinating Fido facts and statistics. But it's the heart-wrenching, inspiring tales of companionship that will leave you wondering why we all don't rescue a mistreated, injured or abandoned pup.
-- Leesa Dahl
Ansel Adams in the Canadian Rockies
Little, Brown, 96 pages, $30
American Ansel Adams is one of the most famous photographers in history, but this collection of black-and-white photos of mountains and lakes in the Canadian Rockies is near the beginning of his career.
Surprisingly, for all of the mountain vista photos Adams is known for, this collection, taken in Jasper National Park and neighbouring Mount Robson Provincial Park during the Sierra Club's annual outing in 1928 when he was the group's volunteer photographer, was the only time he pulled out his camera for an expedition outside of the United States.
Sadly, some of the images depict places that no longer look quite the same today. The glacier Adams snapped below Mount Robson now ends almost two kilometres away from where it was when he was there. In what may be unintended irony, the book sells for the same price Adams sold a portfolio of photos to other members of the trip.
-- Kevin Rollason
Hockey Hall of Fame Book of Players
Edited by Steve Cameron
Firefly, 335 pages, $30
Who's the best hockey goalie ever? Best left winger? These are the sorts of questions that, despite being impossible to answer, have fuelled endless debate among puck fans for generations.
The Hockey Hall of Fame Book of Players won't likely resolve any of those arguments, but it'll certainly make anyone who reads it much better prepared for the next "Who's best?" faceoff at the local watering hole.
Toronto-based editor Steve Cameron has assembled the definitive list Hockey Hall of Fame inductees; the colourful, photo-rich volume is categorized by position and features player profiles, stats and trivia, as well as dozens of pictures of some of the hall's most treasured hockey artifacts.
-- Brad Oswald
A Century of Service
By David J. Bercuson
Goose Lane Editions, 132 pages, $35
This is an informative and entertaining pictorial history of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, as the former Winnipeg based regiment celebrates its centenary in 2014.
Calgary-based historian David J. Bercuson adds to his previous full-fledged history published in 2001 with this more accessible and slimmed-down DVD-enhanced edition, which features, along with other offerings, film clips, wartime letters, audio and a roll of honour.
-- Ron Robinson
The Bartender's Bible
By Simon Difford
Firefly, 350 pages, $40
This scholarly book explains how gin is made. It has detailed profiles of 18 leading distilleries and tasting notes for 175 brands from around the world.
The writer, Simon Difford, a Glenfiddich food and drink award winner and a life-long resident of London, England, also gives us a fascinating history of gin including the days in 1750s when it was the crack cocaine of the poor in London's east end.
Also covered: the role of the gin and tonic in the British Empire; the first known recipe for the martini in O.H. Byron's 1884 The Modern Bartender; the bathtub gin of prohibition' and the "new cocktail boom" starting in the 1990s.
There's even a warning for prohibitionists: although the sale of gin was officially outlawed in England in the 1700s, consumption was equivalent to every man, woman and child drinking two pints a week.
-- Tom Ford
Top 10 for Boys
By Paul Terry
Firefly, 320 pages $24.95
In the pre-Interweb era, boys looking for some distractions would graze on the Guinness Book of World Records or The Book of Lists.
And while it would seem hard to top the distractions Google offers, Paul Terry has done it with this fun fact-filled encyclopedia that is big, bold and far from boring.
The book comes loaded with extreme facts on everything, from biggest tanks to biggest-selling PS3 games to biggest box-office superheroes.
Better still, unlike the Internet, all these facts will not only engage boys but are also safe for viewing for anyone 12 and under.
-- Paul Samyn
Four Seasons of Travel
400 of the World's Best Destinations in Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall
Foreword by Andrew Evans
National Geographic, 319 pages, $40
Here is a travel book that will actually make you grab your passport and sprint to the airport to go, well, anywhere. You won't care the destination, nor the season. Four Seasons of Travel has you covered spring, summer, winter and fall.
