7 Extraordinary Gift Books That Will Take You Places
Life + Money

7 Extraordinary Gift Books That Will Take You Places

Frans Lanting/National Geographic

For those who love adventure, real or imagined, there’s a flurry of extravagant and lush coffee-table gift books, many of them graced with equally inspiring narratives. Armchair travelers can experience a trek across the Australian outback that makes Witherspoon’s Wild look like a walk in the park. Or they can witness the gritty street life of the world’s iconic cities.

We consulted best-of lists, insider recommendations and our own experts to come up with these selections for grand gift book ideas for the holidays and well beyond.

Related: 12 Great Holiday Gifts That Will Last All Year

These are books for those who relish journeys of the mind, as well as for those who enjoy giving gifts of quality, beauty and endurance.

INSIDE TRACKS: Robyn Davidson’s Solo Journey Across the Outback
by Rick Smolan ($45, Against All Odds Productions)

It’s not every day a 27-year-old woman accompanied by four camels and a dog treks 1700 miles across the Australian outback – a gesture of fierce independence that turned into a battle royale against the elements, wild bull camels and physical pain. But when Robyn Davidson traveled from the northern territory of Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean off Western Australia in 1977, her journey triggered headlines around the world and was captured by photographer Rick Smolan who joined her three separate times during her nine-month journey. The story and images that appeared in National Geographic in 1978 became one of the most popular pieces ever in that magazine, and Davidson went on to write a bestseller about her trip, Tracks, that is still required reading in Australian schools.

Davidson’s travels have been captured anew in the vivid Inside Tracks: Robyn Davidson’s Solo Journey Across the Outback, which features more than 200 photos from that journey, many never before published. It also captures the behind-the-scenes details of the making of the new movie about Davidson’s journey, and to top it all off, it’s “smartphone enabled”: Download the free app, point your phone or tablet toward an image in the book, and up pops a short clip from the film.

YOSEMITE VALLEY: Celebrating the Park at 150
by Peter Galassi, photos by Ansel Adams ($100, Little, Brown)
More than 150 black-and-white images taken by the iconic conservationist and photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) are featured in this book, which was published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Yosemite Grant. That grant laid the groundwork for the creation of the National Parks Service.

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The striking photos were selected and organized by Galassi, former chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art. By turns stark, beautiful, sweeping and inspiring, the images document the Western wilderness, showing off the El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, and Royal Arches rock formations as well as the Vernal and Nevada waterfalls, countless tree studies and the impact of bright sunshine, jagged ice and clearing storms on one of our national treasures.

by Jackie Higgins ($45, Yale Univ. Press)
More than 700 photographs by over 100 artists around the globe show the grit and the guts of urban cityscapes and their endlessly fascinating inhabitants. Photographers show off Paris, Seoul, Havana, Mumbai, Rio and more in crisp detail and inspired sweep, from Joel Meyerowitz, who took searing images of New York City’s Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, to Nontsikelelo Veleko of South Africa, who displays the fringe fashions of Johannesburg residents, to Naoya Hatakeyama, who makes common Japanese street scenes seem anything but.  

by Vivienne Gucwa ($30, Print)
Described by Print Magazine as a “love affair with the city, a discussion of craft, a celebration of artistic longing and an introspective meditation on creative work,” this 192-page book is filled with beautiful images that capture the color, vibrancy, artistry and uniqueness of New York City. In short – it never looked so good. “Most of my photography is heavily influenced by cinema, music, and other art forms as I have a background in fine art (painting and art history),” Gucwa wrote in her blog. “I am also endlessly haunted by a sense of saudade and sehnsucht as I travel around New York City: a deep longing for a place that is unidentifiable but somehow familiar and indicative of what could be identified as home.”

by Frans Lanting (photographer) and Christine Eckstrom (editor)
Stunning images of Africa abound here in this irresistible 2013 book, an updated and expanded version of the original classic publication by Dutch-born Frans Lanting, who for years has documented the globe’s wildlife in rich, memorable images that have been shown in some of the world’s top museums in Paris, Milan, Tokyo, New York, Madrid, and Amsterdam. Sent by National Geographic to document northern Botswana, Lanting traveled the wetlands and deserts to find the wild creatures that roam, stomp, slither and fly across the vast African landscape. They’re shown brilliantly across this book's 252 pages.

SPINELESS: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life
by Susan Middleton ($50, Abrams)
Here are 250 images of pink snails, gelatinous jellyfish, spindly barnacles and more, displayed against stark white or black backgrounds by San Francisco-based photographer Susan Middleton, who spent seven years documenting the creatures most of us never see in such up-close and personal fashion. She worked in Hawaii, the Central Pacific and San Juan Island, Washington, alongside marine biologists to document these creatures. Middleton shot mostly on the open seas, in a studio she created in the wet lab of a research vessel. The result: startling in clarity and color.

WHAT IF...? The Architecture and Design of David Rockwell
by David Rockwell ($45, Metropolis)
Parks, restaurants, theaters, hotels, playgrounds and more projects come to vivid life in a book that’s cleverly organized by a series of questions – “What if the bellhop was a robot?” (It is, at New York’s Yotel.) The distinguished architect and designer David Rockwell, founder and CEO of the Rockwell Group, based in New York, has long expressed his love of design, artistry and flair through multiple sophisticated and elegant projects across the globe, and here, his ingenious creations are presented in adventurous fashion. 

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