50 Bright Book Ideas For Everyone on Your List
It pays to be a smart shopper—especially during the holiday season. So as you head to the bookstore this year with your list of beloved gift recipients, we want to arm you with some seriously bright ideas. These 50 books will cover everyone on your list, and maybe even inspire some much-deserved self-gifting. And if you need even more fabulous texts, be sure to check our guide from last year, because great books are never out of date.
1. FOR THE BUDDING GENIUS: WOMEN IN SCIENCE: 50 FEARLESS PIONEERS WHO CHANGED THE WORLD BY RACHEL IGNOTOFSKY
Female pioneers often go underrepresented in the history books—especially in the fields of science and mathematics—but this tome aims to tip the scales. Ignotofsky’s picture book features 50 inspiring, beautifully illustrated mini-biographies of trailblazers, inventors, and heroes. (Consider keeping the girl power going by picking up Bonnie Burton's Crafting with Feminism, which features 25 awesome projects ranging from finger puppets of kick ass women to "em-broad-ery hoop art.")
2. FOR YOUR ROOMMATE, THE GERMAPHOBIC POET: ON IMMUNITY: AN INOCULATION BY EULA BISS
Lyrical prose meets juicy research and personal narrative in poet Eula Biss’s meditation on contamination and purity. The book rightly blurs the line between medical and cultural history, tapping into fears both ancient (vampirism and the stain of sin) and current (toxins in baby products, contaminated vaccines). Biss arrives at no tidy conclusions, preferring instead to dwell vulnerably in the uncertainty of motherhood and modern life.
3. FOR THE CURRENT EVENTS JUNKIE:BREAKING CAT NEWS: CATS REPORTING ON THE NEWS THAT MATTERS TO CATS BY GEORGIA DUNN
Breaking Cat News began as a joke among friends, as cartoonist Georgia Dunn imagined her three cats reporting on mundane events in their little world. The joke took off, and today this “surreal and sweet” comic (Publishers Weekly) has joined Garfield in the comics section of newspapers across the country. The book is a terrific introduction to the boys in the newsroom and makes a great gift for fans of comics, cats, and hard-hitting journalism. (Cat owners will especially identify with BCN’s investigation on the bathroom titled “The Woman Is In a Room We Can’t Get Into.”)
4. FOR THE HARRY POTTER-OBSESSED MUGGLE: HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE: THE ILLUSTRATED EDITION BY J.K. ROWLING AND JIM KAY
If you've been thinking it's time to reread the Harry Potter series, there's no better way to start than with the vivid illustrations of Jim Kay. The British artist reimagines the expansive world with a new full-colored edition of the first book in the series. The entire illustrated series will eventually be published, but so far you can only purchase the first two. Kay has gone on record as a huge fan of the series, so you know the beloved characters are in good hands.
5. FOR THAT FRIEND WHO CAN APPRECIATE A DARN FINE CUP OF COFFEE: THE SECRET HISTORY OF TWIN PEAKS: A NOVEL BY MARK FROST
The new Twin Peaks season isn’t coming out until 2017, but you can bide the time with a new novel from co-creator Mark Frost. Presented like a history book, the novel details the events of the town, starting with Lewis and Clark’s journals and ending with the events in the show’s finale. The intention of the book is to expand on the mythology of the show without giving away any spoilers of the new season.
6. FOR THE ADVENTUROUS HOMECOOK: ALTON BROWN: EVERYDAYCOOK BY ALTON BROWN
For nearly two decades, Alton Brown has turned his fans on to the science of good eats though his informative books and TV shows. His latest cookbook, titled EveryDayCook, takes a more personal look at the culinary habits of the uber-nerdy celebrity chef. As Brown puts it, the recipes in this book reflect what he cooks “to feed myself and people in my immediate vicinity.” If lacquered bacon and “Chocapocalypse” cookies are among his standbys, anyone in his immediate vicinity should count themselves lucky.
