Coffee table books are not about coffee tables. They are (usually) oversized, expensive and heavy, sometimes so heavy they can double as (a) door stops, (b) murder weapons and/or (c) chair lifts. But not always. We spent months perusing coffee table tomes, books that deserve to be read and savored . . . not just piled on a coffee table in the guise of literary décor. Here, part one of the year’s best coffee table books.
The best coffee table book the year? The stunning “Arctica” (teNeues, $125) Top world photographer Sebastian Copeland was driven by curiosity to explore the most remote corners of the planet, and his works are breathtaking landscapes that convey nature in its entire untamed splendor. This is not the North Pole of Santa and his helpers, but a mostly pristine and mostly misconceived treasure now in jeopardy. It’s impossible not to pay attention to Copeland’s noble goal in the pages that pay homage to this wonderland, and, in turn, draw awareness to its perilous plight. Copeland, also a noted polar explorer and journalist, is a dedicated environmental activist, and his book, almost as large as a basic coffee table, offers a unique vantage point from which to appreciate this lonely spot. Surely, this is the last true wilderness on the planet; its demise should ring the alarm for lower latitudes. The vision he presents in “Arctica” may be poetic, but the book’s aims are pragmatic—to seduce and inspire the world in order to help foster a market transformation towards a sustainable future. Make sure you stop to read Sir Richard Branson’s foreword.
“You don’t have to have money to have good taste,” vows Ellen DeGeneres. She proves her point (as well as how much money she has) in “Home” (Grand Central, $35), a nifty tome in which the funny lady offers a personal look at every room in each of her homes. Yes, that’s plural. Ellen has bought and renovated nearly a dozen homes over the last 25 years; the tome includes seven of them, past and present, from the famous “Brody House” up to her current homes, and she offers tips and advice on what each house taught her. She also looks at the homes of her friends and collaborators (some of whom just happen to be among the finest designers in the country) and they share their advice on home design, furnishings. She should notn have good things t home. There is a deluxe edition of Home is printed on extremely high quality paper, printed on a sheet-fed press and bound in a real cloth covered case with a tipped in photo of Ellen DeGeneres’ living room featuring her Picasso. The cost? $60. Please arrogance can make fans fickle.
Diamonds are forever, but James Bond fans may think otherwise. The British secret agent known by his codename, 007, seems to be forever a film fan favorite. But who is your favorite James Bond . . . Connery or Craig or Moore or Brosnan or Lazenby or Dalton? “Bond vs. Bond” (Race Point Publishing, $28) compares and contrasts all of the various ways Ian Fleming’s iconic British Secret Service agent has been interpreted through the years, from the books and movies to the guns and gadgets. No other book has analyzed every incarnation of James Bond in one volume. Author Paul Simpson explores it all, starting with the novels and short stories, along with every 007 movie and the casting of each Bond. Interesting facts abound, for example: After Sean Connery relinquished the role following “Diamonds Are Forever,” United Artists were in favor of an American 007 with Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman, John Gavin and Robert Redford all considered. Clint Eastwood was approached and he refused on the grounds that he believed and Englishman should play the part.
Patrick Deval’s “American Indian Women” (Abbeville Press, $34.95) is an important visual history of American Indian women from pre-Columbian times to the present. Hailing from rich and ancient cultures with complex social, religious, and artistic customs, American Indian women have always influenced their tribes, communities, and families, but their stories remain largely untold. With more than 80 full-color illustrations, the book uncovers these women’s legacies and weaves together history, anthropology, folklore, and rich visuals to reveal and record their enduring strength and fortitude. Deval unearths the history of American Indian women by examining their powerful matriarchal roles as Clan Mothers in society and religion, pillars of tradition in tribal customs and ingenious artists. The text celebrates and honors generations of spiritual leaders, chiefs, warriors, negotiators, educators, advocates, and artists. Illustrated with archival photographs, film stills, and tribal objects, American Indian Women is a meaningful contribution to American history and a tribute to some of its unsung heroines.
