What better gift than a beautiful book? Book World staff members Nina King, Jonathan Yardley, Michael Dirda, Jabari Asim, K. Francis Tanabe, Jennifer Howard and Dennis Drabelle have selected some of their favorites from the harvest of the season. Most of them are oversized and lavishly illustrated. They can speak volumes about the giver and the recipient alike. Essays and Belles-Lettres Any Day, by Henry Mitchell; edited by John Gallman; illustrations by Susan Davis (Indiana University Press, $24.95). An essayist must have a distinctive voice, but very few have been as distinctive as Henry Mitchell's. Readers of The Washington Post in the 1970s and '80s came to love Mitchell as a gardening columnist (see The Essential Earthman), eccentric Style reporter, and rambling downhome philosopher. Mitchell died in 1993, but he is still missed by just about everyone who knew him or read him. Happily, Indiana University Press has now brought out the best of Mitchell's casual essays in a book that will give more lasting pleasure than anything currently on the nonfiction bestseller list. Do not discount this as the sentimental effusions of a friend: Anybody who peruses even a few pages of Any Day will confirm this judgment as incontrovertible. Open the book at random and stop at, say, "Miss Furbish's Lousewort": "A civilized man never knows when he may be called on to defend the citadel, so to speak, against the next charge of the barbarians with their odd cries and stone hatchets." Read "Hubbub in the Pew," an account of the Homeric confrontation on Christmas Eve between the church ushers and the women's altar guild. Check out the appreciation of E.B. White or Mitchell's all-purpose commencement address. Read him on courage, heroism, the death of dogs, the Normandy invasion, ties, Klondike bars, and bus drivers. Certainly, no wife or girlfriend should fail to consult the definitive account, "What Men Want for Christmas," wherein the Master reveals the deeply ingrained male yearning for sheet copper and weathercocks, dowels and cedar shavings, buckets and lanterns. "I go fairly to pieces for lanterns, as I do for hinges, rabbit wire and Persian tiles. They all make me feel God is up there." This is a wonderful book, made even more so by the pen-and-ink drawings of Mitchell's longtime illustrator, artist Susan Davis. -- MD Edwardian Fiction: An Oxford Companion, by Sandra Kemp, Charlotte Mitchell and David Trotter (Oxford, $45). The Oxford "companion" concept -- a dictionary/concise encyclopedia devoted to wine, 20th-century poetry, military history, what have you -- has seldom resulted in such an engaging browsing book as this one. Edwardian fiction -- roughly that published in England from 1900 through World War I -- can be seen as the last hurrah of popular literature before radio and movies changed the public's entertainment habits. Evelyn Waugh used to daydream about spending a winter holiday at a seaside hotel reading Edwardian novels, and one can see why: This is the period of English writing at its most comforting. For example, there are individual entries here on The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Secret Garden, Prester John and Zuleika Dobson, The Innocence of Father Brown and The Prisoner of Zenda. There are also more extended reflections on feminist fiction and invasion scare stories and suburban life and Ruritanian romance. Biographical essays deftly cover such genre masters as M.R. James and Algernon Blackwood (classic ghost stories), P.G. Wodehouse (comic novels), E. Phillips Oppenheim (raffish spy thrillers), Rafael Sabatini (historical swashbucklers), and E. Nesbit (children's fantasies). But there's much more here than a walk down memory lane: The editors have uncovered neglected novels, half-forgotten authors (many of them women), and much curious information. On my next visit to a seaside hotel I plan to take along Howard Sturges's Belchamber, Arnold Bennett's Buried Alive, Hugh Walpole's Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill, and the short stories of May Sinclair. -- MD Judaica The Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture, 1096-1996, edited by Sander L. Gilman and Jack Zipes (Yale, $45); The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, edited by R.J. Zwi Werblowsky and Geoffrey Wigoder (Oxford, $95). These admirable volumes represent two differing approaches to their subjects: The Yale Companion is organized as a series of six- or seven-page essays, with bibliographies, each providing a "snapshot" of some moment in the story of Jewish thought, art or music in Germany; the more traditional Oxford Dictionary covers a vast amount of history and belief, clarifying everything from the mysterious angel Metatron to the development of the Kabbalah to brief biographies of innumerable Talmudists and philosophers. Both allow the fascinated reader to set sail over oceans of learning -- and anecdote. The Yale volume will appeal to more literary folk, as it includes analyses of such figures as Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Karl Kraus, Hermann Broch, Heinrich Heine, Marx, and Freud -- at times it seems that German culture is Jewish culture. Still, if you want to know who killed Cain -- everyone knows that he killed his brother Abel -- the Oxford dictionary will tell or remind you that it was his descendant Lamech. A good visual complement to both these references is Treasures of Jewish Art, by Jacobo Furman (Hugh Lauter Levin, $100), a massive volume devoted to the paintings, artifacts and manuscripts in the Jacobo and Asea Furman collection. -- MD Art, Architecture and Crafts The New Amsterdam: The Biography of a Broadway Theatre, by Mary Henderson (Hyperion, $75). You enter this book almost as you would a theater: The