7. FOR THE FRIEND WHO NEVER GOT RID OF HIS TOY DINOSAUR COLLECTION: THE TYRANNOSAUR CHRONICLES: THE BIOLOGY OF THE TYRANT DINOSAURS BY DAVID HONE
Tyrannosaurs were the undisputed kings of the dinosaurs when they roamed the Earth 65 million years ago. All they left behind were their fossilized bones and some footprints, but as David Hone shows in this exhaustively-researched book, that can tell us a lot about how these creatures once lived. From how they hunted to what they looked like, The Tyrannosaur Chronicles delves into the biology of these tyrant lizards with surprising detail.
8. FOR THE FRIEND WITH AN ANNUAL AQUARIUM MEMBERSHIP: THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS: A SURPRISING EXPLORATION INTO THE WONDER OF CONSCIOUSNESS BY SY MONTGOMERY
After reading this book,you’ll never look at a cephalopod the same way again. For The Soul of an Octopus, author and naturalist Sy Montgomery made regular trips to the New England Aquarium where she forged intimate connections with its eight-armed residents. The book uses the intelligent animal as a springboard for asking heavy questions about the nature of consciousness while teaching readers a bit of marine biology at the same time.
9. FOR THE FRIEND WHO HAS SEEN EVERY FREAKIN' SHOW: TV (THE BOOK): TWO EXPERTS PICK THE GREATEST AMERICAN SHOWS OF ALL TIME BY ALAN SEPINWALL AND MATT ZOLLER SEITZ
The next time you’re prepared to binge on a classic television series, you should hit the streaming sites armed with Sepinwall and Seitz’s gloriously geeky examination of the greatest American shows to ever air on the small screen. The two critics don’t always agree—their verbatim exchanges about how to rank all-timers like Breaking Bad and The Wire are a highlight—but their passion for the medium is infectious.
10. FOR THE TRUE CRIME FANATIC: MOP MEN: INSIDE THE WORLD OF CRIME SCENE CLEANERS BY ALAN EMMINS
Journalist Emmins became so intrigued by the morbid duties of crime scene cleaners that he decided to tail one in San Francisco. With Emmins alternating questions with dry heaves, Mop Men is by turns hilarious, disgusting, and poignant, a peek inside an industry that few care to think about and even fewer are prepared to explore.
11. FOR ADVOCATES BRIMMING WITH PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE: PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE: POWER, REAL ESTATE AND THE FIGHT TO SAVE A PUBLIC LIBRARY BY SCOTT SHERMAN
In a riveting expose of bureaucracy almost trumping art, Sherman details a misguided 2008 economic plan to dissolve the New York Public Library locations and store their remains—including the famous lions—in New Jersey. It took a team effort of professors and citizen groups to keep the historic collection in one piece.
12. FOR THOSE WHO KNOW THAT ANIMALS ARE THE BEST MEDICINE: H IS FOR HAWK BY HELEN MACDONALD
Some people struggle with grief by throwing themselves into work; Helen Macdonald decided to procure a hawk. The result is a highly original memoir of a falconer who bonds with an ornery bird and finds a way to cope with her father’s death in the process.
13. FOR THE '80s KID: ART OF ATARI BY TIM LAPETINO
Video games have earned considerable respect since Atari’s heyday, but appreciation for their covert art has lagged behind. That’s likely to change with Lapetino’s coffee table guide to some of the company’s biggest hits, with commentary and rough sketches provided by the artists.
14. FOR THE DANA SCULLY IN YOUR LIFE: THE UNPERSUADABLES: ADVENTURES WITH THE ENEMIES OF SCIENCE BY WILL STORR
Journalist Will Storr embeds with Holocaust deniers, UFO-chasers, young earth creationists, and people who believe in baby-eating cults as he pursues a great mystery: How and why do people believe in the unbelievable? Throughout this thought-provoking romp, Storr stumbles upon the psychological biases that distort our handling of reality and arrives at a stunning conclusion—your world is shaped by a hardwired knack for storytelling.
15. FOR THE AUDIO/HISTORY/CULTURE-PHILE: THE REST IS NOISE: LISTENING TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY BY ALEX ROSS
Most books about classical music only appeal to fans of classical music, preaching—sometimes literally—to the choir. Not this book. Ross, a music critic at The New Yorker, paints a history of 20th century western music without drowning us in the usual deluge of composer hagiographies. Instead, with colorful stories and nimble analysis, he illustrates how musical moods and movements reflected, and occasionally contributed to, the tumult of 20th century society. Readers will come away with a new understanding not just of western music, but of the past century.
