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The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues
general editor, Howard Mandel; foreword by John Scofield
Published by Billboard Books
352 pages, 2005

This coffee-table-size book, edited by a veteran music journalist, is a useful, informative guide to America's two indigenous musics -- once you get the hang of its somewhat complicated layout (chapters chronological by decade, each separated into blues and jazz; with individual sections on key artists, and the rest of the cast presented alphabetically). There are Internet links to MP3 files of particular recordings, and other running features that supplement the main text. For browsing, consulting, or reading straight through, this informal work is a welcome addition to the music reference-shelf. Especially pleasing is this volume's generous selection of excellent photographs (at least one per page), many of which may be new even to those familiar with the musics' iconography. -- Tom Nolan

Building With Nature: Inspiration for the Arts & Crafts Homes
by Leslie M. Freudenheim
Published by Gibbs Smith
229 pages, 2005

At a glance, Building With Nature seems pretty specific and, let's face it, not everyone has an Arts & Crafts home or even knows what one is. The title is, however, somewhat misleading. The reader doesn't actually have to posses an Arts & Crafts home to enjoy Leslie M. Freudenheim's book, although they will need an appreciation for the movement. Though many books have been published on this topic, Freudenheim's is the one that brings us most deeply into the "quiet revolution" that the movement represented. Freudenheim was the co-author of Building With Nature: Roots of the San Francisco Bay Region Tradition which was published in 1974. This new book is partly a revised version of that seminal work but, in some ways, it is so revised it will be unrecognizable to those who enjoyed the earlier book. The heart is the same, though. As is the passion. There are more beautiful books documenting the California Arts & Crafts movement, but none so complete or heartfelt. -- David Middleton

Graphic War: The Secret Aviation Drawings and Illustrations of World War II
by Donald Nijboer
Published by The Boston Mills Press
272 pages, 2005

Art is not something that is usually thought about when the subject of the military comes up. Donald Nijboer's book, Graphic War, is a fascinating chronicle of technical illustration and graphic art produced during World War II. Though training for soldiers was rigourous, a country's military was always at constant odds just trying to keep up with the evolution and specifications of the machines of war. Artists were employed to aid in just such an endeavour. Drawings of aircraft and their weaponry, manuals, posters and brochures were produced by graphic artists and technical draftsmen, many of them anonymous, to aid in training soldiers. While both Allied and Axis forces produced drawings of their own machines and weapons, they also produced drawings of each others machines and weaponry. When the occasion allowed, an artist would be given access to a downed enemy aircraft for the express purpose of creating a drawing that would be used to help soldiers identify and deal with an enemy craft. While it's doubtful any of the illustrations in Graphic War were ever intended as fine art, many of the pieces do come off as eye-catching and even beautiful. Even if it is a cutaway illustration of a Messerschmitt Me 110G. Graphic War is a testament not only to those who fought, but to anyone who helped the war effort behind the lines. This is a definite got-to-give book and will be a welcome addition for the military buff who has everything. -- David Middleton

Grimm's Grimmest
illustrated by Tracy Arah Dockray
introduction by Maria Tatar
Published by Chronicle Books
142 pages, 2005

Parents of young children should beware: despite the inclusion of rich and fabulous illustrations by Tracy Arah Dockray and the vaguely childish associations of the Grimm Brother's fairytales, Grimm's Grimmest is certainly not intended for children. That said, the child in all of us -- all of us who are now adults, that is -- will enjoy Grimm's Grimmest. Especially if the adult in question has tastes that run towards the dark and slightly twisted. In her introduction to the book, professor and folklorist Maria Tatar tells us that, by the second edition of Nursery and Household Tales, Wilhelm Grimm "sacrificed folkloric authenticity for cultural correctness by erasing the fact of Rapunzel's pregnancy and replacing covert sexual passion with explicit conjugal loyalty." Readers of the original stories -- as represented here -- find themselves faced with "graphic descriptions of incest, murder, mutilation, and cannibalism that fill the pages of these bedtime stories for children." Clearly, Grimm's Grimmest will not be for everyone. But for a different perspective, brilliantly executed, you'd go a long way to find better. -- Aaron Blanton

Life Style
Bruce Mau
Published by Phaidon Press
624 pages, 2005

Bruce Mau will blow your mind. A true renaissance man, Mau seems to be involved in everything from architecture to urban planning, logos to typefaces. Basically, he's a designer, with designs on changing the world. Life Style is a compendium of Mau's startling work. Divided into three sections -- Life Theories, Life Projects and Life Stories -- the book brings you into the man's world, much of which is housed in his Toronto-based studio. Here are essays, declarations, hundreds of images, designs, personal anecdotes and musings on this and that, and a wealth of documentation on every manner of project. What emerges is the man's awesome world view, one in which design is the primary aesthetic: if something is designed well, it's good for the world. My favorite bits are the detailed look at the font he created for the new Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and, even more, his Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, a 43-point list of things to consider if you want to grow your own life into new areas. Your personal life, your professional life, your company, whatever, the Manifesto is Mau's way of structuring what must remain essentially unstructured, an attempt to design what, by design, defies design: life. Point 34: Make Mistakes Faster. Well, duh, but so incredibly meaningful: Make 'em and move on. The Manifesto is just a few pages buried in this 600-plus page volume, but it's a document worth finding, reading, devouring and implementing. Right away. -- Tony Buchsbaum

