With its unfortunate combination of inclement weather and holidays, the festive season is a time of indoor entertainments. And that’s where books come in. The best of the fall gift books offer more visual thrills, not to mention intellectual stimulation, than most TV programs or computer games. Some favorites, chosen by Maclean’s writers and editors:
Amid the growing stack of centennial/millennial books, the standout so far is The Century (Doubleday, $85), by broadcaster and Canadian native Peter Jennings and veteran journalist Todd Brewster. At close to 600 pages, its strengths include first-person accounts of historic events—including that of a man who was alongside Lenin when the 1917 Revolution began in Russia. Many of the photographs have never been published before. The book’s one flaw is its obsession with Americana at the expense of news from elsewhere.
The American Century (Knopf, $70) by Harold Evans is also a heavyweight tome at close to 700 pages, and makes no pretence of being interested in any other country. But it is well researched and written, and also boasts many rare photos. National Geographic : Eyewitness to the 20th Century (National Geographic Society,
$56) is smaller and describes events in bitesized morsels of one or two paragraphs. And The Life Millennium: The 100 Most Important Events and People of the Past 1,000 Years (H. B. Fenn, $39.95), at less than 200 pages, is a greatest hits package for those with only a mild interest in history.
Photographer James L. Stanfield was on the staff of National Geographic for more than 30 years, and Eye of the Beholder (Random House, $56) provides 120 photos from his visits to 110 countries on every continent but Antarctica. The images range from a confident Shah of Iran at his sumptuous 1967 coronation to a cigarette-puffing West Virginia coal miner trying to convince her 15-year-old girl, slumped on a bed in her wedding gown, not to marry an unemployed 14-year-old.
One of the most satisfying ways to experience the heartbeat of Southeast Asia is to step into the shifting sea of bodies, bikes and cars that typifies street life in many cities. For Chasing Rickshaws (Raincoast, $32.95), Lonely Planet guidebook founder Tony Wheeler and photographer Richard l’Anson visited 12 cities, including such uncommon choices as Penang and Hanoi. The vivid photographs of wheels and their riders freeze-frame a subculture that too often passes by in a blur.
Billed as “the atlas for the 21st century,” The Canadian Geographic World Atlas (Firefly, $75) certainly has all the information about the world anyone would need to arm himself for the new millennium. The maps—including 12 double-page spreads—benefit from state-of-the-art computerized terrain modelling. But there are also annotations and sidebars on industry, environmental issues and standard of living.
For anyone who lived through last January’s devastating dose of freezing rain, The Ice Storm (McClelland & Stewart, $34.99) is a compelling visual reminder of the most destructive weather disaster on record in Canada. A combined effort of nine newspapers, the book features striking pictures from Eastern Ontario and Quebec, where the storm left millions without power. Montreal Gazette writer Mark Abley skilfully chronicles the storm’s impact, which prompted the largest-ever domestic military operation.
Writer Pierre Berton and photographer André Gallant have teamed up for the third time to produce Seacoasts (Stoddart, $50), a companion piece to their earlier works, Winter and The Great Lakes. Berton covers the decline of the Atlantic cod, Pacific salmon and the whale populations, among other subjects, while Gallant’s stunning photos, along with a healthy selection of historical pictures, illuminate the text.
light on the Water by Keith McLaren (Douglas & McIntyre, $45) proves that British Columbia has as much of a seafaring character as the three Maritime provinces. More with period photographs than with text, McLaren—himself a ferry captain—chronicles the robust shipping industry on the West Coast during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. There are shots of sailing ships, luxury liners, fishing boats and warships.
Anyone who has snorkeled or scuba dived or dreamed of taking up those activities will thrill to Roger Steene’s 340 stunning photographs in Coral Seas (Firefly, $50). There are plenty of brilliantly colored sea creatures—some new to science and never before depicted—but the book also includes microscopic pictures showing, for example, the growth of coral. And the images including both the aboveand below-water realms are simply awesome.
Celebrated nature photographer Art Wolfe’s rich, full-color pictures in Rainforests of the World (Random House, $63) range from sweeping vistas to intimate portraits of panthers, poison frogs and other forest denizens. And unlike some coffee-table books, the text actually enhances the photography: British naturalist Sir Ghillean Prance describes the ecological workings of the rainforest and the challenges of the future.