Andrew Evans, the Digital Nomad and contributing editor to National Geographic Traveler magazine, writes that the key to happy travelling is to be in the right place at the right time. Russia in winter, Holland in spring, Kenya when the pink flamingos gather, Norway for the northern lights, and -- yes, Manitoba makes the list -- Churchill in the fall for the polar bears.
-- Julie Carl
The Great War
July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme
By Joe Sacco, with an essay by Adam Hochschild
W.W. Norton, $37
This is a piece of art, not a book. American cartoonist-journalist Joe Sacco has produced an impressive illustrated panorama of the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. In a series of frames that fold up like an accordion between hard covers, Sacco has drawn the battle in detail from beginning to end. It unfolds to about eight metres.
Art lovers and some First World War buffs will enjoy this tapestry, the first of its kind on the war to end all wars.
-- Dave O'Brien
Doctor Who: The Vault
Treasures from the First 50 Years
By Marcus Hearn
HarperDesign, 320 pages, $50
With the 50th anniversary TV special fresh in fans' minds, this coffee-table tribute to the first half century of the BBC science-fiction program should find more than a few curious eyeballs.
British entertainment journalist and author Marcus Hearn travels through time year by year to obsessively document everything that has taken place in front of the camera and behind the scenes from the show's low-tech birth to its splashier current incarnation.
If there is more someone needs to know about Daleks, Zygons or Cybermen or the 12 (or is that 13?) actors who have essayed the Doctor in his journeys via the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), still a quaint '60s era blue British police box, they should probably seek out professional help for their addiction.
-- Morley Walker
Beauty at Home
By Aerin Lauder
Potter Style, 239 pages, $68
No amount of full-colour, high-gloss photos of gorgeous rooms that clearly host a luxurious lifestyle can disguise the fact that Aerin Lauder is coasting on Grandma Estée's glamorous coattails.
Aerin is the founder of AERIN, a global lifestyle brand. Which begs the question: What exactly is a global lifestyle brand? Perhaps a bit of a fake career for the offspring of the very wealthy to toy with?
Nonetheless, Beauty at Home is packed with lovely photos of Aerin's and Estée's homes and such nuggets of wisdom as one of the most luxurious things you can do to your bathroom is to put a chair in it. And a great hostess gift is a copy of Vogue magazine from the year the hostess was born. Good to know.
-- Julie Carl
Muybridge and the Riddle of Locomotion
By Marta Braun
Firefly, 23 pages, $20
In the 1870s, English photographer Eadweard Muybridge amazed the world (and settled some bets) by taking a series of photos showing a horse in mid-gallop, including he first photograph to show the animal with all four feet off the ground.
In the years that followed, he took tens of thousands of photos of animals and people in motion.
Ryerson professor Marta Braun's slim hardcover, written for ages nine and up, sketches a brief outline of Muybridge's career, illustrated with Muybridge plates and four lenticular images -- figures printed under a plastic, ribbed coating that makes them appear to move when viewed from different angles.
The lenticular images are more gimmicky than useful -- they render irrelevant frame sequences, which are much of the point of Muybridge's work -- and some of the other illustrative plates, such as a California gold-rush poster, are of questionable value. But the book provides a factual, if bare-bones, introduction to Muybridge's work for younger readers.
-- Wendy Sawatzky
Laura Muntz Lyall
Impressions of Women and Childhood
By Joan Murray
McGill-Queen's University Press, 212 pages, $50
For many Canadians, this will be an introduction to the hand holding the paint brush responsible for Interesting Story, one of our nation's most famous paintings. The familiar scene of two children snuggling in a chair to read a book, light streaming through a window behind them, was voted in 2006 one of the most beloved works at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Laura Muntz Lyall painted women and children -- and made a living at it, a rarity for any artist let alone a woman at the turn of the last century. In many ways, Lyall is this nation's Mary Cassatt, the famed American painter of domestic scenes.
Author and renowned curator Joan Murray includes more than 90 colour images of Lyall's work, along with the artist's life story and a selection of her personal letters, which draw a particularly interesting portrait of the artist.