 

Souled American: How Black Music Transformed White Culture
by Kevin Phinney
Published by Billboard Books
368 pages, 2005

White America has been fascinated by black music since before the Civil War. Black musicians adopted white-European instruments and forms to make sounds indigenous to the New World. Together, blacks and whites created a vital popular music that has defined American culture, from the cakewalk to the country-blues, from ragtime to rap. In the engrossing and valuable Souled American, journalist Kevin Phinney makes (and documents) a strong case for the proposition that: "The music that enriches our lives today ... would not exist as it does without contributions from both races. More than sports, visual art, or literature, American music really is our creation together, and neither race can be removed from the equation without drastically changing the result." Serious and scholarly in an accessible way (we are talking about show business), Souled American is a labor of love and thorough research, an eloquent polemic and a fascinating history that looks in detail at the wide panorama of interracial pop, from minstrel shows to Vegas to hip-hop. Full of surprising facts and insights, and rich with the voices of active participants, Souled American, once picked up, is hard to put down. -- Tom Nolan

Star Wars: Complete Locations
by Hans Jenssen and Richard Chasemore
Published by DK Books
175 pages, 2005

If you're into the design of the Star Wars movies, then this is the book for you. This remarkable book includes intricately detailed drawings of virtually every important location, ship, building and scene in the series. Rather than film stills, these drawings, many of them created for this book (and others like it, published earlier to coincide with each film), provide an almost exhaustive glimpse inside the world of the films. Just take a look at even one of these pieces. You'll find detail that, frankly, never made it into the films -- and if it did, you never noticed it. Take the spread that covers the Jedi Temple. It shows you where every room is, why they're there, what they're used for and other endlessly archeological bits of tid. It's fascinating, to a point, until you start to think that the authors had to figure all of this out to a fare thee well. One wonders if they've had time to do anything else these last 30 years. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Star Wars Chronicles: The Prequels
by Stephen J. Sansweet and Pablo Hidalgo
Published by Chronicle Books
344 pages, slipcased, 2005

After George Lucas completed the first three Star Wars films, the industrious Chronicle Books published what may be the best Star Wars book ever created -- Star Wars Chronicles -- and now they've created a sequel for the, well, prequels. This new book is everything a Star Wars fan could ever dream to have: a compendium of every known fact about the three newest films, including timelines, comparison charts showing ships and characters and details galore about everything and everyone in the films. The facts are arranged in the order of the films, with one page or a spread covering one item on a massive list. Just a casual flip through reveals wonders: Take the Opee Sea Killer, from Episode 1, with its wide jaws, long teeth and crustacean-like body. You'll find full-color conceptual paintings, models and more. There's a page about the episode's generator room duel, when Darth Maul fights Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn; here you'll find film frames that map out the sequence. Further on you'll find endless details about droids, costumes, sets, special effects and characters, all augmented with film frames, conceptual material and behind-the-scenes photos. Plus, the whole massive thing comes in a super-cool slipcase featuring Darth Vader's head formed from die-cut sections. Honestly, if there's one Star Wars book that deserves a place in your fanboy's Christmas stocking, it's this one. If, that is, you can fit it in. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Star Wars: The Ultimate Visual Guide
by Ryder Windham
Published by DK Books
142 pages, 2005

If you're one of those people who don't need to own the book about the Star Wars series but still want a very very good one, this is a great alternative. This book is arranged very much like the Chronicles, except that it covers more ground in less space, dropping down on scenes and characters from all six films. Illuminating text comes alive with film frames, conceptual material, sections from comic books and more. A great bit here is that the book ventures further than the films themselves, into the many comics and novels, the animated Clone Wars TV series, even the questionable TV specials that aired in the late great 1970s. Quite wonderfully and succinctly, this book brings the entire Star Wars universe together in a way that's easy to follow, fun to bite into and fascinating to deconstruct. It also includes sections on George Lucas, the movie posters, the design of the series, the visual effects, merchandise and video games. There's also a lengthy timeline, so you can make sure you didn't miss anything along the way. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Tommy Dorsey: Livin' In a Great Big Way
by Peter J. Levinson
Published by Da Capo Press
354 pages, 2005