Not only is Shampers Bluff, N.B.-based Freeman Patterson an internationally acclaimed photographer, but he also has a master’s degree in divinity. His latest book, Odysseys (HarperCollins, $35), combines both areas of interest. Annually for more than 20 years, Patterson has travelled to Africa and the abandoned diamond-mining towns of southern Namibia. He draws on those experiences for a series of 10 meditations on topics such as the transience of life and the importance of love. As well as illustrating such ideas, the superb pictures can inspire the reader’s own reflections.
With Visions of the Goddess (Penguin, $38), Saskatchewan photographer Courtney Milne continues in the tradition of his acclaimed earlier books, The Sacred Earth and Spirit of the Land. This time, he focuses on the Earth Mother in all her various guises, whether as Muzzu-Kummik-Quae, the Anishinabe creation figure whose image is engraved in Petroglyphs Park near Peterborough, Ont., or as Gaia, the oldest deity on Greece’s Mount Parnassus. Milne’s wife, Sherrill Miller, ably describes the history and significance of each goddess.
Audubon’s Wilderness Palette: The Birds of Canada (Key Porter, $55) is a companion piece to a major exhibit of the same name now in Vancouver and touring Canada during the next two years. The book features spectacular reproductions of 100 hand-colored engravings by famed naturalist John James Audubon (1785-1851). Wildlife historian David Lank’s text explains Audubon’s significance as both a scientist and an artist.
The season’s most spectacular art book has got to be Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture (Publishers Group West, $110), with text by U.S. Michelangelo scholar William Wallace. This large-size tome has it all: big reproductions of lesser-known works and famous ones such as David and the Sistine Chapel, as well as numerous photos of details, and even a section on the artist’s architectural designs. A feast for the eyes.
Most people know about Alphonse Mucha from posters of his work hanging in college dorms. But Alphonse Mucha: The Spirit of Art Nouveau
(Yale, $94.50) shows that the Czech-born artist (1860-1939) created much more than pretty notices for plays featuring Sarah Bernhardt. This catalogue for a Mucha exhibition that has been touring the United States since earlier this year includes numerous reproductions of Mucha’s influential turn-of-the-century posters in Paris, while also showcasing his evocative drawings, paintings, photographs and jewelry designs.
Another catalogue for a show touring the United States, Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman (Manda, $85) is a thorough treatment of the groundbreaking American creator (1844-1926), who brought a distinctly female sensibility to painting. The 124 color plates include many of Cassatt’s powerful depictions of mothers and children.
The reissue of Bill Reid (Douglas & McIntyre, $65), first published in 1986, is a fitting way to mark the death earlier this year of the world-
renowned Haida sculptor. A chapter has been added by author Doris Shadbolt covering the last 12 years of Reid’s life and includes photos of Reid’s outstanding final work—the six-metre long, almost four-metre high bronze Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe, now in the Vancouver International Airport. The book also includes several pages of text and pictures chronicling Reid’s ceremonial burial at the Haida village of Tanu in the Moresby Archipelago.
It is sometimes forgotten that modern Inuit art arose as the result of a complex interaction between centuries-old Inuit traditions,
Western influences and the daunting geography that has shaped Inuit culture. Inuit Art (Douglas & McIntyre, $60), by Ottawa art consultant Ingo Hessel, does an admirable job of tracing the roots of this durable culture, illuminating the text with maps, historic photographs and 120 color plates and 35 black-and-white photographs by Dieter Hessel.
Langley, B.C., writer and painter Michael Kluckner set out with his notebook and sketch pad, and visited communities from Bay de Verde, Nfld., to Tofino, B.C., to produce Canada: A Journey of Discovery (Raincoast, $49.95). The result is a charming book of history and personal reflection, illustrated by the author’s evocative watercolors.
Anyone who has spent any time in Kingston, Ont., has been to—or at least heard of—
Chez Piggy, the 20-year-old restaurant run by Zal Yanovsky, who in an earlier incarnation played with the band The Lovin’ Spoonful, and his wife, Rose Richardson. The Chez Piggy Cookbook (Firefly, $24.95) includes recipes from the restaurant and bakery, compiled by Piggy chef Victoria Newbury. The restaurant is fun and eclectic and so are the recipes, ranging from potato-crusted goat cheese to African yam and peanut soup.