front cover wraps around the book like a pair of panels. Flip each to the side, and you face a panoramic photograph of the stage and the boxes overlooking it; this is the book's flyleaf, behind which stands the text. Newly restored and reopened as a working theater (its first offering is the spectacular new stage version of "The Lion King"), the New Amsterdam was home to the Ziegfeld Follies from 1913 to 1927. Mrs. Patrick Campbell played there, as did Sir Henry Irving and such Follies faves as Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers. In later eras it was a venue for burlesque and then a movie house: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was the first film to play there, just as a stage version of the play had opened the place in 1903. The latter part of the book, which details the restoration process, includes a remarkable photo of layers of paint discovered on an exterior sign. Like dendrologists working with tree-rings, historians of drama have matched a cross section of paint against a lineup of shows: this layer for "Little Nemo," the next for "The Love Cure," the one after that for "Madame X" and so on. -- DD Stanley Spencer: An English Vision, by Fiona MacCarthy (Yale, $45). Stanley Spencer belongs to that line of English visionary artists who work at the intersection of the numinous and the mundane, the spiritual and the corporeal: Think of Langland, Bunyan, Blake, Eric Gill, David Jones. Until Jan. 11, 1998, the Hirshhorn Museum is hosting a major Spencer exhibition, and anybody interested in art really ought to see it. Spencer could paint gloriously detailed landscapes, thick with wild grasses and flowers; his portraits -- of himself and members of his family -- are beautiful, yet unsettling; and his nudes are utterly unromantic, revealing all the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Still, Spencer's greatest works are his strangest, those in which he emphasizes that the deepest mysteries of Christianity are always happening right now: Christ preaches at the Cookham regatta, the Resurrection happens on an ordinary village street (complete with a Union Jack flying from a building's window), the Last Supper takes place in what looks like a brick-walled basement. In this last the focal point of the painting is the row formed by the apostles' bare feet; as in many of his canvases, Spencer depicts his various tableaux from odd or unexpected angles. Consider, for example, the weird and threatening picture "The Nursery," in which children seem imprisoned in what looks like the bedroom of Dr. Caligari, or the surreal, almost science fictional "Turkish Window," wherein young men embrace cowled pieces of machinery. This last verges on the humorous, as do several Spencer paintings: Christ emerges from the grave, with arms extended like Superman, and "Love on the Moor" recalls both Hogarth and comics. As one would expect, Fiona MacCarthy, biographer of Eric Gill and William Morris, contributes a characteristically shrewd and insightful essay for this companion volume to the Hirshhorn exhibition. -- MD Unauthorized Portraits, by Edward Sorel (Knopf, $40). Edward Sorel maintains that he's still learning to draw, though from the evidence of this album of caricatures his pen and ink can slash as well as any sword. Unauthorized Portraits represents the artist's favorite work from the past 30 years, which means some of the best pictorial, and usually political, satire of our time: Rupert Murdoch as a bloodsucking Dracula hovering over the New York skyline, John Mitchell and Nelson Rockefeller on a movie poster for "Gentlemen Prefer Bonds," Henry Kissinger as Narcissus in love with his own reflection, Richard Nixon as Louis XVI or again as Milhous I. Nixon was clearly at the top of Sorel's personal enemies list: See the wicked set of imaginary stamps, including one showing Tricky Dick shaking hands with Elvis (aptly titled "President and King"). But Sorel can also be affectionate, particularly in his "Movie Classics" series in which he pays homage to the great Hollywood stars and in his insightful literary drawings of, for instance, Truman Capote meeting Colette or of Joyce, Yeats and other notable Irish moderns. Fans of Sorel will also relish his autobiographical introduction and the interpretative captions to each of these 166 drawings. -- MD Inside the Bungalow: America's Arts & Crafts Interior, by Paul Duchscherer and Douglas Keister (Penguin Studio, $32.50). What goes around comes around, so the Arts and Crafts Movement is suddenly back in style, along with the modest bungalows in which it flourished. Hard on the revival of interest in Mission furniture, to which Arts and Crafts design is closely related, this has heightened our appreciation for distinctively American styles with their roots in the West. Inside the Bungalow is a useful contribution to the revival, with its sympathetic analysis of the bungalow, its inviting floor plans and, most of all, its vivid photographs of rich, lovingly finished wood: in paneling, in window frames, in floors, in furniture. Anyone with a taste for such design will positively salivate at the two-page photo of the dining room in a 1913 California bungalow, and at the 15-page tour of the Thorsen House in Berkeley. -- JY The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention, essays by Donald Albrecht et al. (Abrams, $49.50). The husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames were profligate designers -- furniture, buildings, toys, graphics, books, exhibitions, films. One of their grandest creations was the IBM "Think" installation at the 1964 New York World's Fair, but above all they will be remembered for what they did to the chair -- twisted it out of its rectilinear rigidity and squeezed it into