The Art Museum
$106 on amazon.com
If someone asks you ”What is art?” you could launch into a lecture. Or you could just hand them this battering ram of a book, which tells the story of world art in a massive survey that features more than 2,500 masterworks, from 15,000-year-old cave paintings to a shark embalmed by British artist Damien Hirst.
$47.25 on amazon.com
A gorgeously illustrated history of the late-19th- and early-20th-century movement that affected painting, architecture, and 80 percent of artsy dorm-room posters.
The New Artisans
$35.77 on bn.com
Form and function duke it out in this who’s who of contemporary craftsmen and -women for whom utilitarian does not equal boring.
Richard Shiff & Catherine Lampert
$91.30 on amazon.com
The works of the modern landscape artist — minimalist, vividly colored, strangely tranquil — are splendidly showcased here.
The Worlds of Hunt Slonem
$56.70 on amazon.com
If you love birds and butterflies, you’re in luck — they’re Slonem’s favorite subjects.
To the Ends of the Earth
Atlas of the World
$33.49 on amazon.com
Not just a map book for school libraries, the 18th edition of the definitive world atlas brings geography to 2011, complete with stunning satellite photography and a host of fascinating stats and charts.
Dan Eldon: Safari as a Way of Life
$19.22 on bn.com
In 1993 Eldon, a 22-year-old photographer, was killed while on assignment in Somalia — but he left behind a lifetime’s worth of photos, drawings, journals, and memorabilia from his travels. This inspiring visual biography beautifully captures the young adventurer’s intrepid spirit.
$53.55 on amazon.com
Satisfy your wanderlust with this collection of the world’s most daunting, awe-inspiring summits.
$38.96 on bn.com
The renowned marine-life photojournalist shares behind-the-scenes stories of documenting elusive, bizarre, and increasingly endangered sea creatures, from the alienlike firefly squid to the mammoth right whale.
$31.25 on amazon.com
Leibovitz takes a break from her usual celebrity magazine portraits to snap subjects from nature and history, including Niagara Falls and the site of Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin.
Theodore Gray’s Elements Vault
Theodore Gray & Simon Quellen Field
$23.49 on amazon.com
This guide to the periodic table features both beautiful photography and in-depth data. All of your favorites are here: strontium! zinc! xenon! Even bismuth, if you’re into that kind of thing. Plus, with real-world examples and all kinds of charts and lay explanations, Field and Gray manage to make their science accessible — so it doesn’t matter what grade you got in high school chemistry.
The Batman Files
Matthew K. Manning
$65.34 on amazon.com
Who knew the Dark Knight was so into scrapbooking? This book imagines clippings, character bios, and vehicle specs as collected by Bruce Wayne.
The Boy Who Loved Batman
Michael E. Uslan
$17.61 on amazon.com
Uslan traces how he went from a boy obsessed with the Caped Crusader to a producer on all the Batman films.
The Spider-Man Vault
Peter A. David & Robert Greenberger
$36.33 on bn.com
That tingling is your Spidey sense, telling you to get this terrific collection of Spider-Man art.
Star Wars Art: Comics
$23.82 on bn.com
George Lucas has left no medium unused, as this visually arresting compendium proves.
The Arabian Nights
Translated by Malcolm C. Lyons
$123.25 on amazon.com
You may be up 1,001 nights making your way through this beautifully bound three-volume set.
The Beautiful and Damned; Tales of the Jazz Age
F. Scott Fitzgerald
$17.42 each on bn.com
These tastefully gilded editions embody the Gatsby author’s famous panache and the glamour of the Roaring ’20s.
Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies & Clowns: The Lost Art of William Steig
$26.40 on amazon.com
A treasure trove of never-before-seen drawings from the celebrated children’s-book and New Yorker illustrator.
$9.63 on bn.com
The famous tale gets a sewing-themed makeover that’s as fun to look at as it is to read.
Sense and Sensibility
$11.15 on bn.com
Austen’s female-driven novel, one of the first examples of chick lit, now sports a modern, girly cover.
