The folks at Phaidon have come up with a subversive approach to art history: Rather than examining a particular country or era, they've decided to explore what was happening around the world at various points in time 30,000 years' worth of time, in fact. That explains why 30,000 Years of Art: The Story of Human Creativity Across Time and Space has more than 1,000 pages and weighs an arm-straining 13 pounds. The history begins in 28,000 B.C. with Germany's Lion Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel and concludes with an as-yet-unfinished American work, Roden Crater. In between, there are works from China, Italy, Syria, Greece and more; the artwork ranges from sculptures to paintings to masks to collages. The timeline and glossary at book's end add context, and its design encourages art-immersion: There is one piece of artwork per page, with explanatory text tucked away at the bottom or side. There, like the best museum guides, it quietly makes information available, but doesn't distract the viewer from the art.

Tony Bennett recently turned 80, and he's been busy. Over the last 12 months, he toured in support of his latest album, won his 15th Grammy and was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, among other endeavors. But Tony Bennett in the Studio: A Life of Art & Music, written with Robert Sullivan, doesn't simply detail the beloved crooner's credentials. Instead, it offers a chronicle of his life as a creator of music and art. Even Bennett devotees may not realize the breadth and longevity of the singer's artistic explorations. His watercolors, oils and pencil drawings (signed Benedetto, his family name) appear on every page, along with select memorabilia from his music career and plenty of quotes and anecdotes. For the full-on Bennett experience, readers may want to listen to Pop ART Songs, a CD included with the book, as they turn the pages.

Thanks to the novels Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Girl with a Pearl Earring (which was made into an Oscar-nominated movie), Johannes Vermeer's renown has moved well beyond art historian and student circles. Vermeer, first published in the Netherlands in 1975, has been updated to offer a look at three art historians' perspective on the life and work of the 17th-century Dutch painter. Albert Blankert is a Vermeer scholar based in the Netherlands; the late John Michael Montias lectured and wrote books about 17th-century Amsterdam; and the late Gillies Aillaud was a French painter and playwright. The inclusion of various primary documents yields fascinating details; maps from an Atlas of Delft, for example, show the location of Vermeer's birthplace, not to mention vantage points for some of his paintings. There are color plates of the artist's 30-plus works, and a wealth of detail about Vermeer's influences, style and technique.

In his epilogue to Creature, Andrew Zuckerman harks back to family museum visits during which his five-year-old self was fascinated by the animals he saw in dioramas taxidermy rendered them motionless and timeless. For this book, Zuckerman welcomed into his New York City photography studio a surprising array of animals, from a squirrel to an Asian elephant. A white background throws his images into sharp relief: A millipede glistens, a black leopard's eyes are beautifully blue and a wild boar gives a knowing sidelong glance. There is an extreme close-up of frothy pink feathers, and a long view of a lion. Devotees of photography, science, museums, animals and design will think this unusual book lovely, even meditative.

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