a curving, flowing accommodation. Eames chairs were practical, too; their famous fiberglass models could be stacked like empty crates. The couple flourished at a time (the 1940s to the 1970s) when they could contribute to a rough consensus (with government and private industry) on what rapidly modernizing postwar America should look like. And they did much of their work in that booming, malleable Southern California setting that became a harbinger of shifting American tastes. Late in their joint career, Charles Eames confronted the downside of their generation's handiwork: "The scary fact is that many of our dreams have come true. We wanted a more efficient technology and we got pesticides in the soil. We wanted cars and television sets and appliances and each of us thought he was the only one wanting that. Our dreams have come true at the expense of Lake Michigan. That doesn't mean that the dreams were all wrong. It means that there was an error somewhere in the wish and we have to fix it." This bountifully illustrated volume arrives in advance of an Eames exhibition that will open at the Library of Congress on May 20, 1999. -- DD Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art, by Vincent Di Fate (Penguin, $45). Since the great days of the 1930s pulp magazines, science fiction art has always been colorful, lurid, sexy, visceral, unsettling, corny, Jungian, and just plain ridiculous. It's also absolutely wonderful. In this mammoth album artist Vincent Di Fate opens with a substantive essay on the history of sf illustration, then segues into an alphabetical listing of dozens of major artists, each of whom receives a short biographical/critical essay accompanied by anywhere from two to 10 representative illustrations. Because he covers so large a field, Di Fate can sometimes seem a little stingy in allocating only a page or two to some delightful artists (e.g. Boris Artzybasheff), but major figures like Frank R. Paul, Richard Powers, Chesley Bonestell, Alex Schomburg and Michael Whelan receive longer treatments. Good as the text is, though, it can hardly compete with the album's nearly 700 reproductions of magazine and paperback covers, movie posters, and out-of- this-world paintings. From space rangers and bug-eyed monsters to mechanical marvels and UFOs, from mighty-thewed barbarians to impossibly voluptuous dream-girls, in short, from the stuff of nightmare to the sublimity of the stars above us -- every sf motif or convention here finds its perfect visual expression. -- MD African Art Western Eyes, by Susan Mullin Vogel with field photographs by the author (Yale University Press, $65). About one million people living mainly in the central Ivory Coast now identify themselves as Baule, although just what that designation means is subject to debate. Regardless of whether Baule actually designates an ethnic group, Vogel asserts, it does describe a coherent art style supported by a consistent complex of beliefs. Those beliefs were sustained throughout the longest war of resistance to French colonization of any West African people, a war in which those who call themselves Baule played a pivotal role. Art historians and connoisseurs have long celebrated Baule art, praising the balanced assymetry and subtle rhythms found in its textiles, pottery and sculptures. Vogel has found substantial irony in Baule art's central place in the canon of African art. " Art' cannot be described from a Baule point of view at all," the author writes, "simply because their view does not include art' in the Western sense of the word." The physical form of an object possesses little significance for the Baule; its spiritual function is paramount. The tension between Baule and Western ideas about art fuels Vogel's book. Her many photographs of Baule bowls, masks, sculptures and other objects attest to the enduring beauty of these creations. Wherever possible, Vogel accompanies her photos with sensitive descriptions of the Baule artisans whose work is being discussed. -- JA Wild Kingdom The Rat: A Perverse Miscellany, collected by Barbara Hodgson (Ten Speed Press, $15.95 paperback), and Tales of a Rat-Hunting Man, by D. Brian Plummer (Lyons & Buford, $12.95 paperback). "Of all horrors in the world -- a rat!" wrote Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-four. There is no doubt that the rat occupies a special place in humankind's mental chamber of horrors. Though its rodent kin -- especially bunnies and mice -- have often been portrayed as benign or cuddly by writers and artists, even the inestimable qualities of the Water Rat in The Wind in the Willows have done little for the image of Rattus rattus. These two fascinating books go a long way toward depicting if not explaining the revulsion most of us feel for our disease-carrying, obscenely gluttonous and fecund neighbors. Hodgson's wonderfully illustrated and well designed "miscellany" gathers facts and fables, fictional and film rats -- everything from the history of the Black Death, to the place of the rat in Chinese mythology, to incidents of starving men feasting on rats and voracious rodents returning the favor, to such fictional classics as Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" and H.P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Wall." One book about rats Hodgson apparently overlooked is D. Brian Plummer's Tales, originally published in Britain in 1978. It is in part a memoir of growing up poor in Welsh coal country (where Plummer developed a passion for rat-hunting), in part a treatise on rats and their predators, the efficient triad of dog, ferret and man. It is also an extraordinary work of literature, which will remind some readers of Angela's Ashes for its ability to find humor and wisdom amid squalor. -- NK Eye to Eye: Intimate Encounters with the Animal World, by Frans Lanting, edited by Christine Eckstrom (Taschen, $39.99). Born in the Netherlands in 1951, Frans Lanting has become one of the premier wildlife photographers working today. He came to it without design. "I plunged in without formal training in either photography or biology," he writes in his introduction. "Perhaps this absence of qualifications has helped me to maintain an open mind." And there is a remarkable ease to his photographs (though, as he explains toward the end of the book, individual shots don't always come easily). As the title of this book suggests, Lanting's photographs seek to establish a personal relationship with their subjects, putting photographer and camera at eye level with elephants, butterflies, lions, penguins, hippos, lemurs, puffins, orangutans, seals, Galapagos tortoises. "Ultimately the animals are my teachers," Lanting writes. "They define themselves in their encounters with me -- and no two are alike." This wild portrait gallery brings the viewer face to face with a multitude of magnificent individuals whose personalities prowl, leap, crawl, gallop and take wing through Lanting's lens. -- JH Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, by Frans de Waal and Frans Lanting (University of California Press, $39.95). "The bonobo," writes primatologist Frans de Waal, "is a serious contender for the title of sex champion of the primate world." A member of the great ape family, the bonobo resembles its relative the chimpanzee. But while chimpanzee males are twice the size of females and "conspicuously dominant," the bonobo is "a female-centered, egalitarian primate species that substitutes sex for aggression . . . in the bonobo, {sex} has become an integral part of social relationships, and not just between males and females. Bonobos engage in sex in almost every partner combination." Confined to the jungles of the Zaire River basin in West Africa, the species has, until recently, been little understood. This book should help, thanks to De Waal's clear, thorough text and Frans Lanting's dynamic photographs. -- JH Ships and the Sea A Maritime Album: 100 Photographs and Their Stories, by John Szarkowski and Richard Benson (Yale University Press, $39.95). The photographic record of the sea and those who sail it is almost as rich as the literary one; which, when one considers the work of such writers as Joseph Conrad and Patrick O'Brian, is saying something. Speaking of Conrad, there is an utterly splendid photograph in this equally splendid book of the sailing ship Joseph Conrad, taken in dramatic late-afternoon light; as the editors say, "If we asked the ship to pose for an idealized portrait she couldn't do a better job than this." Like all the others in A Maritime Album, the photograph is in black and white. Though there is a slight bias in favor of sailing ships -- note, for example, the USS Constitution being rebuilt in 1874, and the grounded schooner Bessie A. White -- there is also ample representation of 20th-century ships and their sailors. -- JY Food and Wine The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Reference Guide to the Wines of the World, by Tom Stevenson (DK Publishing, $50). Wine guides tend to fall into two distinctly different categories: small, relatively inexpensive ones that provide thumbnail sketches, some as brief as a few words, and large, glossy, expensive ones that can serve as much for show as for guidance. No one familiar with Sotheby's function as purveyor to the privileged can be surprised that its contribution to the genre falls into the second category: The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia -- thoroughly revised and updated after nearly a decade -- sits heavily on the lap and has many pretty, brightly reproduced pictures. But it also has a lot of nitty-gritty information about the parts of the world where wine is made and the wineries where the job is done, and Tom Stevenson's opinions about the merits of individual wines can be pungent. The book's self-evident bias is toward the wines of France, but as anyone who drinks wine will testify, there's a reason for that. -- JY Photography PASSION & LINE: Photographs of Dancers by Howard Schatz (Graphis Press, $50). In Howard Schatz's book we clearly know the dancer from the dance: The body swayed to music is captured here in a moment of sublime form, without backdrop, stripped even of its usual ballet attire. The photographer has focused solely on the beauty of the dancer. Take Alvin Ailey dancer Linda Evans for example, pictured leaping in midair, her exquisitely long bare arms and legs outstretched in such balletic grace that ordinary mortals can only gasp in admiration. In a theater performance, we can admire a dancer's virtuosity from afar in an ephemeral blurring motion; here Schatz captures the exquisite moment at 1/500th of a second. Many of the male and female dancers in this book are nude and marvelously so, showing every elastic bend and curve of their impressive bodies, developed through years of intense practice and performance. "Their bodies are flesh and blood, yet they are the stuff of dreams. . . the body as body, and the body as art. In dancers, the two are one." Schatz displays a virtuosity with his camera that is totally in synch with the performers. With his Hasselblad ELX553 pointed towards a special stage that he set up in his studio, he asked dancers to perform so that he could capture that perfect moment. "No one, in my experience as a photographer -- not a fashion model, nor an actor, nor a musician -- works harder, stays more focused, gives of him or herself more completely than a dancer. No one," Schatz writes. His photographs (reproduced here on 10 x 13 1/2 inch glossy paper) are