Football fanatics will score with “50 Years, 50 Moments” (Dey Street Books, $29.99), an authoritative collection of the most pivotal plays through the decades, compiled by Super Bowl MVP Jerry Rice, and illustrated with dozens of color photographs celebrating five decades of memories, insights, and personal experiences of Super Sunday. Rice has compiled his list of the most iconic, strategic and record-breaking moments in football history from the Super Bowl’s inception to today—from the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I, to the amazing Miami Dolphins championship in Super Bowl VII that capped their seventeen-game undefeated season, to the heart-stopping Super Bowl XXV in which the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19, and Super Bowl XLIX’s amazing last-second victory by the New England Patriots over defending champion Seattle Seahawks 28-24. The tome is chock full of memories and insights directly from the athletes and coaches who were involved in these moments.
In 1957 Louis Stettner took a photograph in Penn Station of a girl in a party dress stepping from one circular patch of sunlight to another across the vast floor of the station, moving away from the photographer toward the farther reaches of the station interior. This image inspired Stettner to return a year later and create the series of Penn Station photographs. For him, the station was “a spacious and dramatic arena where people in the act of traveling went through a mixture of excitement, a silent patience of waiting, and an honest fatigue.” Now, published in book form for the first time in “Penn Station, New York” (Thames & Hudson, $50), the Penn Station series is a richly evocative and poetic statement about a lost time and place in ’50s New York City. The photographs offer up beautiful and mysterious images of urban isolation and melancholy, of intensely private states in a most majestic yet doomed public space, as the station was notoriously torn down five years after the series was completed. Though Penn Station makes itself felt by its shadowy spaces and glowing surfaces, the work is not a portrait of the building, but rather a study of the people within it, at once in transit and in suspension. Though unpublishable at the time—“Life” magazine rejected the photographs for not being newsworthy or unusual enough—the Penn Station series has come to be recognized as a profound and compelling work of art.
With three major films all released within a year of each other—”East of Eden”, “Rebel Without a Cause”, and “Giant”—and within months of his tragic death, James Dean captured the world’s imagination and has never let it go. Indeed, his avatar shines more brightly and compellingly with the passing years. In the words of the Life magazine article that accompanied the first publications of the photographs that are the centerpiece of the book “Dennis Stock: James Dean” (Thames & Hudson, $40), the actor, Dean was “the most exciting actor to hit Hollywood since Marlon Brando.” At the time the images were taken, he was still poised on the brink of fame, a charismatic figure more isolated and alone than recognized and celebrated. He could settle back into familiar ways at the farm in Indiana where he grew up or roam the streets of Manhattan or concentrate on his work on a Hollywood backlot without undue attention. Photographer Dennis Stock met James Dean at the bungalow of director Nicholas Ray on the grounds of the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood on a Sunday afternoon in the winter of 1954-55. Dean invited Stock to a sneak preview of East of Eden the following Wednesday in Santa Monica. They struck a friendship and the idea of a collaboration formed. Stock pitched the idea of a photographic essay on Dean to Life, which quickly approved the assignment. It was Stock’s ambition to “reveal the environments that affected and shaped the unique character of James Byron Dean.” And indeed, Stock captures the essence of James Dean in a stunning series of images of the actor in the midst of family, friends, and colleagues, as well as alone, reading, sleeping, lost in thought, in the frozen fields of Indiana, and on a rainy day in Times Square. The result is an intimate visual portrait of the star-crossed Hollywood icon.
Then there’s Marilyn, who also receives an intimate visual portrait with “Marilyn: In the Flash” (Dey Street Books, $35). The book features of hundreds of rare and unseen photographs (many uncropped and unretouched outtakes), behind-the-scenes notes and interviews chronicling the media’s lifelong love affair with Marilyn, created by David Wills. Though Monroe was married three times, her longest lasting relationship was with the press—the photographers, reporters and press agents who followed her every move for nearly two decades, and made her into the greatest icon in Hollywood history. One of the most publicized actresses of her time, Marilyn actively sought out the press, carefully crafting her public image and using events from her private life to further her career. Her romances with baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, playwright Arthur Miller, and others made her a daily feature for newspapers, magazines and wire services; new images of the star were guaranteed to boost sales. With a foreword by Robert J. Wagner and interviews from key press agents and others, this portfolio of images offers a fresh, indelible portrait of one of the most enduring icons in history and illuminates the special alliance she shared with the press as never before.