Tommy Dorsey was a superstar of the Big Band era: a trombone-player with the most beautiful sound in the land, and the leader of an orchestra lodged near or at the top of the popularity charts for nearly two decades. Dorsey's ensembles could swing; they also had a romantic crowd-pleasing smoothness as sweet as Glenn Miller's, but with more kick. This winning combination gave Dorsey (with and without his brother, Jimmy) a successful career in American pop that stretched from the Jazz Age (the Dorseys knew and recorded with the young Bix Beiderbecke) through the rise of singers as teen idols (Frank Sinatra made his name as Tommy Dorsey's band vocalist) to the dawn of rock 'n' roll (Elvis Presley made his network TV debut on the Dorsey Brothers' CBS summer show). The Pennsylvania-born Tommy Dorsey had a personality to match his success: he showed a violent temper to everyone from his brother to the men in his bands (especially Buddy Rich) to other leaders (especially Benny Goodman), but he also had a loyal side and a self-deprecating sense of humor; a "serial philanderer," he at least tried to be a family man. Loud and brassy, soft and sentimental, Dorsey was as changeable and compelling as the music he made. Peter J. Levinson (author of previous books on Harry James and Nelson Riddle) has done his subject proud with this fact-filled, fast-reading biography that draws on interviews with hundreds of Dorsey associates. Levinson tells the Dorsey story with an enthusiasm and vigor that will send you in search of some TD CDs, and he brings the Big Band era back to life in all its raucous splendor. -- Tom Nolan

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs
Zahi Hawass
Published by National Geographic Books
256 pages, 2005

I have always been a Tut-phile. When I was a kid, the original Tut exhibit came to New Orleans. I still remember how they painted the long road into the museum a deep Nile blue. Now, all these years later, there's even more Tut to behold, in a show touring the United States through 2007. This companion volume is a glorious addition to any library, stuffed with gorgeous full-color photographs of items excavated from the king's tomb, such as Tut's gold crown, one of the gold and precious stone-inlaid coffinettes that held his internal organs and more than 70 other objects. Some of the most astounding pieces are a painted calcite stopper of Tut's face, complete with piercing eyes; a child's chair with a footrest, made of ebony and ivory; gilded wooden figures; and a wood, ebony and ivory box in the shape of a cartouche. Most startling is the book's last section, which chronicles new forensic work done to solidify clues about the life and the death of the king. This is based on CT scans taken in 2005 that show his exact age at the time of his death and the reason he died. The scans were also used as the basis for a fascinating reconstruction of Tut's head and torso, shown without all the gilded adornments that obscured him in death. This is a look at Tut as the boy beneath the well-polished legend, revealing a human being freed from all the golden trappings. Trappings indeed. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Wired
David Arment and Marisa Fick-Jordan
Publiished by SC Editions
212 pages, 2005

Wired, with text by David Arment and Marisa Fick-Jordan and photography by Andrew Cerino, is one of those art books you just gotta have. If you've never had the considerable pleasure of contemplating, much less seeing, an example of Zulu telephone wire art, well, you're in for a treat. It may not sound sexy, but it is. Okay, not sexy. Try stunning. Try jaw-dropping. As rich as Native American pottery, as emotionally telegraphic as classic Impressionism, Zulu wire art speaks of a culture, a people who use what they have at their disposal. Made of plastic-coated copper wire, these pieces, made in vibrant color and with careful planning, are story art: the stories are about community, family, dreams, aspirations, environment, reality. Some even dare to be purely decorative. Far from roughhewn tribal art, these pieces are meant to be used as much as they're meant to be admired. You'll find bowls and plates and jars and more and you've never seen anything like it before. Every holiday season, it's not hard to find endless coffee table books featuring just about anything. This year, get the one that everyone's talking about. Get the one that will open your eyes in a way they've never been opened before. In short, and at the risk of inducing a groan, I urge you to get Wired. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Works: Anatomy of a City
Kate Ascher
Published by The Penguin Press
240 pages, 2005

I have never experienced a book like The Works, and I'm glad I have now. This inspiring book essentially deconstructs New York City in a way that brings you inside its very skin, under its streets, into its tunnels and infrastructure. It reveals things you've probably never thought about, and most of them can be applied to your own big city. What really happens when you turn the faucet? When you switch on the lights? How does the produce actually get to the grocery? How do traffic lights really work? And what about the subways, the rail system, the phone, the mail, the airports, even the garbage collection? Using smart, lively text arranged into brief passages, as well as rich captions and colorful, detailed line drawings, Ascher peels back the outermost layers of the city -- the asphalt, if you will -- and shows us how everything comes together 24/7. She also includes wonderful sidebars about things like where all the fruit in a fruit salad comes from, how many watts all the things in your house might use, how telephone calls work, how water moves under the city streets, even the rather logical pattern for trash collection. Nothing you'd want to think about, really, but everything you really need to know in order to appreciate the Herculean task it is to run a city. The Works works because it's a view of The Great American City we've never seen before. It pays quiet tribute to the thousands of men and women who make our lives possible, the heroic men and women whose work is to make our cities -- indeed, our lives -- run smoothly, every day. -- Tony Buchsbaum

 

 

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