a loving testament of this conviction. -- KFT Gordon Parks: Half Past Autumn (Bulfinch/Little Brown, $65). The next best thing to seeing the current exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (which will close Jan. 11) is to read and study this handsome collection. Here are 200 black-and-white and 96 color photographs by an artist whose achievements are legendary. The youngest of 15 children, Parks left his Kansas home, found a job as a waiter on a train, bought a camera for $7.50 and eventually built a dazzling career as photographer for the Farm Security Administration and for Vogue and Life magazines. If that weren't enough, he became a successful novelist, poet, screenwriter and movie director. As this collection attests, just a few of his photographs would have guaranteed his fame. Take the one of Ella Watson, a black woman who cleaned the floors of a federal building in Washington. The year was 1942 and the city was still very much segregated. With a mop in one hand and a broom in the other, she posed for Parks in front of a large American flag hanging on a wall. The result is a photograph that speaks volumes, through her bearing and profile, about pride and dignity. There are those who choose to emphasize hate and ugliness in their photographs. Parks opts to show mankind in a different light. Among the many memorable photographs in his photo essay about gang warfare in Harlem, there is one of two young men looking forlornly at another youngster, slain and displayed in an open coffin in a suit too large for him, a white carnation in his lapel. Gordon Parks could have succeeded solely as a documentary photographer, but obviously he wanted to achieve more. There is a photograph of Ingrid Bergman that I find particularly arresting: The beautiful actress reveals a contemplative expression as she passes three women in mourning who look towards her. Through Park's perspectival use of a road leading off to the right toward somewhere unknown, the result is as evocative as an Edvard Munch painting. -- KFT Cuba: The Special Period, by Marcia Friedman (Samuel Publishers, $29.95); Che's Companeros: Witnesses to a Legend, by Francis Giacobetti, interviews by Mauricio Vicent (Assouline, $28.95 paperback); Cuba, by Eddy Kohli (Rizzoli, $60), and The Havana Cigar: Cuba's Finest, by Charles del Todesco, photos by Patrick Janret (Abbeville, $65). Though their approaches and goals are very different, each of these books is a reminder of the sheer beauty of this troubled island and its beleaguered but resilient people. Cuba: The Special Period reflects the point of view of Cuban exiles in the United States, and includes excerpts from interviews with representative members of that community. Friedman's photos are full of nostalgia for what has been lost but nonetheless find beauty in decay. Che's Companeros and The Havana Cigar are also directed to specific audiences. The former consists of photos and adoring interviews with 20 men and one woman who worked or fought alongside Che Guevara in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia. The Havana Cigar is one of a number of recent books seeking to capitalize on the cigar fad. It offers a lot of information on brands, history and cultivation, which I'm not qualified to judge, but the photos of cigar makers and smokers and their surroundings are just fine. The most spectacular of these books, however, is Cuba by fashion photographer Kohli, who offers passionate shots of beautiful faces, lush tropical settings, old American cars, cockfights and exotic dancers, wildlife and platters of rice and beans. --- NK Seydou Keita, edited and with an introduction by Andre Magnin (Scalo, $49.95). "I took up photography in 1945 in Bamako, by myself, without any knowledge, with a six-by-nine camera which my uncle had brought me from Senegal. He also gave me money to buy films. That is how this came to me. Honestly, this is a profession which I have tried to do in the best possible way." Such is Keita's humble assessment of his own considerable output. Now 76 and retired in Bamako, Mali, Keita has lived to see his work celebrated and exhibited in various prestigious Western venues, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Andre Magnin, a specialist in contemporary African art, first noticed Keita's work during a 1991 group show at the Center for African Art in New York. Three uncredited photos inspired Magnin to undertake a little detective work and track down their creator in Mali. He met Keita and eventually convinced him to grant access to tens of thousands of negatives covering the period from 1948 to 1962. From them Magnin organized this volume, one of the first monographs of an African photographer's work. Keita's formal portraits of Bamako's citizens provide an intriguing sampling of West African style during the '50s and '60s. Posed against a simple backdrop, Keita's subjects wear somber expressions; their actual sentiments are often best conveyed via body posture, clothing and the props they chose to pose with: A child sits attentively while her mother pantomimes pouring tea; a man stands rakishly in two-tone shoes, his white gloves carefully folded over his hand. -- JA Weegee's World, with essays by Miles Barth, Alain Bergala and Ellen Handy (Bulfinch/Little Brown, $75). Before Diane Arbus, there was Weegee, master of images of the bizarre and the grotesque. Weegee was born Usher Fellig in 1899 and began his photographic career while still a teenager. Perhaps his long training in darkrooms contributed to the amazing clarity of Weegee's news photographs, many of which were taken at night. Here are scenes of murder and mayhem, vice raids, car crashes, drownings, dwarfs, socialites and burlesque dancers behind stage. There is Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, mouth uncouthly agape, actress Jayne Mansfield unabashedly displaying her amply brassiered bosom, Louis Armstrong indecorously in undies showing a hefty belly. The 265 duotones reproduced here draw on work from the '30s to the '60s; a retrospective of Weegee's photographs is now at the International Center of Photography in New York City until Feb. 22.