16. FOR THOSE IN PURSUIT OF THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED: ATLAS OBSCURA: AN EXPLORER'S GUIDE TO THE WORLD'S HIDDEN WONDERS, EDITED BY JOSHUA FOER, DYLAN THURAS, AND ELLA MORTON
If this compendium of the weirdest, wackiest, and most wonderful destinations on the planet doesn't fill you with insatiable wanderlust, then you need to check your pulse.
17. FOR THE WRITER: STYLE: THE BASICS OF CLARITY AND GRACE BY JOSEPH WILLIAMS AND JOSEPH BIZUP
Hey, writers! Joseph Williams' guide for wordsmiths is the only style book you will ever need. (Sorry, Strunk and White. Your finger-wagging Elements of Style is overrated.) Emphasizing principles over prescriptions, Williams will teach you how to write clear, shapely, elegant sentences. And that's not even the most amazing part: It's also fun to read.
18. FOR THE BIBLIOPHILE: YOU COULD LOOK IT UP: THE REFERENCE SHELF FROM ANCIENT BABYLON TO WIKIPEDIA BY JACK LYNCH
Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference books are supposed to be dry, dusty, and boring ... right? Not true says Lynch, an English professor at Rutgers University: "[Reference book] authors are not always sexless cartoon characters but include quirky geniuses, revolutionary firebrands, and impassioned culture warriors, many of them with the unflagging intellectual energy of a whirling dervish." This is the story of the people who cataloged and preserved the world's knowledge. What could be more exciting?
19. FOR THE LOVER OF GHOST STORIES: GHOSTLAND: AN AMERICAN HISTORY IN HAUNTED PLACES BY COLIN DICKEY
About half of Americans believe in ghosts, depending on what poll you want to put your faith in. Why are ghost stories perennially popular in a nation that likes to imagine it’s science-forward?
The answer, of course, is that ghosts serve a social and emotional purpose for us, which means they’re worth considering in depth. In Ghostland, Dickey takes a historical and anthropological approach to the spooky tales that haunt many of the nation’s famous places, from the plantations of the South to the midcentury hotels of Los Angeles. He shows how such stories often highlight some of the darkest aspects of our history—slavery, conflict with Native Americans—while also intersecting with more modern sources of anxiety, such as the foreclosure crisis. The book might not change whether or not you believe in ghosts—that’s not the point—but it will change how you think about the next spooky tale someone tells you.
20. FOR THE BIOGRAPHY READER: SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE BY RUTH FRANKLIN
Author Shirley Jackson was controversial in life: Her short story "The Lottery," published in The New Yorker in 1948, prompted widespread outrage, and despite being popular with many fans, her work was often dismissed by critics. But her crystalline portraits of desperate women and small-town horror have stayed fresh, and are now undergoing renewed interest. In a new biography, author and critic Ruth Franklin explores Jackson’s troubled life in New England, where the author nurtured her creative genius and several children amid an often-difficult marriage, trouble with the neighbors, and substance addictions that may have hastened her death.
21. FOR YOUR BOJACK HORSEMAN-LOVING SIBLING: HOT DOG TASTE TEST BY LISA HANAWALT
You don’t need to love—or even particularly like—hot dogs to appreciate the delightfully odd stream-of-consciousness work that is Lisa Hanawalt’s sophomore graphic novel, Hot Dog Taste Test. The American cuisine staple is merely a springboard for Hanawalt to explore a smorgasbord of colorful musings like, are runny eggs actually bad? Or (from her James Beard Award-winning piece “On the Trail With Wylie”) why isn’t poop called “doof,” since that is food spelled backwards? Hot Dog Taste Test is the rare type of book that has the capacity to inspire “foodies” and casual consumers alike to log the minutiae of day-to-day life in hopes of one day churning out a book that is, at best, half as clever or delicious.