The Queen: Art & Image
$35 on bn.com
Yes, yes, we know. These days it’s all about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, otherwise known as Will and Kate. But on the eve of her Diamond Jubilee, it’s fascinating to see how Queen Elizabeth II has been depicted in art during her reign. The book is packed with photos by everyone from Cecil Beaton to Annie Leibovitz, and paintings by everyone from Andy Warhol to Lucian Freud. The images — which have diminished in formality over six decades — tell the story not just of a beloved queen but of the monarchy’s shifting place in British culture.
75 Years: The Very Best of LIFE
$24.39 on amazon.com
This stunning set of Life‘s best photos is accompanied by a memorable extra: a commemorative edition of the magazine’s first issue.
Brassaï in America, 1957
Agnés de Gouvion Saint-Cyr
$32.97 on amazon.com
Taken together, these 150 shots by the legendary Paris-based photographer create a crackling, dynamic portrait of 1950s America.
$222.17 on bn.com
Since some of Weston’s images have sold for more than a million dollars, this collection of provocative black-and-whites is a bargain.
Magnum Contact Sheets
$93.14 on amazon.com
As digital technology threatens to render the cutting-room floor obsolete, this volume throws into focus the film negatives of frames that photographers opted not to use. You can’t do this on your iPhone.
The New York Times Magazine Photographs
$45.66 on bn.com
Photos from the magazine’s last 30 years are annotated with notes from the stories’ editors, writers, and, of course, photographers.
Pop Culture Roundup
Jennifer Bass & Pat Kirkham
$44.11 on bn.com
With his immediately distinctive work on films like Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Anatomy of a Murder, the brilliant graphic designer Saul Bass reinvented the art of the opening-credits sequence. But he was also responsible for much more, including dozens of iconic corporate logos that we see every day. This extensive photo-driven biography, written in part by Bass’ daughter and featuring a foreword by repeat collaborator Martin Scorsese, collects many of the man’s best-known pieces, which are as stunning now as they were back then.
$19.32 on bn.com
This behind-the-scenes chronicle of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic promises to latch onto your face and lay its knowledge inside you with concept art, interviews, Polaroids, and storyboards that were annotated by the director himself. Remember, in space no one can hear you read.
The Art of Pixar
$30.87 on bn.com
Pixar isn’t just about computer-generated imagery: Check out these beautiful color-scripts from its greatest hits — including Finding Nemo, Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Up — many of which are painstakingly hand-painted.
The Art of Walt Disney
$53.55 on amazon.com
This history of Disney animation — first published in 1973, now updated — spans more than 80 years, going back to the first moment Mickey strutted across the screen. Dive deep into the company’s extensive archives and learn how artists managed to breathe life into their iconic images.
Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Innovation
$34.28 on bn.com
ILM — the visual-effects company founded by George Lucas — has been changing the face of Hollywood blockbusters (or at least giving it some really good makeup) in everything from Star Wars to Avatar. The ILM wizards are responsible for some of the best visuals of the last quarter century. Also, Jar Jar Binks.
Scorsese on Scorsese
Michael Henry Wilson
$48.97 on amazon.com
One of Hollywood’s greatest moviemakers discusses not only his own films but also all the ones that have inspired him in this impressive collection of interviews that took place over more than three decades.
Star Trek Vault
$24.39 on bn.com
Set your faces to stunned and track 45 years of Klingons and stardates with this treat for your inner Trekkie. It’s the perfect gift whether you are a fan of Kirk or Picard. Or Janeway… we guess.
All Things Paris
Carine Roitfeld: Irreverent
$61.74 on bn.com
In this trés chic volume, the former French Vogue editor curates her favorite looks and answers burning questions like ”When was your last fashion orgasm?”
The Louvre: All the Paintings
Erich Lessing & Vincent Pomarède
$45 on amazon.com
The title says it all: You don’t have to splurge on a trip to the first arrondissement to see the 3,022 paintings displayed at the Louvre.
Hervé Champollion & Aude de Tocqueville
$99.60 on bn.com
This oversize panoramic visual tour will transport Francophiles to their favorite landmarks, from Notre Dame to Sacré Coeur.
$12.96 on bn.com
Fondant meets architecture in this tempting morsel of a book. The City of Light should be called the City of Bites.