-- KFT Photomosaics by Robert Silvers, edited by Michael Hawley (Owl Books/Henry Holt; $19.95 paperback). Welcome to the brave new world of meta-photography: digitized, computerized, iconized. The cover of Photomosaics shows a close-up of a pink flamingo with its long white and black beak and neck curled into a question mark. Upon further inspection the flamingo turns out to be composed of hundreds of disparate color images -- fruits and flowers, bridges and boats, birds and animals, buildings and human faces. Using a powerful computer at the MIT Media Lab, Silvers wrote software that could hold thousands of color images and then arrange them into a color spectrum. Then, instead of using dots of varying shades and density to create an image as in a regular photo, he utilized hundreds of tiny individual photographs to perform that very function. For a photomosaic of Bill Gates, he used pictures of currencies from around the world. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln is composed of black-and-white photographs of the Civil War. The young Elvis Presley turns out to be a mosaic of hundreds of postage stamps. To generate Marilyn Monroe, Silvers used over 400 covers of Life magazine. Gimmicky? Of course. But fun to look at. Still, Silvers is an amateur when it comes to creating original works of art. Witness his hackneyed images of Darth Vader, Yoda and Monroe. Moreover, the 9 x 12 paperback, printed on glossy paper, comes with a small plastic magnifying glass, which is definitely inadequate. These images need to be of at least poster size to have a real impact on the viewer.

-- KFT New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead, by Robert Florence with photographs by Mason Florence (Batture Press, $29.95), and Elysium: A Gathering of Souls, photographs by Sandra Russell Clark, foreword by Andrei Codrescu and introduction by Patricia Brady (LSU Press, $39.95). No doubt this modest effusion of coffee-table books about the above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans can be traced to the popularity of Anne Rice's creepy novels, but one need only have visited that most beguiling of American locales to have an interest in these haunting cities -- as they are commonly, and properly, known -- of the dead. As between these two books, the choice is easy. The photos in the LSU Press book, though appealing for the air of mystery that black-and-white lends, are gauzy and uninviting, and the text is scanty. By contrast the pictures in the Batture Press book are in vivid, revealing color, while the text is thorough and informative. -- JY History and Anthropology Ancient Greece: The Dawn of the Western World, by Furio Durando (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $60). This book attempts to capture the essence of classical Greece in just under 300 pages, which are awash in photos and drawings. Some of the latter are strikingly new, especially artists' renderings of what whole Greek cities probably looked like. For example, the walled city of Mycenae----whose heyday was the 14th to 13th centuries B.C.----sprawls over a two-page spread, lordly and fortified above the plain of Argos, its walls converging on its renowned Lion Gate (which has come down to us recognizably intact). The author, an archaeologist who has excavated Greek sites, emphasizes the restlessness underlying the serene balance of so much Greek art, whose creators "tried to depict the volatile side of the human temperament. They set out to capture fleeting moments, symbolizing the ephemeral nature of things; they gave form to rapture and pain, tenderness and anger, in a world now devoid of ideals and faith. Light-years away from Plato's scorn for the art of his age as deceptive and based on appearances, they surveyed reality and embraced the void populated by illusions, lights, shadows, and colors." -- DD Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History of the United States, by Vincent Varga and Curators of the Library of Congress, historical commentary by Alan Brinkley (Knopf, $75). What visual images best represent the history of the United States? Perhaps it's the Civil War photographs of Matthew Brady. The famous snap of "the world's first powered, controlled, and sustained flight," piloted by Orville Wright on Dec. 17, 1903. Dorothea Lange's pictures of lives ravaged by the Depression. Images of repression and resistance from the Civil Rights movement. Drawn from the collections of the Library of Congress, these are a handful of the era-defining photographic images gathered in Eyes of the Nation. The book doesn't limit itself to photography: Posters and pamphlets, maps and engravings, documents and sketches fill its pages. Beginning with the first encounters between Europeans and Native Americans, this combination of visual and textual history moves forward chronologically through the post-1945 period, which the editors call "The Pursuit of Happiness." Illustrations for this section include movie stills, a photograph of a 1950s shopping center, an Elvis Presley album cover and the front page of the New York Times for July 21, 1969, reporting the first moonwalk. -- JH The Vanishing Tribes of Burma, by Richard K. Diran (Amphoto Art/Watson-Guptil, $45). "Such is the ruggedness of Burma's mountains," the author writes, "that two villages of the same ethnic group can be so isolated geographically