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This year's crop of gift books looks luscious as a Christmas plum pudding

At Christmastime almost everything looks a little larger than life; bigger, brighter and, of course, more extravagant. Books produced for the Christmas gift market are certainly no exception to the rule (though most are offered with the warning that they will cost more once the gift-giving season is past).

A sampling of this season's books for the sports-minded reader turns up several glossily elegant and a few genuinely handsome tomes—the only word since some of them are almost too heavy to lift with one hand. One of the most impressive is titled simply Hunting. It is by Gunnar Brusewitz (Stein and Day, New York, pre-Christmas price $19.95).

Author-artist Brusewitz modestly calls himself a layman who set himself the task of outlining, in words and pictures, the story of hunting in Europe through the ages. He is, in fact, a brilliant artist whose definitive presentation includes 350 superbly executed illustrations and a lively test.

At least three of the volumes enticing this year's Christmas shopper concern conservation. Most Americans, by this time, are conservationists through sheer exposure. The prettiest picture books this year carry to them the dire message that before long pictures may be all we have left of what was once a great wilderness teeming with wildlife. Great Game Animals of the World by Russell Barnett Aitken (Macmillan, $17.95 pre-Christmas price) is, like the Brusewitz book, directed at hunters, but it will appeal to anyone with a taste for superb photography of animals in their natural habitat. Illustrated with more than 100 photographs in full color and about 120 monochrome photos, Great Game Animals is a graphic record of a professional hunters experience with gun, camera, pen and brush in all parts of the world.

Our Vanishing Wilderness by Mary Louise and Shelly Grossman and John N. Hamlet (Grosset & Dunlap, New York, $14.95) generates alarm and concern for America's natural wonders being so recklessly ravaged to suit commercial purposes. "Once changed," they write, "the wilderness cannot be legislated back into existence." Photographs of endangered regions and wildlife are, of course, expectably beautiful.

Ian L. McHarg's Design with Nature (Natural History Press, Garden City, N.Y., $19.95) offers a plan as well as a lament. The author, a practicing landscape architect, approaches his subject in a scholarly manner, presenting hard ecological facts. His book is written as a blueprint for the future, a book that seeks to demonstrate how our threatened society can, indeed must, utilize nature if it is to survive.

For the football crowd there is The First Fifty Years (Simon & Schuster, $14.95), a commemorative tribute to the game, its players and fans. Photographs in color were taken from the NFL film archives and from the Pro Football Hall of Fame files. A portfolio of color portraits of the game's great players ranges through the years from Jim Thorpe (1920-25) to Kicker Lou Groza (1946-67). The text includes an analysis of game strategy, the evolution of the uniform, a selection of the 10 greatest games ever played, black-and-white action photography and enough past records to delight the armchair statistician for a whole winter of halftime intermissions.