My coffee table isn’t complete without a stack of beautiful photography books to savor. Here are some wonderful choices for your own stack, all bound to keep family and friends entertained for hours. Just a warning: You may want to throw in an extra coffee table as well.
I’m certain that Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House will be popular with my brothers, both of whom shook hands with JFK when they were boys. Although I wasn’t born in time to offer my hand, I never tire of the Kennedy saga.
Published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK’s election, this poignant book contains the photos of Cecil Stoughton, the first official White House photographer (many have never been previously published). Here, for example, is Jackie reading aboard the presidential yacht, while young Caroline snoozes on a blanket at her feet.
There are political as well as intimate photos: Jackie and the children coloring Easter eggs at a kitchen table; Caroline cartwheeling through the Oval Office; the Kennedys welcoming the president of India to a White House state dinner; John Jr. and his father at Arlington Cemetery, only 11 days before the assassination. The photos are arranged chronologically, with short commentary and captions by historian Richard Reeves. As a result, it’s possible to flip through and get a real sense of the Camelot story as it marches toward its tragic end. As a bonus, a DVD is included that contains Stoughton’s film footage, in both color and black and white.
If you’re looking for a gift bundle, a natural add-on is The President’s Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office. This book, a companion to a PBS TV special, covers everything from early daguerreotypes of John Quincy Adams to modern views of the Obamas wearing 3-D glasses and Sasha sneaking up on her father in the Oval Office.
Here you’ll see a variety of amusing scenes over the years, including a barefoot Betty Ford dancing on an immense Cabinet Room table. These photos are intimate, humanizing glimpses of our First Families. Mixed with ordinary fun are the momentous moments, including the assassination attempt on Reagan and the horrific hours of 9/11.
Obama’s photographer Peter Souza explains what his job is like day-to-day, hour-to-hour. Author and filmmaker John Bredar also sheds light on memorable moments from previous White House photographers, including David Hume Kennerly, who grew particularly close to the Ford family and had open access—as shown by a shot of President Ford in his PJs during an early morning meeting.
THROUGH THE YEARS
Another wonderful historic time capsule is the weighty book Decade, a global photographic journey from 2000 to the present, covering everything from pop culture to politics. This book reminds me of the Life magazine photo collection books I adored as a teenager, sealing iconic photos as well as historical perspective into my brain. The scope of this book is particularly broad and intriguing, with each compelling photo immediately grabbing one’s attention.
Decade is also particularly well designed. While heavy, its 10-inch-square size makes it easy to hold, but leaves plenty of room for the photos to have full visual impact. Each year begins with a one-page overview, and each photo has its own one-line caption, along with a short paragraph containing more information.
Here’s a quick sample of the myriad of subjects you’ll encounter: a judge peering through a magnifying glass at a Florida ballot from the controversial 2000 presidential election; a shot from the set of the HBO series The Wire; a disintegrating 500-billion-ton ice sheet in Antarctica; bloody bystanders at the bombing in Mumbai, India; Chinese astronauts being lauded back on Earth after making China’s first space walk. Decade is a grand photographic stroll around the globe and through the years.
ALL THE WORLD
A stroll of a different sort awaits in The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World. With 817 images covering 229 countries, this is a big book, so be prepared to settle into your traveling armchair.
Each country has its own spread, complete with a paragraph introduction, and added information about the best time of the year to visit, top things to see, top things to do, trademarks (what the country is known for), and a final random fun fact. Who knew, for example, that yak tails from Tibet were once used to make Father Christmas beards?
Also helpful is a short reference section for each country called “Getting Under the Skin,” listing a related book, music, film, native dish and drink. Finally, there’s a phrase for greeting someone in the native language of each country. You’ll definitely have fun planning your bucket list with this big, gorgeous book.
ON THE MOVE
If you’d prefer to watch animals travel instead, sit down with Great Migrations, a companion book to a National Geographic Channel “global television event,” which premiered in November. Although migration is hardly a new subject, it remains endlessly fascinating, and this book is filled with the stunning photographs that National Geographic is known for. This volume also addresses how such issues as changing global conditions and habitat loss are affecting migration.
We see, for instance, rare pronghorns darting through traffic and trying to cross rangeland fences in northwestern Wyoming. Great Migrations tackles everything from ants to elephants, and even sea life—including Earth’s largest fish, the whale shark. The movement and images of all of these creatures is no less than breathtaking, and writer K.M. Kostyal brings all of the images into perspective with excellent accompanying text.
Nature lovers will also relish Ansel Adams in the National Parks, filled with images from this master photographer’s visits to more than 40 parks. The volume was edited by Andrea G. Stillman, who worked for Adams in the 1970s, and 50 of the 225 photos have never been published. Insightful essays highlight interesting tidbits, including the fact that Adams’ 13-year-old son stepped into a hot pool during one photography session at Yellowstone and sustained first- and second-degree burns on his leg. Still, it is Adams’ striking photos of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and other national parks that are the real draw here—iconic photos of the wilderness he championed.