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The Great Gift Books Weigh-in
John Garrity
December 16, 1991
Here are some of the best—and heftiest—holiday coffee-table books around
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December 16, 1991

The Great Gift Books Weigh-in

Here are some of the best—and heftiest—holiday coffee-table books around

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Nothing so idiosyncratic awaits the reading golfer this Christmas, but at least one oversized picture book escapes the postcardlike tedium of the "World's Ten Thousand Greatest Courses" genre. The Random House International Encyclopedia of Golf' ($60) is neither comprehensive enough nor dull enough to be called "encyclopedic." Somehow it actually entertains readers—mostly through its lively design, which mixes clever graphics and bold typography into an eye-appealing whole. Sidebars, maps, boxes and cutlines give life to such hoary conventions as "the game's 100 greatest personalities and players" and "the 100 greatest championship courses." Malcolm Campbell's text, admirably concise and free of hyperbole, inspires trust, and Campbell has the good sense to lean on Scottish golf historian Bobby Burnet for his chapters on the game's "misty origins." No surprises here, but a crackling good production.

On the small-type front—and we're talking small, small type—St. Martin's Press has issued The Football Encyclopedia ($49.95). Compiled and written by David S. Neft and the late Richard M. Cohen, this straightforward history of professional football in America is modeled on the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, right down to the book's dust jacket. Neft and Cohen, give us the scores of every game from 1920 to 1991, seasonal and lifetime statistics from all eras, and more than 250,000 words of historical text, including year-by-year recaps for each NFL team. There are no photographs, and there is no color and no excitement, but the volume is a valuable reference work nonetheless.

Mountain climbers will get a lift from Mount McKinley: The Conquest of Denali (Abrams, $60); flatlanders will probably want to pass. The text, by veteran climbers of McKinley (or Denali as it is known to many Alaskans) Bradford Washburn and David Roberts, recounts a century of dogged effort by those who have challenged the mountain, North America's highest peak. Pages of dense type, as daunting as the mountain's Upper Icefall flank Washburn's superb aerial photographs, and as stunning as these images are, they suffer, particularly in the book's first half, from a sameness of perspective and a mystifying disregard for the humans who inhabit the text.

No such caveat need be attached to Tom Turner's Sierra Club: 100 Years of Protecting Nature (Abrams, $49.50). Man and nature more comfortably share the pages of this elegant history of the conservation group, which is fitting, because peaceful coexistence has long been the club's principal goal. Tracing the Sierra Club's development from a 19th-century nature organization into a national lobby with more than 650,000 members, Turner chronicles the organization's key battlefields—Yosemite National Park, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Dinosaur National Monument—and details the internal dispute that led to the forced resignation, in 1969, of executive director David Brower.

Turner's text, while free of polemics, clearly embraces the Sierra Club's mission. Three hundred nature photographs and illustrations make the club's case even more eloquently, taking us into the snowy, moonlit Himalayas and across the starfish-littered tidal flats of Gambier Bay, Alaska. As Frederick Turner reminds us in his introduction,"... no piece of American land, however sanctified by historical association, popular regard, or binding legislation is ever utterly safe from development. All of it—all—is potentially real estate."

The Sierra Club, of course, publishes books of its own. The treasure of this year's holiday list is Amazonia ($40), photojournalist Loren McIntyre's paean to the peoples and ecology of the Amazon River system. It is one of those rare books that can transport us beyond our imaginations.

First, there are the images: green light filtering through the rain forest canopy, clouds of yellow butterflies, a Kamayur� archer taking aim at a bottom-dwelling stingray, a jaguar wrestling with a juvenile crocodile in brown water, Indian boys perched precariously on a fish trap over the surging waters of the Devil's Cataract.

And then there are the words, which often astonish. The ground squirms underfoot with enormous insects and grubs crawling amid husks of forest fruits and bodies of blind rats....

Scourge of the canopy and master of vertical flight, the harpy eagle flits from branch to branch like a twenty-pound hummingbird. With talons as big as a man's hand, it seizes motionless sloths and fleeing monkeys....

He [a black tamandua anteater] looked like he'd landed from Mars on a rainy day. At bay on a forest road, he faced me and brandished his powerful claws...capable of ripping apart a termite nest or even an intruder such as I, if I ventured too close.

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