Holiday Book Gift Guide

From a Doonesbury retrospective to a Roosevelt trilogy to amazing Jazz photographs, The Daily Beast presents our guide to the best books to give to someone else—and maybe even keep to yourself.

For the Friend Who Can't Remember the Zeros

Decade, by Eammonn McCabe and Terrence McNamee  


Featuring the work of famous photographers and citizens caught in the crossfire, Decade retells the story of the past 10 years in politics, pop culture, sports, and global events. Selected by photographer and former Guardian photo editor Eammonn McCabe, these 500 pictures capture the world's reaction to the cataclysmic attacks of September 11, 2001, the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, the inspiring election of Barack Obama, and the countless other tragedies and triumphs that defined the decade.

For the Friend Who Is Simply Fabulous

Gone are the days of elegant accoutrement and simple pleasures. Instead we're surrounded by iPods, useless technology, and plastic surgery—until now. Lesley M.M. Blume and Jessica Kerwin Jenkins have stolen back time and written books to satisfy the friend who starts every sentence with 'Remember when....' Blume's book, Let's Bring Back: An Encyclopedia of Forgotten-Yet-Delightful, Chic, Useful, Curious, and Otherwise Commendable Things From Times Gone By, catalogs everything whimsical, and nostalgic from Aesop's Fables to recipes for ambrosia (yes, remember ambrosia?). Paired perfectly with Jenkins book, Encyclopedia of the Exquisite: An Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights, which has been dubbed "a delightful ode to everyday elegance" by Sarah Jessica Parker. The book chronicles a scrapbook of all that was good, from the history of Champagne to dahlias and gladioli, “two of the showiest of blooms in the average garden.”

For the Photo Fiend Who Lives (Mentally) Downtown

Herb Ritts: The Golden Hour: A Photographer's Life and His World, by Charles Churchward


Nan Goldin, by Guido Costa


When he died in 2002, Herb Ritts was one of the most famous celebrity photographers in America. The Golden Hour celebrates his black and white nudes and his famed portraits of iconic figures like Christopher Reeve, Madonna, Michael Jordan, Cher, George Clooney, Cindy Crawford and others, with never before seen images and interviews with curators, lovers, and family members. (It even includes a chat with Christopher Buckley, Ritts' college roommate.) If you like more intensity in your pictures, Nan Goldin overviews the legend's intimate snapshots of everything from domestic scenes to drag queens to drug abuse in 1970s and '80s New York. Goldin's pictures captured the tragic effect of AIDS on her friends and subjects, and tell the stories of cultural eras with candid depictions of personal moments.

For the One Person in Your Life Who Hasn't Read Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy Deluxe Boxed Set, by Stieg Larsson

You’ve read them and you’ve seen them everywhere: on the subway, at the airport, and probably in your friends’ book bags: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. But if you have someone dear who’s been holding out, the best way to get them to check out this critically celebrated Swedish crime trilogy would be this handsome boxed set. It includes the three novels in hardcover and a fourth book of essays about, and correspondences with, Stieg Larsson.

For the Jazz Lover With a Sleek Coffee Table

Jazz, by Herman Leonard

“Although music itself can't be photographed, no photographer ever got closer to pulling it off than Herman Leonard,” The Washington Post’s Dave Howell wrote. With Jazz, a collection of Leonard’s most iconic shots, of jazz superstars like Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis come vividly back to life. Many of the photographs in the book languished in boxes under Leonard’s bed for years while he made his living in commercial photography. Printed on these giant pages, they evoke the smoky passion of the 1940s and 50s, capturing the feel of the legends’ lives on and off the stage.

For Film Buffs Who Think They Know It All

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, by David Thomson

The most celebrated encyclopedia of film gets updated and expanded in a new edition that’s certain to maintain David Thomson’s position as the most entertaining and opinionated chronicler of film. The dictionary catalogues movie history through thousands of brief biographical sketches of actors, directors, and industry figures. Movie lovers are sure to take issue with some of his opinions, but no can dispute the New Biographical Dictionary is the one of the most wide-ranging, authoritative histories of film ever written—until the next edition.

For the Young Europhile Who Hasn't Finished His Language Courses

Best European Fiction 2011, edited by Aleksander Hemon

The second annual edition assembles an eclectic ensemble of European writers who are internationally acclaimed but largely unknown across the Atlantic. Featuring stories from the known (Hilary Mantel) to the unknown (Moldova’s Iulian Ciocan), this selection of newly translated work from virtually every European language is the ultimate one-stop literary guide to the best the continent has to offer. These stories delve into the the continent’s fragmented individual identities and give a refreshing taste. In his preface, Irish novelist Colum McCann says the anthology “gives us the idea of what is European in the broadest possible sense.”