that their language will not be understood by the other after a generation." Painter and photographer Richard Diran has been visiting Burma (now called Myanmar) since the early '80s, recording as much as he can of its diverse -- and vanishing -- tribal cultures. His subjects include opium addicts, betel-nut chewers (whose blackened teeth are considered beauty emblems), women with bound feet, women who wear multiple coils around their elongated necks, and single boys and girls who wear elaborate pom-poms in their ears to advertise their eligibility. Some of these peoples decorate not just themselves but nature: A striking photo shows Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, a Buddhist shrine perched atop a huge boulder, which is coated with gold leaf and has somehow ended up at the edge of a cliff. "Legend has it," Diran explains, "that the Kyaiktiyo rock is balanced on a single hair of the Buddha and will remain perfectly posed forever." -- DD The Discovery of the Nile, by Gianni Guadalupi (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $60). As a history of 19th-century European exploration of the Nile, it won't displace Alan Moorehead's classic accounts The White Nile and The Blue Nile. But this hefty book, by the co-author (with Alberto Manguel) of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, offers many pleasures of its own, notably the abundance of lavish color illustrations reproduced from 19th-century accounts. One of the most colorful figures of the annals of Nile exploration is Richard Burton, who gets ample attention here. After becoming the first white man to enter Mecca (he was a master of languages and disguise), Burton set off in search of the source of the Nile. In 1858, he and his travel companion, John Hanning Speke, discovered Lake Tanganyika; going on alone, Speke stumbled on Lake Victoria, which he concluded must be the source of the White Nile. Making it back to England ahead of Burton, Speke became an overnight sensation with his report; irked, Burton contested Speke's theory, arguing instead that the river's headwaters rose in a series of lakes. To confirm his discovery, Speke set out in 1860 on a second expedition, reaching Lake Victoria in 1862. But it wasn't until 1876 that Henry Morton Stanley (of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" fame) circumnavigated the lake and proved beyond a doubt that Speke's theory was correct. -- JH Lest We Forget: The Passage from Africa to Slavery and Emancipation, by Velma Maia Thomas (Crown, $29.95). "How would you feel if it were you standing on the auction block? What range of emotions would flood your mind and soul? How would you feel as traders handled you, examined every inch of your body, made you strip, or dance, or gauged your worth by the number of children you could sire or bear?" These questions are among many posed by Thomas in this fascinating and frequently unsettling book. The author supplements her discussion of the slave trade with materials designed to increase readers' appreciation of the horror she describes. Envelopes, flaps and pull-tabs can be manipulated to reveal letters, maps, photographs, diary entries, newspaper clippings, etc. -- each of which adds telling emphasis to Thomas's text. For instance, a page from a "lenient" slaveholder's journal shows that his slaves were allowed four days off for Christmas plus three additional off days during the year. The author, founder and curator of the Atlanta-based Black Holocaust Exhibit, created this slim volume as an accompaniment to her project. After escorting readers through the endless nightmare of captivity, Thomas concludes with a hopeful discussion of Jubilee, which is what slaves called Jan. 1, 1863, the day President Lincoln signed the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the document only applied to the states and portions of states that were still in rebellion, slaves viewed it as cause for celebration. Thomas writes, "With all of its shortcomings, my people greeted it as a long-awaited godsend. It may not have been all that learned men hoped for, but it was more than the common slave ever dreamed." -- JA Sculpture Bernini: Genius of the Baroque, by Charles Avery; special photography by David Finn (Little, Brown/Bulfinch Press, $75). With the possible exceptions of the half-legendary Praxiteles, that Renaissance powerhouse Michelangelo and the formidably prolific Rodin, Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) is almost certainly the greatest sculptor who ever lived. His marble figures ripple with movement and sensuous life, from Pluto abducting Proserpina to David grimly letting fly with his sling to the almost notorious sculpture of the reclining St. Teresa in ecstasy. But, as Charles Avery reminds us, Bernini was also something of an uomo universale: He largely recreated the city of Rome, transforming St. Peter's Cathedral, ornamenting piazzas and bridges, designing fountains, decorating churches and public buildings. His commissioned busts of Louis XIV, Charles I and various statesman and churchman are the three-dimensional counterparts to Van Dyck's portraits -- but even better. Avery's account of this great artist extends the classic researches of Rudolf Wittkower, yet the immediate glory of this volume are David Finn's several hundred photographs: His pictures capture every striation of the marble, the glint of light and shadow on stone, the very feel of a body's coiled energy just before it explodes into action. -- MD Cartoons Little Nemo in Slumberland, edited by Richard Marschall (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $45). Winsor McCay's cartoon strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland" first appeared in the pages of the New York Herald