22. FOR THE RELATIVE WHO LOVED THE DA VINCI CODE: THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT, EDITED BY RAYMOND CLEMENS
The Voynich Manuscript is a mysterious medieval text, written in a language no one can read. For years it's baffled the world's best cryptologists, trumped the most powerful code-breaking computers, and been written off as a masterful hoax—cracked and debunked, again and again. This new examination of the artifact includes photographs as well as essays from experts who tackle the bizarre manuscript from a variety of angles. Who knows, maybe you're the one who can put all the puzzle pieces together.
23. FOR THE ENGINEERING STUDENT: RISE OF THE ROCKET GIRLS: THE WOMEN WHO PROPELLED US, FROM MISSILES TO THE MOON TO MARS BY NATHALIA HOLT
The so-called "rocket girls" were the women of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the '40s and '50s—the decades leading up to the Apollo missions and, of course, man walking on the moon. Their story has been largely absent from the history of space travel, but Holt puts a spotlight on these mathematicians (they were also called "human computers") and the invaluable work they did to revolutionize rocket design, develop satellites, and propel humankind to the final frontier.
24. FOR THE STARGAZER: COMING OF AGE IN THE MILKY WAY BY TIMOTHY FERRIS
Ferris's history of cosmology and astronomy is a compellingly written, accessible tour of many of the main people behind humanity's biggest insights into the nature of the universe. It's a classic of popular science writing from one of the world's most accomplished science journalists.
25. FOR THE MEDICAL STUDENT (WHO ACTUALLY HAS TIME TO READ WHILE ON HOLIDAY BREAK): THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS BY REBECCA SKLOOT
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American tobacco farmer and mother of five, died of cervical cancer. She died without knowing that the doctors who had treated her for the disease had also removed cervical cells from her body to study and manipulate. These cells, known as HeLa, lived on, and became vital to the development of polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and much more. In this award-winning book, Skloot explores the impact of Lacks' "immortal" cells on both medicine and her family in engrossing—and often painful—detail.
26. FOR LITERALLY ANYONE WITH A HEART: SLOTHLOVE BY SAM TRULL
A coffee table book packed with ridiculously adorable pictures of—and fascinating facts about—sloths, this volume offers up both the heart and science of wildlife conservationist Sam Trull, who rescues, rehabs, and releases wild orphan sloths in Costa Rica, all while enlarging the scientific knowledge of these largely mysterious (and did we mention ridiculously adorable?) animals. It'll delight your brain—and make your day.
27. FOR THE CURIOUS FOODIE: THE OXFORD COMPANION TO AMERICAN FOOD AND DRINK, EDITED BY ANDREW F. SMITH
If you’re more interested in the why, when, and who of cooking and food than the “how” that cookbooks give you, crack open this reliably fascinating reference that covers all the people, places, and trends that lead us to eat the things we eat. With thousands of concise entries spread across hundreds of pages, the volume gives you the opportunity to fall into a delicious rabbit hole of culinary knowledge. On one page, you’ll learn about how Russian immigrant Samuel Born invented a way to automate putting sticks in lollipops before founding the Peeps giant Just Born. On the next, you’ll learn how Carl Karcher turned a $311 loan into the Carl’s Jr. empire. You’ll only want to put it down when you get so hungry you’ve got to stop for a snack.
28. FOR THE CRAFTER: PEOPLE KNITTING: A CENTURY OF PHOTOGRAPHS BY BARBARA LEVINE
Here's a book you judge by its cover. This collection of vintage photographs of crafters with their yarn and needles is a charming look at a skill that spans time and demographics. It serves as a history of knitting itself, and how its place in the culture has changed over the decades. It's sure to inspire your favorite knitter's next big project.
29. FOR YOUR OWN ZIGGY STARDUST: DAVID BOWIE RETROSPECTIVE AND COLORING BOOK BY MEL ELLIOT
David Bowie was one of the few people actually deserving of the designation of "icon." The ever-evolving folklore and imagery surrounding him were as important as the music itself—which makes Bowie a surprisingly apt candidate to be at the center of a coloring book. It's a perfect way to remember the Thin White Duke, from David Jones (his given name) to his turn as Jareth the Goblin King in the 1986 film, Labyrinth.
30. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO'S ALWAYS MORE INTERESTED IN THE PICTURES: THE ART OF BEATRIX POTTER BY EMILY ZACH
Long before she created her best-known work (The Tale of Peter Rabbit), Beatrix Potter was drawing and painting (and studying) landscapes, plants, and animals in gorgeous detail. Her works, much like the natural history art we often see in museums and reference books, are delicate reflections of the biological world. Amid photographs, notebook pages, and essays, this collection traces Potter's inspirations, and the work that preceded her classic book.
31. FOR THE FRIEND WHO CAN SING ALL THE WORDS TO HAMILTON: THE HAMILTON COLLECTION, EDITED BY DAN TUCKER
Thanks to the insanely popular Broadway show based on his life, interest in Alexander Hamilton has never been greater. For those with an insatiable appetite for all things related to the founding father, there's Tucker's collection of writings from the man himself. All manner of ephemera are included—from government correspondence to love letters with Elizabeth Schuyler (who would become his wife), and even Aaron Burr. There's no better way to get a sense of the man behind the legend. And lest we inadvertently cause a duel, let us also recommend Alexander Hamilton's Guide to Life by Jeff Wilser—which includes even more nuggets of wisdom, straight from Ham. (As Wilser notes in the introduction, the dude loved maxims, and used the word 209 times in one collection of his writings.)
32. FOR THE FRIEND WHO LIKES TO PSYCHOANALYZE EVERY CONVERSATION: PSYCHOBOOK: GAMES, TESTS, QUESTIONNAIRES, HISTORIES, EDITED BY JULIAN ROTHENSTEIN
Whether or not you believe that all of your adult anxieties are your mother’s fault, there’s no denying that the history of psychology—both as a science and a cultural obsession—is endlessly fascinating. This gorgeous coffee table book offers a comprehensive peek into the history of psychological testing, by gathering up dozens of photographs, illustrations, and psychological tests that have been used to delve deeper into people’s psyches over the years. (Yes, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to inkblots.) When you consider the cost of an hour’s worth of therapy, the $30 cover price is a steal.
33. FOR THE PARENT WHO CONSTANTLY UPS THEIR GARDENING GAME: EXPLORERS' BOTANICAL NOTEBOOK: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THEOPHRASTUS, MARCO POLO FLINDERS, DARWIN, SPEKE AND HOOKER BY FLORENCE THINARD
If you've ever wanted to peek inside the workbook of a scientist, here's your chance. The Explorers' Botanical Notebook catalogs the work of 80 pioneering botanists, with gorgeous spreads showing their findings, thoughts, notes, stories, and more. These naturalists traveled the world with the intent of finding, collecting, observing, and preserving the world's flora. The collection includes maps, photographs, and sketches, and truly feels like a glimpse inside the quite tactile work of history's botanical explorers.
34. FOR THE FRIEND WHO'S MORE OF AN OBSERVER: OVERVIEW: A NEW PERSPECTIVE OF EARTH BY BENJAMIN GRANT
It's amazing what a shift in perspective can do. Grant's compilation of satellite images of everything from cities, to the ocean, to tulip fields in the Netherlands, takes a look at Earth from above, and offers a revealing glimpse at the planet and our impact on it. For a taste of the "overview effect" (a term for the feeling astronauts experience when they look down at Earth from space) check out the Instagram account where the project began.
35. FOR THE MAP ENTHUSIAST: YOU ARE HERE BY KATHARINE HARMON
New York City is among the most mapped places in the history of the world, 200 of which can be found in this collection. Harmon has compiled maps depicting NYC in stunning real and imagined forms. From a Ghostbusters subway map to Brooklyn composed in constellations, with these renderings, even the most knowledgeable New Yorker will walk away seeing the city in a whole new light. (And for even more cartographical awesomeness, check out Harmon's previous book.)
36. FOR THE FRIEND WHO'S ALWAYS SENDING YOU INFOGRAPHICS: DEAR DATA BY GIORGIA LUPI AND STEFANIE POSAVEC
It's a great time to be a numbers nerd, and this gorgeously sketched book brings data visualizations—something usually reserved for the world wide web—to paper, with a healthy dose of humanity. Dear Data chronicles one year of correspondence between Giorgia Lupi, an Italian living in New York, and Stefanie Posavec, an American in London. The pair swap postcards full of writings and sketches, turning the details of everyday life into data sets. It's a whole new way of looking at the particulars of life that often go unchronicled.
