...And A Picture Book In A Pear Tree

It may be December, but it's baseball season in bookstores, where the sport--once strictly a spring topic--is hot. That's no fluke: Publishers this year have placed plenty of down-to-earth offerings alongside their many beautiful art and photography gift books.

Among the best tickets to the ballpark is Baseball's Golden Age (Abrams, $29.95). It documents the sport's heyday in pictures of the greats--Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner--and the near-greats, each captioned with a baseball yarn. Some Hall of Famers make appearances in Baseball Days (Bulfinch, $24.95), too, but this entertaining book celebrates the game of baseball more broadly: Its candid photos capture the sandlots, the fans, the women's and minor leagues, as well as the majors, all set amid baseball lore. Baseball Archaeology (Chronicle, $29.95) excavates the game's artifacts. Bats, gloves, spikes, cards, tickets, and other relics are drawn from the Hall of Fame and private collections.

Playing fields of another sort are on view in Golf Resorts of the World (Abrams, $45), an informative guide to 96 of the world's finest courses, including Turnberry in Scotland, the Greenbrier in West Virginia, and Pebble Beach in California. The book describes the rooms, restaurants, and other facilities, and gives playing tips. Peaks of Glory (Thomasson-Grant, $29.95) exposes the strenuous sport of mountaineering, recounting expeditions to the world's tallest peaks. Images of earth meeting sky at Mount Everest, K2, and the Matterhorn may spark a few journeys, at least of the armchair variety.

The South of France has always beguiled travelers, and Provence (Abbeville, $45) shows why the region has drawn them--and inspired so many artists and writers. The land's gorgeous texture, color, and form shine through in 150 pictures, accompanied by stories and quotes. Documenting America's glory is harder, but Look at the Land (Rizzoli, $50) offers a fresh view--from above. This revealing book delivers stunning aerial views of natural and created environments. Matching both books in grandeur is Ansel Adams in Color (Little Brown, $50). Although the famed photographer used color film for 40 years, poor reproduction techniques stopped him from publishing his color photos. No more. Adams' traditional subjects--landscapes, especially the national parks--are here in deep hues, delighting anyone interested in photography.

For the musically inclined, there's Nothing But the Blues (Abbeville, $45). It presents a pictorial history of this American musical form--its Southern roots, traditions, regional and stylistic dimensions, and many practitioners, such as Bessie Smith and Leadbelly. Movie fans will covet Film: An International History of the Medium (Abrams, $49.50), a truly comprehensive survey. It's easy to dip into--and chockablock with memorable stills.

GILDED AGE. For art lovers, American Art in the 20th Century (Prestel, $65) gives a fresh assessment of such American-born movements as Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, and it charts the rise of some 60 prominent artists. History buffs will like Families of Fortune (Rizzoli, $50). It depicts the gilded age, telling how the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers, the Astors and the Vanderbilts made their vast fortunes and spent them--through touring, building castles, collecting art, yachting, partying--and otherwise consuming conspicuously.

The long days of winter could be brightened by a look at Family Houses By the Sea (Clarkson Potter, $45). Anyone who has ever dreamed of a summer place will fancy its exploration of 21 coastal houses in the U.S., France, England, and Scandinavia. All fashioned by the occupants, not decorators, they range from a barn in Devon to a villa on Cap Ferrat to a manor house on the Baltic. Brief narratives provide a window on the lives of the owners.

Finally, there's Cheeses of the World (Rizzoli, $45), which describes 200 kinds of cheese made in 37 countries. After learning about origin, appearance, taste, production methods, and fat content, readers find it easy to try out, say, Reblochon, Siraz, or Cabrales. Anyone who loves cheese will open this book again and again. The same, of course, may be said for many of the other books on this shopping list.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.