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Originally published December 15, 2013 at 5:05 AM | Page modified December 16, 2013 at 1:04 PM

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19 big holiday book gift ideas: mystery, history and local titles

We round up 19 big books for the various readers on your holiday list.

Seattle Times book editor

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Books are among the most personal of presents. Most of us think long and hard before we give one, dreaming of our friend or loved on curled up in a chair, turning the pages, wondering how the giver came up with such a perfect match.

That’s the hope, anyway. Because there are a lot of different kinds of people in the world, this list of recently published gift books tries for something to please readers and thinkers of all ages and inclinations. I hope there’s something in here for everyone on your list.


“The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries,” edited and with an introduction by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard). A feast of 59 (loosely) Christmas-themed stories for mystery and crime-fiction lovers. “Unsympathetic souls will find solace in the fact that crime, violence, and even murder continue to flourish at what should be a time of peace, joy and love,” writes editor Penzler. Well, OK!

Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse shows his softer side; Donald E. Westlake tells the tale of a burglar whose best disguise is a Santa Claus outfit. Sara Paretsky, Rex Stout, G.K. Chesterton and others.

“Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie,” foreword by Charles Todd (Morrow, $19.99). A collection of more than 50 Poirot short stories. Lovely interludes for re-energizing those leetle gray cells.


“The New York Times Complete World War II: 1939-1945, the Coverage from the Battlefields to the Home Front,” edited by Richard Overy, foreword by Tom Brokaw (Black Dog & Leventhal, $40). The New York Times had more than 160 correspondents filing dispatches before and during World War II. This volume reprints more than 600 articles, and includes a DVD-ROM that gives access to more than 98,000 articles.

It is a chilling read. “Having hurled against Poland their mighty war machine, the Germans are today crushing Poland like a soft-boiled egg” wrote Otto D. Tolischus on Sept. 12, 1939.

“The Great War: A Photographic Narrative” by Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts (Imperial War Museums/Knopf, $100). A valuable companion volume to the growing body of work on World War I. Historical photographs, timelines and text show the early war fever, the marshaling of the troops, the carnage and destruction, the misery of the trenches. The blood-spattered uniform Archduke Franz Ferdinand wore when he was assassinated. A sign stretched over a London street, begging for “Quiet for the Wounded.” A little French girl, in tears before a wrecked piano.

“Aircraft: the Definitive Visual History” (DK Publishing/Smithsonian). A dynamite combination — DK’s way with graphics and the Smithsonian’s treasure trove/knowledge of historical artifacts. It’s all here, from the earliest attempts at flight to sleek 21st-century designs (though personally, I prefer the Sopwith Camel). It’s not all hardware; there’s an enjoyable “Great Manufacturers” series on influential aviation pioneers, such as Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith and Bill Boeing.

“Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection,” edited by Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hyslop (Smithsonian Books, $40). Another keepsake volume about a terrible time — artifacts of the entire period of the war, from posters recruiting “colored” troops to Abraham Lincoln’s gold watch to Winslow Homer’s war drawings. Reviewed in The Seattle Times on Dec. 1.


“Serpentine” by Mark Laita, essay by William T. Vollmann (Abrams, $50). These striking and beautiful photographs of snakes of all kinds will make you ponder the paradox: How can something so beautiful be so instinctively revolting?

“Man and Sea” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Brian Skerry (Abrams, $50). Beautiful photographs of the alien world we landlubbers seldom visit or understand. It’s not all sleek seals and astonishing fish — the bloody waste pictured in the chapter about overfishing will definitely have you inquiring about the source of your sushi.

“The Masters of Nature Photography” (Firefly, $45). This thoughtful volume stands out because it features the work of the world’s top nature photographers (Jim Brandenburg, David Doubilet, Frans Lanting), and gives them space to talk about their inspiration, their favorite photos and how they pulled them off.