-- Julie Carl
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
By Stephen Leacock, designed and illustrated by Seth
McClelland & Stewart, $255 pages, $35
This luxury edition of the first masterpiece of Canadian humour has been given premium treatment, with heavy, high-gloss stock and new illustrations by the Guelph-based illustrator and graphic novelist Seth.
Leacock's timeless stories about the poobahs of fictional Mariposa, Ont., are depicted by Seth in duo-tone brown images calling to mind the linocut drawings that became fashionable in the first half of the 20th century.
Leacock's sketches, first published in 1912, retain their power to amuse, just as Mariposa itself remains "a perfect hive of activity."
-- Morley Walker
Capes, Comics and the Creation of Comic Book Culture
By Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor
Crown/Archetype, 304 pages, $46
Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor take a dazzling if limited look at the history and evolution of U.S. superheroes since their early-20th-century origins in this appropriately full-colour chronicle.
Addressing exclusively U.S. comic books, and concentrating on "the Big Two" publishers -- Marvel and DC -- the authors look at how costumed heroes went from kid stuff to the stuff of media-conglomerate dreams. Based on the PBS series Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, the book also looks at how superheroes have grappled with (and sometimes perpetuated) issues such as poverty, racism, misogyny and war.
Nevertheless, it all but ignores the smaller publishers, with a few mentions of Golden Age houses such as Fawcett and latter-day successes like Image. A good overview, but a die-hard fan will find few surprises here.
-- David Jòn Fuller
A Natural History
By Christopher O'Toole
Firefly Books, 240 pages, $40
Bees are dying by the tens of millions due to pesticides and colony collapse, threatening human food security. In accessible language, British entomologist Christopher O'Toole describes the sophisticated abilities of this complex, important insect and makes a plea for political and environmental measures to reverse the damage done.
Brilliant closeups amplify bees working instinctively and tirelessly to perpetuate life.
-- Harriet Zaidman
The Masters of Nature Photography
Edited by Rosamund Kidman Cox,
Firefly Books, 224 pages, $45
Stunning photos by 10 wildlife photographers whose skill with a camera will awe the armchair naturalist. Breathtaking one-of-a-kind pictures engender deep respect for the passion and patience it takes to get the perfect shot.
Biographies of the photographers and captions with each picture explain their concerns about threatened environments and animal life, their mission to protect all that is wonderful by bringing attention to them through their art.
-- Harriet Zaidman
Visions of Earth
National Geographic Photographs of Beauty, Majesty, and Wonder
National Geographic, 512 pages, $21.50
Unlike Playboy, most National Geographic readers unashamedly admit they treasure the magazine for the photographs. And with good reason, as this compendium of astonishing images, portraits, landscapes and galaxies attests.
The 11-word title tells it all. But if pictures tell a 1,000 words, then prepare to digest another million.
-- Gerald Flood
Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records
By Mark Carwardine
Firefly, 256 pages, $20
This British coffee-table book does for mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates what Guinness has done for humans -- defined their wonder and diversity in the records they set at everything from whisker growing to longest living.
Great photos and astonishing facts abound. It is the perfect gift for trivia nuts, but especially for kids, who can be introduced to it as a picture book and then keep it as a reference book thanks to the inclusion of an index that makes it possible, for example, to look up cheetah and confirm that it is the fastest (short distance) mammal instead of vice-versa. (The pronghorn, by the way, is the fastest long-distance runner.)
-- Gerald Flood
Law of the Desert Born
A Graphic Novel
Based on the short story by Louis L'Amour
Adapted by Charles Santinom, Illustrated by Thomas Yates
Bantam Books, 153 pages, $28
This superbly-crafted graphic novel, adapted from a 1945 Louis L'Amour short story, has the potential to drive literary purists to distraction with its Twitterized rewriting and liberal interpretation of an engaging plot set in 1887 New Mexico.
But it perfectly encapsulates a new attempt to lure the iPhone generation into the world of an American storytelling icon.
-- Joseph Hnatiuk