Emeril Lagasse and the two fat ladies are the biggest attention-getters on the Food Network, but for many serious foodies, the real star of the specialty cable channel is Mario Batali. In Simple Italian Food: Recipes from My Two Villages (Random House, $42), Batali gathers some of his favorite recipes from the northern Italian village of Borgo Capanne, where he lived for several years, and New York City’s Greenwich Village, where he is owner-chef of two restaurants, Pô and Babbo. As with his Food Network show Mediterranean Mario, in the book Batali combines knockout recipes with interesting food lore.
Barbara Kafka is well known for her articles on food and cookbooks including Roasting: A Simple Art. With Soup: A Way of life (Thomas Allen, $55), she offers almost 300 recipes for cold soups, meal-in-a-pot soups, grain soups and pretty well any other kind of soup in the world. “The pots and bowls and cups of soup contain the sensations of childhood,” she writes, “the heritage of families, the identities of peoples.”
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid are globe-trotting Toronto-based photographers, writers and food lovers. They combined those interests in their first book, Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas, and have done so again with Seductions of Rice (Random House, $45), a travel-history-recipe book. It’s all here—basmati, arborio, sticky rice, red rice, brown rice—in a rib-sticking array of recipes.
Along with tofu, vegetables will be among the foods of the next, more health-and-conservation conscious century. And The Vegetable Bible (Penguin, $46.99) has everything you always wanted to know about burdock, kohlrabi and dulse, not to mention more conventional plants. Along with detailed information about selecting and storing vegetables, there are scores of recipes.
Spring is usually the season for a fresh crop of gardening books, but what are gardeners to do until then? They can while away the fallow winter months with I’ll Never Marry a Farmer: Lois Hole on life, Learning & Vegetable Gardening (Penguin, $40). St. Albert, Alta.-based Hole, one of Canada’s best-known gardening writers, has produced an unusual but charming hybrid— accompanied by 200 color photos by Akemi Matsubuchi—for her seventh book: interspersed with her tales of living on a Prairie farm are tips for growing 28 popular vegetables.
The shot of John Lennon naked and curled into a fetal position with Yoko Ono, taken the night before his murder, perhaps best defines how Rolling Stone has chronicled the life and death of the counterculture. Rolling Stone: The Complete Covers 1967-1997 (Manda, $55) offers a rich panorama of 773 cover images that came to define celebrity journalism. It is an arc that moves from history to hype. The most frequent subject: Mick Jagger, who has made the cover 19 times.
Legends: Women who Have Changed the World, Through the Eyes of Great Women Writers (Publishers Group West, $43.50) at first seems merely the cynical creation of a marketing executive, but turns out to be a real pleasure. The black-and-white portraits range from ho-hum to arresting, but many of the subject-writer combinations are inspired, including Isabella Rossellini on Greta Garbo and Guadalupe Rivera on her father’s lover, Frida Kahlo.
Mountain climbing will always be a pastime for a small minority, but even non-climbers may find themselves interested in World Mountaineering: The World’s Great Mountains by the World’s Great Mountaineers (Raincoast, $64.95), edited by Audrey Salkeld. The book contains stunning photos from the loftiest summits on the globe, as well as tidy histories of the major climbs.
For hoops junkies needing a quick fix during the NBA lockout, there is For the Love of the Game: My Story, by Michael Jordan (Random House, $65). This tome is packed with photos of Jordan jamming, sweating, smiling, scowling. Interspersed with the artwork— laid out in hip-hop graphics that sometimes make the words as elusive as Jordan driving the lane—is Michael’s story, including comments on everything from Chicago Bulls brass to his own ineffable ability (“when does jumping become flying?”).
For those preferring less of a vanity-plate approach, another heavy entry featuring Jordan on the cover is Basketball: The Legends and the Game (Firefly, $35). Writer Vincent M. Mallozzi provides a workmanlike survey of some 300 basketball stars—A to Z, from AbdulJabbar to Zaslofsky—although Toronto Raptors fans may be skeptical of any book that considers Marcus Camby a legend of the game. □
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