in 1905, where it ran until 1911. (It had later incarnations, but its first Herald run was the strip's golden period.) "Little Nemo in Slumberland" followed the nocturnal adventures of Little Nemo, a mop-topped, pajama-jumpsuit-clad lad who nightly went in dreams to the kingdom of Morpheus. There the king's beautiful daughter, the Princess, waited for him, and his scampish associates Little Impy and Flip accompanied him on the adventures that, willy-nilly, always befell him. Though Morpheus's kingdom had many wonders and the king himself was benign, dangers lurked in the realm; Nemo's dreams often turned into nightmares in which he was pursued by a polar bear, or shot at by bow-and-arrow-wielding savages, or dropped from a great height -- only to wake up, as always, in his own bed, with his parents scolding him to get up and get dressed for Sunday school. (And when he had insomnia, they yelled at him for that, too.) In Nemo's world, parents were the worst nightmares of all: "If you do not get up to your breakfast, Nemo," says one offstage parental voice, "I'll come in there and scalp you!!!!" -- JH Puppets No Strings Attached: The Inside Story of Jim Henson's Creature Shop, by Matt Bacon (Macmillan, $35). Henson, whose name has become virtually synonymous with puppetry, is probably most revered for one of his simplest creations, Kermit the Frog. The aforementioned amphibian may be little more than a sock, but many of Henson's other "muppets" are in fact high-tech special-effects critters. As Anthony Minghella observes in his foreword, "glue, genius and bits of string are no longer enough" in today's world of computer-dominated fantasy and savvy, demanding audiences. No Strings provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how Henson's London-based shop has managed to keep pace. Now headed by Brian Henson (Jim Henson died in 1990), the company's staff includes artists, technicians and assorted creative types inspired by their departed leader's exemplary energy. Accessible text and an array of full-color photos show the gifted team animating characters in various film and television productions, including "The Dark Crystal, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and "The English Patient." Tidbits and trivia abound, such as the fact that when Kermit made his first television appearance in 1955, he was more of a "lizard-like green character" who would take a while before "evolving" into a frog. -- JA Our Greatest Poet The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets, by Helen Vendler (Belknap/Harvard, $35). The Everest of English lyric poetry, Shakespeare's sonnets have for the past four centuries been admired, decoded, misinterpreted, allegorized, and, best of all, learnt by heart. There are numerous editions of these 154 poems available -- a substantial Penguin from John Kerrigan, a minutely annotated volume by Stephen Booth -- but none is more handsome in design or more intelligent in its glosses than this one by Helen Vendler, our leading poetry critic. Vendler opens with a long general introduction, prints each poem both as it first appeared in the 1609 Quarto and in a modernized version, and follows each sonnet with a two or three-page commentary on its particular cruxes, graces and flourishes. These mini-essays may prove somewhat daunting to the casual reader, but repay study: Vendler has lived with these works all her life, and spent much of the past nine years working on this hefty book. The result is more than a reliable guide, it is a portable critical encyclopedia (it even includes a CD in which Vendler reads a selection of the sonnets so as to convey their aural beauties). In short, this is just the book for anybody wishing to spend a little quality time with our greatest poet. -- MD Stocking Stuffer A Treasury Of African-American Christmas Stories, edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas (Henry Holt, $20). In Collier-Thomas's words, Christmas is used as "a pretext to explore larger issues" prevailing in the African-American community from 1890-1915, the era during which these stories were written. Some of the better known writers of this period, such as Ida Wells Barnett and Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson, are included here, but of greater interest is the editor's resurrection of such all-but-forgotten figures as Fannie Barrier Williams and Augustus M. Hodges.

In 1894 Hodges co-founded an eponymous literary syndicate to publish black novels and short stories, many of which were sold to the Indianapolis Freeman. The latter, along with other publications Collier-Thomas identifies, frequently showcased the creations of Hodges and other pioneer black scribes. As the editor notes in her introduction, "African-American publications provided these writers the freedom to address such issues as post-Reconstruction lynching, economic and social oppression, interracial relationships, and self-determination -- topics white publishers, who were more interested in black caricature, deemed unacceptable." This collection should please readers interested in early black writing as well as those in search of suitable holiday reading. -- JA CAPTION: From "Stanley Spencer: An English Vision" Portrait of Daphne Spencer CAPTION: From "Any Day," by Henry Mitchell Illustrations by Susan Davis CAPTION: From "Unauthorized Portraits" by Edward Sorel Drawing of Madame de Pompadour CAPTION: From "Eye to Eye: Intimate Encounters with the Animal World" by Frans Lanting CAPTION: From "Gordon Parks: Half Past Autumn" Portrait of Gloria Vanderbilt CAPTION: From "The Vanishing Tribes of Burma" CAPTION: Bernini's terracotta model of "Habbakuk and an Angel." From "Bernini: Genius of the Baroque." CAPTION: From "African Art Western Eyes," page 5