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As the holidays approach, bookstore shelves are already beginning to fill with gift books that are big, bold, beautiful and beguiling. If you're the type who likes to get an early start, we have a few selections to jumpstart your holiday shopping.
When prize-winning documentary maker Ken Burns "discovered" jazz, it was an eye-opening experience. Like so many others, the New Yorker thought he knew exactly what jazz was all about, only to learn, once he began his research, just how far off the mark he had been. Jazz: A History of America's Music is a companion volume to Burns' 10-part PBS series on jazz scheduled to air in January 2001. Co-written by Geoffrey C. Ward, this book offers a compact history of the jazz era, along with a splendid collection of photographs. Not meant to be a comprehensive guide, the book focuses primarily on the music and lives of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, though scores of other musicians are drawn into the narrative. It is through the lives of those four men that Burns and Ward are able to present the larger picture of how a peculiarly Southern art form transformed an entire nation.
If someone on your list has an interest in history, particularly the time period from 1492 to 1600, then you're in luck. Historical Atlas of Exploration, by museum curator Angus Konstam, is a fascinating guide to the golden age of world exploration. Konstam details the dates and events associated with explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan, St. Francis Xavier, Vasco Nunez de Balboa and Sir Francis Drake, to name a few. The maps, illustrations and color photographs are first rate, and the stories are often spellbinding: These explorers were, after all, among the world's first superstars.
In your search for a captivating gift, consider the butterfly. Over the centuries, these sprightly beauties have captured the imaginations of naturalists, poets and children. A World for Butterflies: Their Lives, Behavior and Future examines the life cycle and patterns of the insect world's most charismatic species. Written by Phillip Schappert, a charter member of the North American Butterfly Association, the book details the life cycles of butterflies, from egg to caterpillar to winged insect. More than 300 color photographs, all beautifully done, show the various stages of a butterfly's life, making the book an ultimate guide to the world of butterflies. Also noteworthy is The Family Butterfly Book by Rick Mikula, which offers projects and activities in addition to field-guide information.
At a time when we are inundated with celebrity images every day on television and in newspapers and magazines, it is important to remember that the first modern-day celebrity photographers were artists in their own right. One in particular comes to mind: Lord Snowdon, born Tony Armstrong-Jones, has been taking photographs of celebrities for nearly half a century.
Photographs By Snowdon is a retrospective collection of the British photographer's work. Included are photographs drawn from his entire career, with special emphasis placed on his images of the royal family (his photos of Princess Diana offer a haunting window into her soul) and movie stars such as Vanessa Redgrave, Uma Thurman and Emma Thompson. Snowdon's photo of Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole having tea in an ornate hotel says more about celebrity than words could ever tell. Agatha Christie, sitting at a writing hutch, dressed to the nines but wearing color-coordinated house slippers, creates an atmosphere of mystery that is both daunting and fragile at the same instant. When it comes to portraits, Snowdon is about as good as it gets.