For the Dad Who Still Thinks He’s Huck Finn

Autobiography of Mark Twain, by Mark Twain, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith

Mark Twain’s autobiography, published as the author demanded on the 100th anniversary of his death, has become a surprise bestseller despite its unwieldy size and length. In this first of three volumes, Twain unleashes his most intimate opinions on everything from hated editors to his deep sadness about the deaths of his wife and daughter. And, amazingly, this is a rather hard book to find with stores scrambling to order more copies, which only goes to prove that Twain still sells.

For the Friend Who’s Still Waiting for Mr. Darcy

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks 

In this oversize volume, English professor Patricia Spacks takes Jane Austen fandom to a new level. She’s packed the beloved novel with footnotes full of literary criticism, academic debate and historical detail, and embellished it with dozens of paintings and illustrations. In an illuminating introductory essay, Spacks attempts to dispel myths about Austen’s biography, surveys the persistent critical debate about her novels, and defends “weighing down” Pride and Prejudice with notes. “Producing these notes taught me more than I thought I had left to learn,” she writes—and any fan will find themselves agreeing.

For the One Who's Never Written a Letter

Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait In Letters of an American Visionary, by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, edited by Steven R. Weisman

Letters, by Saul Bellow, edited by Benjamin Taylor

Long-term Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and novelist Saul Bellow both left behind reams of correspondences that not only provide windows to their own deep insight, but illustrate the power of letter-writing. Moynihan's notes and letters to other politicians and family members reveal him to be even more broad-minded, civil, and iconic than even his popular reputation suggests. ( The Daily Beast's John Avlon wrote that Moynihan was so sincere he probably wouldn't succeed in modern politics.). Bellow's letters span eight decades and numerous wives, lovers, friends, and other literary giants.

For the Founding Fathers Fanatic

Theodore Roosevelt Trilogy, by Edmund Morris 

Convince them to leave behind those scribblers Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton and get serious with America’s most manly president: Theodore Roosevelt. The first volume in Morris’ trilogy won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1980, and is the basis for an HBO Roosevelt biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio. With the publication of the third volume this year, the trilogy is complete. There is perhaps no more interesting, varied, and livelier president than Teddy and Edmund Morris tells his story with novelistic flair that will make this thick set somewhat less daunting.

For the Aging Baby Boomer Who Hasn’t Abandoned Liberal Politics

40: A Doonesbury Retrospective, by G.B. Trudeau

Anyone over the age of 50 who grew up with Garry Trudeau’s iconic strip will appreciate this anniversary retrospective. After 14,000 strips, you need this massive anthology to keep track of the array of characters and elaborate relationships in Doonesbury. In fact, a handy fold-out centerfold maps out the characters’ web of interconnections. Inserted between the strips are 18 essays in which Trudeau contemplates the characters both individually and in groups.

For the New Yorker Who’s Never Crossed the Hudson

The Encyclopedia of New York City: Second Edition, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson

Think you know everything about New York? Read this and revel in your ignorance. It’s 12 inches tall, three inches thick, and packed with inside details about 4,000 of New York’s most influential people, places, and events. From Pete’s Tavern to R.H. Macy to rent regulation, the Encyclopedia covers every corner of the city’s past, and is updated to include present newsmakers like Bernie Madoff. Charts supply exhaustive statistics on the tallest buildings in Manhattan, the results of New York mayoral elections back to 1897, and the total weight of the city’s imports by year.

For the Friend Who Still Wears Fedoras

Best American Noir of the Century, edited by Otto Penzler and James Ellroy

Spanning from 1923 to 2007, this anthology gathers 39 stories from America’s best-loved noir writers, including James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith, and Dennis Lehane. It’s also sprinkled with lesser-known gems from William Gay, Scott Wolven, and Tom Franklin. Purists are guaranteed to wrangle over the stories that made the final cut, but reviewers agree it’s one of the darkest, most thorough overviews of noir short fiction. Editor James Ellroy warns that those curious enough to read the whole book will “die on a gurney with a spike through [their] arm.”

For the Relative Who Travels by Armchair

We Were There: An Eyewitness History of the Twentieth Century, edited by Robert Fox 

British journalist Richard Fox retells the story of the 20th century through brief, first-person narratives of bystanders. Marie Curie, Orville Wright, and a pair of Titanic crew members launch the account with a chapter on “Transatlantic Triumphs and Disasters,” and an Iranian blogger finishes with his real-time transcription of the 2009 street protests.