In a department store hung with holiday garlands, a man in an overcoat anxiously leans toward a young woman sitting behind a desk marked "Gift Counselor" and asks: "What do you recommend for someone who wants a mink coat?" If you're facing gift-giving quandaries of your own, the book that contains this 1950 cartoon is among the new crop of coffee-table tomes you might want to give someone on your holiday list. The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, $60) reproduces every witty illustration published in the magazine since its launch in 1925 -- 2,500 of them in the book's 656 pages and all 68,647 more on two computer disks tucked inside the front cover. It's a compelling social history, with legendary cartoonists such as James Thurber and Peter Arno poking fun at everything from war and the stock market to the evolution of male-female relations.
SLIDE SHOW: GIFT BOOKS
Another fun gift book with multimedia elements is The Sinatra Treasures: Intimate Photos, Mementos, and Music from the Sinatra Family Collection (Bulfinch Press, $45). It includes an audio CD of interviews and hard-to-find recordings (including a take-off of High Hopes Sinatra recorded as a John F. Kennedy campaign song in 1960), as well as memorabilia tucked into little envelopes, such as a reproduction of the sheet music Ol' Blue Eyes used the first time he recorded My Way in 1968. For an aspiring musician, try Totally Guitar: The Definitive Guide (Thunder Bay Press, $29.98). It gives the lowdown on guitar manufacturers and their products, offers tips on tuning and maintaining the instrument, and describes how to play various styles, from blues to classical.
There are other worthwhile books with pop culture themes. Broadway: The American Musical (Bulfinch, $60) is full of lore, photos, and posters from famous musical productions. For the person who gets a kick out of movies such as Shrek 2 and Finding Nemo, consider Animation Now! (Taschen, $39.99), a survey of 80 of the greatest cartoonists and animation studios worldwide, from Hollywood's Pixar, Walt Disney (DIS), and DreamWorks SKG, to decidedly higher-brow practitioners such as South African artist William Kentridge. A DVD included with the book provides samples of the work as well as commercials and trailers made by the artists. Hippie (Sterling Publishing, $24.95) illuminates the youth culture of drugs and rock 'n' roll that flowered from 1965 to 1972. To some more conservative observers, perusing photos of novelist Ken Kesey atop his psychedelic "Merry Pranksters" schoolbus and a naked woman joyously dancing among clothed attendees at a rock music festival may be like examining evidence of an alien civilization of the carefree.
A good choice for a business associate is They Made America (Little, Brown, $40), a collection of vivid profiles of America's greatest inventors and innovators. Author Harold Evans' gift for anecdote breathes new dimension into the oft-told stories of such giants as Thomas Edison and Cyrus McCormick. Evans has a provocative take on who was really important: He glosses over Alexander Graham Bell for being insufficiently innovative while giving star treatment to little-known figures such as Samuel Insull (he pioneered cheap electricity) and Gary Kildall (he wrote the first floppy-disk operating system).
The Architecture and Design of Man and Woman (Doubleday, $50) is a fascinating look inside the human body. It uses computer modeling coupled with images from powerful microscopes and body scans to illustrate how hearing, touch, and other bodily systems work. For example, a skeleton pirouettes and does a handstand to show how the body distributes force.
A marvelous new photo collection is Magnum Stories (Phaidon Press, $79.95), which profiles photographers from the legendary agency founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson (who died recently) and Robert Capa. The images range from blurry shots taken by Capa from the water as soldiers stormed the beaches on D-Day to Raymond Depardon's affectionate study of his family's farm in France. The Great LIFE Photographers (Bulfinch, $50) follows a similar format for photographers who worked for Life magazine. Images such as one of the Beatles cavorting in a swimming pool are instantly recognizable, but less well-known photos, such as a 1952 shot of a roller-skating horse, are equally charming.
Two of the world's greatest art museums get loving treatment in Paintings in the Musée d'Orsay (Abrams, $75) and National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection (Abrams, $60). The first focuses on the great Impressionist-era paintings at Paris' Musée d'Orsay, including such iconic works as Edouard Manet's Olympia and Paul Cezanne's The Card Players. The second shows the exquisite collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, which includes several magnificent Vermeers and Goyas as well as seminal modern works such as Picasso's 1905 Family of Saltimbanques.
A good gift for the horse-obsessed is People We Know, Horses They Love (Rodale, $39.95). It documents in words and photographs the passion many celebrities have for horses and riding. Comedian Chevy Chase, for instance, says he came by his love of horses though his grandfather, a renowned equestrian portraitist. The 6-ft., 4-in. Chase rides a stubby Icelandic breed of horse that barely keeps his feet off the ground. Now is that fodder for a cartoon or what?
By Thane Peterson