By Dave Rosenthal
6:00 AM EST, December 18, 2012
I hope your holiday gift-giving included some books, and if you're still looking, here are the best coffee-table books I've seen in the past month of so. These are the sort of photo- and graphic-rich editions that look great in a living room -- and that overwhelm Kindles or other e-readers. Some favorites:
-- "History's Greatest Images" by TIME, is billed as a compilation of "the World's 100 Most Influential Photographs." The classics are all there: the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, Babe Ruth, JFK, school desegregation, the World Trade Center. You've seen most -- maybe all -- a hundred times, but they still retain their power. Of course, the problem with any compilation is that can be superceded by events as soon as it's published, and this is no exception. An image from the horrific school shooting in Connecticut may deserve to be on the list, especially if it leads to tougher gun control laws in America.
-- "Hobbit Chronicles: Art & Design," a companion to the new movie, offers an inside look at the sets, costumes, makeup and other design challenges in bringing Tolkien's book to the screen. Although critics are split on the merits of the movie, this book will be appreciated by fans. The only thing that annoyed me was a blatant pitch to sell collectible artwork; but fans looking for a copy of Thorin's map or Balin's mace might even like those pages.
-- "50 Years of James Bond," by the editors of LIFE, comes as Skyfall, the latest Bond movie, plays in theaters. It provides a recap of what must be the most profitable franchise in movie history. Each of the Bond characters -- including short-lived George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton -- is profiled, as are each of the films. The book also includes entertaining chapters on comic knock-offs, including Maxwell Smart and Austin Powers, and various lists. I just wish there had been a more in-depth look at the villains, Bond women and gadgets -- key elements of the franchise.
-- "Custer" by Larry McMurtry, provides a new look at George Armstrong Custer and his fateful battle at the Little Big Horn in 1876. It explores the general's personality, as well as the idiosyncratic ways that white culture viewed native Americans. It's fascinating to compare various artistic depictions of the last stand. And photographs of the aftermath -- including a two-horse contraption that was a 19th Century version of a hearse -- are arresting.
-- "Eyewitness to World War II" by National Geographic. The war ended more than a half-century ago, but we continue to be fascinated by the enormous effort needed to free Europe and Asia -- and the heart-wrenching tales of people caught up in the fighting. This book captures both the scale and the human emotion.
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