37. FOR THE INFRASTRUCTURE NERD: WHO BUILT THAT? BRIDGES: AN INTRODUCTION TO TEN GREAT BRIDGES AND THEIR DESIGNERS BY DIDIER CORNILLE
The Who Built That? series spotlights the practical design we often take for granted. Author Didier Cornille previously tackled modern homes and skyscrapers, and he's now turned his eye toward bridges, specifically 10 famous bridges—from the Golden Gate to Sydney Harbour—in appreciation of the engineering, raw materials, and design that brought them to fruition. Simple and engaging drawings elevate the work, paving the road for even those who might've never considered the grandeur of this ubiquitous piece of design.
38. FOR THE AMATEUR LINGUIST: SPEAKING AMERICAN: HOW Y'ALL, YOUSE, AND YOU GUYS TALK BY JOHN KATZ
In 2013, The New York Times released an interactive dialect quiz, created by Katz, that you yourself probably took, or at least saw on Facebook. (It reportedly became the most viewed page in the paper's history.) That quiz, highlighting how word choice—about everything from athletic footwear to the sweet stuff we spread on top of a cake—can locate us geographically, is now a book. It's a fun look at language quirks, and what they can tell us about history, language, and who we are.
39. FOR THE FRIEND WITH AN INSTAGRAM DEDICATED TO THEIR CAT: THE LION IN THE LIVING ROOM BY ABIGAIL TUCKER
Love cats? Instead of watching yet another YouTube video of an adorable kitten, check out The Lion in the Living Room (2016)—Smithsonian science correspondent Abigail Tucker’s in-depth look at Felus catus. By tracing the history of feline domestication, Tucker explains why the tiny animals may have chosen to form a relationship with humans. She also takes a look at the ecological harm caused by cats, and tries to figure out why our culture is currently obsessed with all things fuzzy and whiskered.
40. FOR THE CRAFTY WORDSMITH: WHAT THE DICKENS?! DISTINCTLY DICKENSIAN WORDS AND HOW TO USE THEM BY BRYAN KOZLOWSKI
Charles Dickens’s fiction featured convoluted plots and eccentric characters, but his colorful language is what truly takes center stage. Writer Bryan Kozlowski scoured 15 of the Victorian author’s books and hundreds of his short stories for 200 eccentric turns of phrase, and compiled them all in a handy reference book explaining their definition and historical context.
41. FOR THE RESIDENT MIXOLOGIST: CONTRABAND COCKTAILS: HOW AMERICA DRANK WHEN IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BY PAUL DICKSON
Even the most skilled booze-slingers might not know about the cocktails that surreptitiously flowed during Prohibition. This look at the cocktail culture of the era fuses history, literature, music, and more, with recipes and plenty of geeky libation lingo to keep every reader entertained. After all, shouldn't a cocktail book be a good party in itself?
42. FOR ALL THE LADIES (AND THE GENTS, TOO): ALL THE SINGLE LADIES BY REBECCA TRAISTER
Society has lots of names for unmarried women; none of them (with the exception of “cat lady,” of course) are especially flattering. In this fascinating investigation, Traister admits that she set out to write about the state of the Single Woman in America today. But through a deep and comprehensive look into the history and current state of the demographic, Traister finds that single women have always been a force to be reckoned with, and have shaped the course of our nation’s history in profound ways—which only becomes more relevant as the group continues to grow. (For a look at what it was like to be a woman in the Victorian era, pick up Therese Oneill's Unmentionables: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners.)
43. FOR FOR THE YOUNG ARCHITECTURE BUFF WHO KNOWS WHAT “USONIAN” MEANS: THIS IS FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT BY IAN VOLNER AND MICHAEL KIRKHAM
Frank Lloyd Wright is one of history’s most famous architects. He was also a failure. For every success that this pioneer of the open floor plan had (and there were many, many of them), he also suffered many setbacks. This graphic-filled biography follows the ups and downs of the revered architect’s life and work. It's the first in Lawrence King Publishing’s “This Is” series, which takes a graphic novel-esque approach to art history, telling the life story of some of the world’s most creative minds (Andy Warhol, Paul Gauguin, and Jackson Pollock are among the series’ other subjects) in a way that would make Stan Lee jealous. Just with more cantilevers.
