History, football, humor, architecture, hunting—all are subjects that fit into the general scope of gifts for guys. This year’s picks offer a bounty of visual fare (men are visual, right?), but informative texts are also a big part of the picture.
Kicking off the coverage is The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book. This handsomely produced tribute to the history of American football, edited by sports historians Joe Horrigan and John Thorn, is part of the celebration of 50 years of the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, itself a town steeped in the lore of the early days of the game. The text offers a colorful—if more sepia-tinged—rundown of the sport’s formative years in the late 19th century, filling in much history that probably eludes the average fan. Later, the text provides coverage by decade, with sections authored by journalists such as Peter King and Dave Anderson. Scattered throughout are quotes aplenty from Hall of Famers themselves, who share career reflections and insight into what sparked their determination on game day. Otherwise, the volume is a treasure trove of photos: reproductions of old contracts and important correspondence, pictures of bygone equipment, jerseys and helmets worn by the greats, action shots from big games and more.
No less a photographic windfall is Great Buildings, a marvelous showcase of 53 of the world’s most striking structures. The photos are often flat-out spectacular, with the coverage ranging from the ancient (Great Pyramid of Giza, Parthenon, Colosseum) to the modern (Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum in Kochi, Japan). Each entry includes a description and useful historical sidebars by British author and architectural maven Philip Wilkinson, along with a visual tour that breaks down each building into its component parts, with a focus on style and construction. Armchair travelers and architecture buffs will be blown away by the views of, say, Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, Spain’s Alhambra, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and India’s Taj Mahal. Another fabulous project from Dorling Kindersley.
Many a young lad has been captivated by the legend surrounding George Armstrong Custer, the dashing Civil War officer who later earned his place in history when he and his 7th Cavalry troops were defeated in 1876 by Lakota and Cheyenne warriors at Montana’s Little Bighorn River. Custer’s infamous “last stand” loomed as a heroic event for years, but revisionist thought pretty much set the record straight: The impetuous Custer made broad command mistakes, and there was nothing noble about his outcome. Yet the Custer story will never die, and in the new Custer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry provides a compactly incisive text that recalls the Custer myth and resets its context within America’s late 19th-century military adventurism on the Plains and the fate of the Native American tribes. Accompanying McMurtry’s words are hundreds of photos and reproductions of paintings, maps and other illustrative material. This is a wonderful gift item for any “Custer guy.”
FOR THE JOKESTERS
Guys who like to laugh will gravitate to two new volumes representing iconic American humor franchises. First up is Totally MAD, which celebrates MAD magazine’s 60-year-old legacy while also featuring excerpts from some of its most popular features. Current MAD editor John Ficarra oversees the coverage, which includes background on late, longtime publisher Bill Gaines, the history of Alfred E. Neuman, MAD lawsuits and more. The graphics are great, including pictures of every MAD cover ever published and samplings of the parodies, satires and cartoons from contributors like Al Jaffee, Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Sergio Aragonés and Don Martin.
Less browsable but rich with wit is The Onion Book of Known Knowledge, in which the Onion editors serve up a fractured A-to-Z compendium of important people, places and things. There are plenty of photos and illustrations here—e.g., Alan Greenspan clubbing with hot chicks!—but the emphasis is on zany lexicon-like entries that overturn all logic and expectation in search of a knowing chuckle.
LOVE OF THE HUNT
Finally, we have Meat Eater, a hunter’s tribute to the natural world and the value of providing your own food. This lively memoir recounts the outdoors life of Steven Rinella, a nature writer and cable TV host. Rinella grew up in the Midwest learning to hunt and fish under the strong influence of his father and brothers. “As a nation, we have swapped the smelly and unpredictable pungency of the woods in exchange for the sanitized safety of manicured grass,” Rinella writes. He details his exploits—from Michigan, to the Missouri Breaks, to Mexico and beyond—as he pursues muskrat, mountain lions and other game, all the while espousing his deep regard for hunting’s social traditions and its rightful place in the natural order.