There is an important distinction to be made between a great book and a great gift book. Last month, the curious minds at W.W. Norton published a fascinating nonfiction keeper called The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Guide to History's 100 Worst Atrocities. In its own thoughtful way, it is genius. But you couldn't, in good faith, put a bow on it. The art book that thrilled me most this year, Saul Bass: A Life In Film & Design, is a picture-stuffed history of the master movie-poster and movie-credits designer. But would I recommend it to anyone other than a graphic designer or hard-core film geek? Not likely.
Any list of gift books has to keep some niche interests in mind. But within each of those subsets of enthusiasm — science, history, art, fashion, photography, etc. — there are books that demand to be spotlighted and are worth remembering at gift-giving time. This year's batch includes the most gargantuan one we've ever recommended — and one smaller than an iPad. No matter the size, they're all enriching page-turners. And by that we mean the actual turning of pages, not the flicking of your digits across the face of a Kindle Fire. That, you can save for a game of Fruit Ninja.