“The English Country House” by James Peill, foreword by Julian Fellowes, photographs by James Fennell (The Vendome Press, $55). A scrumptious book, one in a series (“The Irish Country House,” “The Scottish Country House”), this book’s photos reveal some hidden treasures of the English countryside. The text details the history of the family owners, some of whom have owned their places for 1,000 years. “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes provides the foreword.

“Vanity Fair: From the Jazz Age to Our Age,” edited and with an introduction by Graydon Carter (Abrams, $65). A book to retreat with while everybody else watches the football game. For 100 years (1913-2013), Vanity Fair magazine has striven, and often succeeded, in showcasing the best of art, photography, literature, film, journalism and, last but not least, dish on the bizarre habits of the rich and famous. An irresistible combination.


“Cosmos” by Giles Sparrow, foreword by Dava Sobel (Quercus, $99). “Cosmos” is a stunning survey of our universe, starting with Earth, proceeding through its solar-system neighbors and circling outward into galaxies, black holes and, well, infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear would say. Awe-inspiring. British author Sparrow writes frequently on astronomy.


“The Secret Language of Sacred Spaces: Decoding Churches, Temples, Mosques and Other Places of Worship Around the World” by Jon Cannon (Duncan Baird Publishers, $35). With crisp design and informative text, this volume, which covers 11,000 years of religious buildings and architecture, looks at sacred dwellings worldwide, what they have in common and what sets them apart. A lovely gift for a world traveler or anyone with interest in world religions. British author Cannon is a journalist and architectural historian.


“A Field Guide to American Houses” by Virginia Savage McAlester (Knopf, $50). This newly revised and updated volume is a classic guide to domestic architecture, with clear text and numerous photo examples of each style. Impress your friends with your knowledge of gambrel roofs and Italianate porches. Updated with depressing but necessary categories such as “Millennium Mansion.”

“The Book of Jezebel” edited by Anna Holmes, written by Kate Harding and Amanda Hess (Grand Central Publishing, $27). For the bright young niece or daughter on your list — or for you, if you’re trying to decode their world. An offshoot of the popular blog, this A-to-Z compendium (Aaliyah to zygotes) is a “a work of fact and opinion. Or perhaps, opinion and fact,” says the introduction.


“The Readers’ Book of Days” by Tom Nissley (Norton, $24.95). A delightful present for the serious bibliophile, Seattle author and “Jeopardy!” champion Nissley presents his rich compendium of literary knowledge in a days-of-the-year format, mixing up real people (authors, mostly) with the lives of fictional characters, some seriously savage reviews and some prescient ones (W.H. Auden’s review of a children’s tale called “The Hobbit.”) Look for an interview with Nissley in the Monday issue of The Seattle Times.

“The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps” by Jack McLeod (University of Washington Press, $26.95). This guide tracks the North Cascades Highway mile by mile, offering explanations, illustrations, history, maps and some beautiful photography. This book was obviously a labor of love for McLeod, who teaches science at Cascade High School in Everett.

“Go Huskies! Celebrating the Washington Football Tradition” by W. Thomas Porter, foreword by Don James (Triumph Books, $29.95). For those who bleed purple — a well-designed history of Husky football by a longtime booster, from its modest beginnings in 1889 through the Sarkisian era. Porter focuses on the glory, but doesn’t leave out the low points (the firing of Rick Neuheisel, criminal conduct by some 2000 Husky team members). Foreword by “Dawgfather” James, who passed away in October.


“Beautiful LEGO” by Mike Doyle (No Starch Press, $29.95). Maybe you need 10,000 LEGO pieces stored in your garage to truly appreciate this book, waiting for your kids to come back and claim them (I do). “Beautiful LEGO” features artists around the world who have produced some jaw-dropping constructions from these versatile plastic pieces, from free-form sculpture to Victorian mansions to the cast of characters of Alice in Wonderland. “Sanctuary of the Damned” is good, too.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or On Twitter @gwinnma.

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