Despite a career that spans decades and fans that span generations, little is really known about the man. Who truly is the ubiquitous man who creates film’s most iconic characters and the Internet’s wackiest anecdotes and crashes parties and soirees of people he never knew?” Author and devoted BM fan Robert Schnakenberg’s “ The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray” (Quirk Books, $22.95) traces the storied life and career of one of America’s most familiar faces. Part biography, part critical appreciation, part love letter, and all fun, the book covers Murray’s professional and personal life, from his award-winning film roles to the zany antics that have made him much admiration and bewilderment. Complete with colorful film stills and behind-the-scenes photography, the book is a portrait of one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic and beloved figures. The book includes entries on every Murray performance, quotes both by and about Murray and “Tales from Murrayland,” real-life stories of Murray’s exploits. We are still laughing over “The Day He Crashed Elvis’s Funeral”
In an exciting new publishing partnership between Turner Classic Movies and Running Press, comes the lavishly illustrated “Fellini: The Sixties” (Running Press, $65) by Manoah Bowman, with a foreword by the late Anita Ekberg and an afterword by Barbara Steele. The tome is an awe-inspiring, photo-filled homage to the signature work of Italy’s most celebrated filmmaker, Federico Fellini. The book is a stunning photographic journey through the director’s most iconic classics: “La Dolce Vita”, “8½”, “Juliet of the Spirits” and “Satyricon.” Carefully selected imagery from the Independent Visions photographic archive, many published here for the first time, illuminate these films as they have never been seen before, and reveal fascinating details of the director’s working style and ebullient personality. With more than 150 photographs struck from original negatives, these images spring to life from the page with the depth and quality of the films themselves. Complemented with insightful essays from contemporary writers, the book is a true testament to the man and his work; a remarkable compendium of the legendary filmmaker’s greatest achievements.
As Liza and Frank promised, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” No wonder everyone loves the Big Apple. No wonder everyone loves “Everyone Loves New York” (teNeues, $24.95). The book is a joyful and whimsical ode to one of the most dynamic cities in the world, showcasing an array of illustrations in eclectic styles, from artists from around the world. From the iconic buildings and bridges that make up the Manhattan skyline—such as the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge—to the world-famous shopping streets of Fifth and Madison Avenues to Central Park; from the ever-presence of the distinctive yellow taxicabs and popular street food to the fashionable neighborhoods of the downtown hipsters. An ideal companion: “My New York” (Sterling, $35) is a lavish celebration of the city by 20 celebrities who know it best and love it most. The sights, sounds and, of course, the attitude of the Big Apple is caught by New York natives Taylor Swift, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Yoko Ono, Al Pacino, James Franco, Moby and Lady Gaga.
Rise the curtain on the splendid, photo-festooned “The Book of Broadway, (Voyageur Press, $50) is a celebratory, gorgeous tome dedicated to what is arguably the quintessential American art form: the Broadway show. Eric Goode’s subjective book profiles 150 of the best (not always), biggest (not always), most influential (not always) and most fascinating (not always) musicals and plays ever produced, spanning the mid-nineteenth century to the twenty-first century. The men and women who shaped Broadway history, such as Stephen Sondheim, Tennessee Williams, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Ethel Merman and Marlon Brando, are celebrated for their groundbreaking work. Photographs throughout illustrate the stunning designs of the shows profiled.
In “The National Parks: An Illustrated History” (National Geographic Books, $50), Kim Heacox, award-winning author and former ranger in Alaska’s Denali National Park, takes readers on a journey through America’s rich natural and cultural heritage to celebrate next year’s 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The book, the official companion volume to the National Park Service’s centennial, races the growth and evolution of the National Park Service from an organization that simply protected “scenery” to one that advocated for cultural and natural preservation and conservation. Through iconic National Geographic images and an illuminating collection of stories and personalities, the book offers a portrait of diverse National Park Service properties while presenting a colorful history of the service and its century of notable accomplishments. Heacox weaves a mesmerizing tale filled with fascinating stories, such as the first female park ranger, an amateur scuba expedition that unearthed a Civil War treasure trove, and much more. Coupling these stories with breathtaking photographs of glorious glaciers, pristine coral reefs, towering forests and all of the beautiful scenery in between, Heacox provides readers with a vivid panorama of the national parks, monuments, battlefields, historic sites, shores and recreation areas preserved over a century of dedicated conservation.
