A guide to the season's most breathtaking gift books. No ho-ho-hum ideas here. Behold and be merry.

By Karen Valby
Updated December 13, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: The Art of Noir Photograph by Davies and Starr

A Book of Books

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A truly fabulous coffee-table book is as much a cause for celebration as decoration. With the holiday season upon us, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY suggests a little eye candy with your eggnog.

AMERICANS IN KODACHROME Guy Stricherz (Twin Palms, $60) Make sure to pop in a Paul Simon CD before you feast your eyes on Americans in Kodachrome, a golden-hued collection of family photos from 1945 to 1965. Stricherz was inspired by a 1952 slide of his own family — ”my father, coach of our hometown champion Hornets, his blue football jacket over a white T-shirt, and my mother the immaculate homemaker with a Mona Lisa smile.” He embarked on a 17-year cross-country search for other Kodachromes of ordinary folk. The result is a wildly rich document of postwar America, steeped in easy nostalgic charm. Swoon over photos like ”Blue Prom Dress” and ”Jerry and his ’57 Chevy.” Photo captions aside, there’s little text. Stricherz lets the colors tell the story.

PLANET EARTH Introduction by Robert Hughes (Knopf, $40) Los Angeles from up above appears sweetly benign. A stray rain cloud stretches over the Sahara desert. A Siberian tundra looks like an intricate block of blue cheese. Take an extra moment with the shot of Jerusalem, listed as one of the ”sacred sites of humanity.” Planet Earth, in all her awesome, fragile glory, has never looked better than in these 150 full-color satellite images. ”One looks at them with a degree of bewilderment,” writes Hughes. ”They are images…of our eternal home (for certainly we have no other).”

THE ART OF NOIR: THE POSTERS AND GRAPHICS FROM THE CLASSIC ERA OF FILM NOIR Eddie Muller (Overlook, $50) ”Maybe I should have called it gats and gams,” writes Muller about his book’s ”cavalcade of thrusting firearms and illicitly exposed legs.” Noir stars Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, and Joan Crawford peer out with promises of seduction and betrayal from lurid and lovely movie posters. Edmond O’Brien and Lizabeth Scott starred in 1951’s Two of a Kind. Per the poster: ”The kind that don’t die in bed!”

A Book of Books

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  • Abelardo Morell
  • Bulfinch