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These beautiful illustrated books make great Christmas gifts

The holiday season always brings a Santa's sack full of beautiful illustrated books, and this year is no exception.

These books are too big to stuff in a stocking, but they'll look lovely under the tree. Most are so pretty you can just pop a bow on them. So browse away and see if you can picture someone on your list curling up with a mug of hot cocoa and a grownup's picture book.

Colette Bancroft, Times book editor

Stage and screen

For longtime fans of Broadway or newly minted Gleeks, either of these books would be a delight. Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Times (Black Dog & Leventhal, $40) by Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik and Hollywood Musicals: The 101 Greatest Song-and-Dance Movies of All Time (Black Dog & Leventhal, $40) by Ken Bloom catalog musicals with cast, synopses, songs, history and lots of behind-the-scenes dish, plus great photos.

The classic-cartoon connoisseur will find plenty to love in The Looney Tunes Treasury (Running Press, $45 ) by Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum. Looney Tunes characters — Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, the Tasmanian Devil, the inimitable Bugs Bunny — each give their own history of the studio that made the smartest cartoons. This beautifully designed book also has great extras like Tweety's Twitter tweets, Wile E. Coyote's Acme catalog and Pepé Le Pew valentines.

Turn it up

Fifty influential performers, composers and producers talk about their craft in Music (Abrams, $50) by Andrew Zuckerman. The large-format book combines intriguing interviews with Zuckerman's portraits of his wide range of subjects. Where else will you hear from Eve, Clint Black, Philip Glass, Trey Anastasio and Ornette Coleman all in one place?

Give the baby boomer on your list a shot of nostalgia with The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive, 1964-1966 (It Books, $29.99) by Larry Marion, with a foreword by drummer Charlie Watts. The book's hundreds of previously unpublished photos were taken by the band's tour manager during the first U.S. tours (including a storied 1965 stop in Clearwater, during which Satisfaction was written). They capture the energy and excitement of the era — as well as a smooth-faced Keith Richards, who still looks a bit like the choirboy he was just a few years before.

Designing women

Singer-actor Barbra Streisand has long had a reputation for perfectionism, and it's evident in her first book, My Passion for Design (Viking, $60). The lavish book details — and I do mean details — the planning, design and construction of a home she built in Malibu. You can quibble with her taste (like why build a house that looks like a New England barn on a California sea cliff?), but the tale of its creation is fascinating, as are the photos — which she shot herself. Diva? Oh, yes.

Diva goes with the decor territory, though. Former fashion designer Carolyne Roehm turned to home design in part to get exactly what she wanted for her own houses, and the results are on display in A Passion for Interiors: A Private Tour (Clarkson Potter, $60). The book is filled with lovely photos of the elegant rooms of Roehm's New York apartment and houses in Connecticut and Colorado, along with her design commentary and tips.

Sporting life

With lively writing and plentiful photos, Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete (Balantine/ESPN, $35 ) covers the famous, from Jack Johnson to Venus and Serena Williams, as well as lesser-known but significant athletes in eight sports. Packed with fascinating facts — actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson became the first black All-America football player despite being viciously attacked by his own teammates — the book, by Roxanne Jones and Jessie Paolucci, also has a foreword by Tony Dungy.

To feed the fantasies of a golfer on your list, try True Links: An Illustrated Guide to the Glories of the World's 246 Links Courses (Artisan, $40) by George Peper and Malcolm Campbell. They survey links courses — those with sea views, dunelike terrain and fast-running fairways swept by ocean winds — around the world. Photos by Iain Lowe capture classics like Carnoustie and Lahinch as well as new courses like the Links Kennedy Bay in Australia, where kangaroos roam the fairways.

Natural wonders

When a young woman with no scientific training landed in Tanzania half a century ago, no one knew she would change the way we see our primate relatives — and ourselves. Jane Goodall: 50 Years at Gombe, a Tribute to Five Decades of Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95) documents in photos and prose Goodall's extraordinary life among the chimpanzees of Gombe and her groundbreaking work in conservation worldwide.

Sure, we may hop a plane to go home for the holidays, but humans have got nothing on the travelers of the animal kingdom. Great Migrations (National Geographic, $35), a companion book to the TV series, details, with amazing photos, the astonishing distances covered and dangers faced by creatures ranging from monarch butterflies, which fly 2,000 miles to winter in Mexico, to sperm whales, which may swim a million miles over their lifespan.

Times of war

For history buffs, it's hard to imagine a richer trove than The New York Times Complete Civil War, 1861-1865 (Black Dog & Leventhal, $40), edited by Harold Holzer and Craig L. Symonds, with a foreword by former President Bill Clinton. The newspaper was one of the few with reporters on the front lines, and the book reproduces 600 of their articles, with illustrations and commentary; every Times article on the war — more than 10,000 of them — is on the included DVD.

World War II was remembered by those who lived it in the PBS series The War. The companion book, The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945 (Knopf, $40), by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, follows the same method, combining interviews with more than 40 residents of four towns across the United States, some of whom fought while others waited at home, with compelling photos and other images.

The inner life

Sigmund Freud introduced the principles of psychoanalysis a century ago, and his masterwork has been published in a fascinating new edition to mark the event. The Interpretation of Dreams: The Illustrated Edition (Sterling, $45) combines Freud's writing with dreamlike, full-color art by Dalí, Picasso, Kahlo and others; the book also includes a biography of Freud, excerpts of writing by other major analysts and an introduction and 16 "hidden" essays by Freud scholar Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

Humans have long built places of worship and for even longer found connections with the spiritual in the natural world. Those places are the subjects of Sacred Landscapes: The Threshold Between Worlds (Sterling, $35) by A.T. Mann, with serene photographs by Lynn Davis that capture the mystical nature of temples and pyramids, mountains and waterfalls, ruins and icebergs.

Novel ideas

It's not an art book, but Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy Deluxe Boxed Set (Knopf, $99) would be a handsome treat for any fan of the indomitable Lisbeth Salander. The set includes the megabestsellers The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, plus an essay collection, On Stieg Larsson, all in attractive stamped cloth bindings.

Steve Martin may be best known as a comic actor, but he's also an accomplished fiction writer. His new novel, An Object of Beauty (Grand Central, $26.99), is a smart, sexy comedy of manners about an ambitious young art dealer in Manhattan. The book features color plates of many of the artworks in the story, by artists ranging from Maxfield Parrish to Joseph Beuys.

These beautiful illustrated books make great Christmas gifts 12/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 8:41pm]

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