Not one bark up the wrong tree: “The Black Dogs Project: Extraordinary Black Dogs and Why We Can’t Forget Them” (Race Point Publishing. $24.95) is the first book to tackle the subject in a poignant, artful way—capturing the raw beauty of these incredible canines. One of Tumblr’s most viral blogs of 2014, the Black Dogs Project (it refers to the unfortunate phenomenon that black dogs are frequently the last dogs to be adopted and the first dogs to be euthanized in rescue shelters) is a stunning photo series by animal photographer Fred Levy. Some of his subjects include rescue dogs, shelter dogs, blind dogs, and 3-legged dogs. Four paws up! Those who prefer kitties will chuckle, loudly and often at “Cats Galore” (Thames and Hudson, 24.95 hardcover). This chunky volume brings together the incredible paintings of Susan Herbert that recreate famous art, theatre, opera, and film images with lovable cats stepping in . . . just think! A cat for Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” or James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” Purr-fect!
The Beach Boys pioneered the wildly popular “Surf Sound,” selling more records than any other American band. Since 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of their groundbreaking and hugely influential album “Pet Sound” and its follow-up single, “Good Vibrations,” the timing if ideal for “The Beach Boys: America’s band” (Sterling, $29.95), a book offering the first fully illustrated, in-depth examination of the group’s story, with a special emphasis on the creation of those two masterpieces and what came after. More than 150 images include classic and rarely published photographs, album artwork, and archive memorabilia. By examining the writing, recording and performance of the band’s entire catalog, the book presents a unique look at the making of the Beach Boys, both before and after their 1966 triumphs.
Armchair travel has never been a more beautiful passport of beauty and adventure. “Destinations of a Lifetime: 225 of the World’s Most Amazing Places” (National Geographic Books, $47) takes readers on a vivid photographic tour of the world’s most breathtaking locales selected by National Geographic photographers. From the multihued terrain of South Dakota’s Badlands National Park to the magnificent Sistine Chapel in the Vatican to the futuristic desert city of Doha in Qatar, from a charming getaway nestled in the Himalayas to tranquil hot springs deep within the Japanese Alps to a holy city carved from solid rock in Ethiopia and iconic Easter Island, the tome pairs stunning photos with evocative text that will inspire readers, providing tangible ideas and insider tips about where to travel.
War is hell, but “The West Point History of World War II, Volume 1” (Simon & Schuster, $55) is a hell of a book; an outstanding history of the first half of World War II, featuring a rich array of images, maps (that offer large amounts of information in simple, easy-to-understand formats) and expert analysis commissioned by the United States Military Academy to teach the art of war to West Point cadets. Since 1836, United States Military Academy texts have been the gold standard for teaching military history and the operational art of war. Now the USMA has developed a new military history series for the public featuring the story of World War II in two volumes, of which this is the first. The West Point History of World War II has been tested, checked, and polished by West Point cadets, faculty, and graduates to make this the best military history of its kind.
Looking for the locations of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, or Intercourse, Pennsylvania? Look at any map. Want to learn the probability of getting struck by lightning or the average penis length? Grab the delightful (and informative) “Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps” (Harper Design, $35), undoubtedly the most unique atlas on the market, extensively mapping various subjects from all corners of our modern civilization. All the minutiae and marvel you ever wanted to know is here; an additional 50 mini-maps of the world display a diverse list of data, such as the number of heavy metal bands per capita and the number of tractors per 1,000 inhabitants. There is also a 24” x 36” fold-out of “The Map of Stereotypes” in the center of the book, along with four other large fold-out maps. The book reads like an atlas of Western Culture, and is as engaging and entertaining as it is beautiful. There is nothing else quite like it.