BOOK: "In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits," edited by Leah Bendavid-Val (National Geographic Books, $30)

TARGET AUDIENCE: Those who prefer coffee-table travel books that aren't about exotic landscapes, but the people who inhabit them.

QUICK TAKE: The eyes have it.

The wary eyes of an Indian chief in full regalia, staring into the distance as he poses for a 1921 shot. The don't-mess-with-me eyes of an Aborigine bride, whose wedding outfit consists solely of a tiara with six massive crocodile teeth. The hard eyes of an off-duty Japanese geisha. For these images alone, this book is worth its (actually quite reasonable) $30 price. And there are 275 more to feast on in this gorgeous collection of portraits that have appeared for over 100 years in the little magazine with the bright yellow borders.

Capturing the essence of a person is an elusive goal, writes NG associate editor Chris Johns in the book's introduction, but the photographers' desire to connect with the subject is paramount and constant -- "to capture something consequential about another person in a portrait."

RANT: When you've made that connection with the subject, you crave more info than the parsimonious captions provide.

RAVE: The frank commentary of the five photographers who contribute essays provide much-needed context.

-- K.C. Summers