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Big-Bang Gift Books: Visual Dazzle, Thoughtful Thrills

Hollywood has its summer blockbusters; the publishing industry has its gift books. It's all about the special effects — the fold-out pages, the oversized spreads of crisp white paper, the glossy color photographs.

But not all holiday gift books are mere exercises in optic impact, and it's not solely the size and the splashy looks of some volumes that impress. The best of the breed are both physically hefty and metaphorically weighty: notable writers penning the introductions, the author's own expansive research, the gleaming reverence with which the photographers capture their subjects. And it's during the holidays that publishers really lay out their collector's editions, slip-covered sets, picture-book extravaganzas and art-history monographs.

True, any book can be a gift book: Novels, volumes of poetry, guidebooks. But the big-wow visual factor of the shamelessly packaged gift book does add a certain shiver — and it helps explain why so many gift-book publishers return to the same topics every winter: nature, travel, architecture, sports, luxury items, popular culture — especially films and music. In general, it's a gift book if it's about high art, low glitz or big landscapes.

We knew the following were holiday gift books: Opening them felt exactly like opening a present.

(You can print these titles, along with all our other year-end picks, using this master list.)

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Jerome Weeks