44. FOR WANNABE WHITTLERS: GOOD CLEAN FUN: MISADVENTURES IN SAWDUST AT OFFERMAN WOODSHOP BY NICK OFFERMAN
Nick Offerman is best known as the mustachioed actor who played a guy with a passion for fine steaks and woodworking on Parks and Recreation. In real life, there’s a lot of Ron Swanson in the actor, who has written two New York Times bestsellers in the past three years. His latest lifestyle contribution takes a peek inside Offerman Woodshop, an East Los Angeles collective of talented woodworkers—Offerman included—who regularly produce an amazing collection of handcrafted furniture and appropriately quirky items like kazoos and moustache combs. The photo-filled book offers an impressive collection of what Offerman calls “wood porn” and may just inspire you to try crafting your own wooden beer opener.
45. FOR THE LONG READS JUNKIE: NOTHING TO ENVY: ORDINARY LIVES IN NORTH KOREA BY BARBARA DEMICK
Told through the experiences of six residents over the course of 15 years, Nothing to Envy is a snapshot of North Korea during the tumultuous late '90s and aughts. Demick is a longtime Los Angeles Times reporter and her probe into a country that's largely hidden to the Western world brings a human perspective to a population under totalitarian rule. It's heart-wrenching—and essential—reading.
46. FOR THE ATHLETE: FOX TOSSING, OCTOPUS WRESTLING AND OTHER FORGOTTEN SPORTS BY EDWARD BROOKE-HITCHING
Being an expert on sports history isn't just about knowing obscure stats and athletes—it's also about cataloging the lesser-known pastimes. Take "aerial golf," which consisted of a player on the course and a pilot in the skies above, who would tee off by dropping balls from the aircraft. Or "dwile flonking," a 1960s sport-of-sorts in which locals in Norfolk, England gathered to dance to an accordion and hit one another in the face with beer-soaked rags. Hey, we didn't say they all made sense.
47. FOR THE RECENT GRADUATE: MY SALINGER YEAR BY JOANNA RAKOFF
This spiritual sibling to The Devil Wears Prada takes place in the publishing world, where Rakoff worked after leaving graduate school in the '90s. She gets a job at an agency that represents J.D. Salinger, and is tasked with replying to his many pieces of fan mail. Rather than brushing them off with the standard form-based reply, Rakoff starts to pen more thoughtful responses. The poignant and funny memoir is about the industry, as well as finding your place in the art world and the world at large.
48. FOR YOUR TRIVIA TEAM: 1234 QUITE INTERESTING FACTS TO LEAVE YOU SPEECHLESS BY JOHN LLOYD, JOHN MITCHINSON, AND JAMES HARKIN
You wouldn't be reading this list if you weren't hungry for some knowledge—and QI serves it up in bite size morsels that you can devour and dish out to impress even the savviest trivia nerds. One of our current favorites: "Cockroaches can hold their breath for 40 minutes."
49. FOR THE FRIEND WHO DOESN'T ACCEPT SUBSTITUTES: BUTTER: A RICH HISTORY BY ELAINE KHOSROVA
Most of us can agree that butter is one of life's many treasures—but it also has a fascinating history. Khosrova traces the storied past of the food staple, its role in the culture, and includes recipes so you can channel your butter lust when you're done reading. You'll never look at pat or stick or curl the same way again.
50. FOR THE FRIEND WHO LOVES ALL CREATURES, GREAT AND SMALL (AND VERY OLD): HORSESHOE CRABS AND VELVET WORMS: THE STORY OF THE ANIMALS AND PLANTS THAT TIME HAS LEFT BEHIND BY RICHARD FORTEY
Life on earth is fragile, but as Fortey, a British paleontologist, chronicles in Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms, a small group of organisms has stood the test of time. These "living fossils" have stayed pretty much the same for millions of years, surviving countless threats along the way. They're impressive biological specimens, and a window into the world as it used to be.
All images: Amazon.com