Unwrapping the past Certainly not everything in the world is getting better and better, but illustrated books may well be. Color reproduction gets ever more precise and lush, and no book demonstrates this better than what is hands-down the most beautiful book on King Tut ever published Tutankhamun, with text by T.G.H. James and photographs by A. De Luca. James was for a long time Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, and De Luca is considered one of the foremost photographers of jewelry and statuary in the world. The text is vivid and comprehensive, and explains many aspects of the story of the boy king, but the words are attendant upon the text in this volume. Primarily they serve as detailed captions for De Luca's breathtaking photographs. The pictures capture the sheen of gold and lapis, the details of texture and inlay, as never before. From the quartz-eyed, ivory-toothed hippo beside the king's bed to a gold-beaded bracelet with an amethyst scarab, the range of shameless opulence is amazing. Every time you turn the page you find another close-up view of a work of art demonstrating staggering workmanship. No fan of ancient Egypt, and certainly no Tutophile, will be able to resist this book.

While you're in an Egyptian mood, you should turn to another beautiful new book, Valley of the Golden Mummies, by Zahi Hawass (Abrams, $49.50, ISBN ). Hawass is Egypt's undersecretary of state for the Giza Monuments. He has made many discoveries of his own, including the tombs of the workers who built the pyramids, the tombs of some of Khufu's officials and evidence about how the pyramids were built. He also directed the conservation of the Great Sphinx at Giza. Many artifacts appear in this book's impressive illustrations, but there is also much more to round out the story. Handsome color photographs document excavations, restorations, tomb sites and many other fascinating archaeological tidbits that place the artifacts in context and help explain their role in the ancient world. The book is a pleasure to look at and a delight to read, and helps bring alive an era that has captured the imagination of the modern world.

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