There are few more lasting and satisfying gifts than a beautiful book, and for those wise and generous enough to discern and act upon this fact—and lucky enough to have friends who cover their coffee tables with such pleasures for visitors—this holiday season offers a rich harvest of volumes devoted to the outdoors and other sporting themes. The following list of the year's best is presented in no particular order, but the clothbound The Extraordinary Landscape by William Garnett (New York Graphic Society/ Little, Brown and Company, $60) is as good a place to start as any. For more than 35 years, Garnett has been taking aerial photographs of the U.S. from his Cessna 170-B, and he now offers his choices of the best of them. There's no trick photography here, no use of filters or other manipulation for weird effeot; Garnett's goal is recording natural beauty, from Cape Cod to Hawaii, and he uses his plane as skillfully as his camera. There's an air of simplicity, of wonder and ingenuousness about his photographs. There's no text, only a location caption accompanies each plate. Ansel Adams has written a warm introduction, and the endpapers include good maps and the briefest of notes by Garnett about each subject.
Mountains of North America (Sierra Club Books, $35), another top selection, is the work of 58 photographers. Nevertheless, major credit for this handsome volume belongs to famous mountaineer Fred Beckey, who climbed (often first ascents) or visited all of the 35 peaks here celebrated, chose the photographs and has written about the glories, the geologic histories and the surrounding life of each massive landmark with enthusiasm and grace. The subjects of the photos and Beckey's text range from Maine's Katahdin to Mexico's Pico de Orizaba to Alaska's McKinley and touch all of the continent's major ranges. This is no dull encyclopedic compendium, however; rather, it's a lyric tribute to natural wonders. The fact that you've never seen, let alone climbed, a real mountain in your life—as most of us haven't—is actually a very good reason why this book will enchant as well as instruct you.
The life and times of the American Indian continue to engage the attention not only of Americans but of anthropologists around the world. Norman Bancroft-Hunt, a fellow of England's Royal Institute, is an artist and writer whose interest in Indian art has led him to vast expertise in the vanished life-style and culture of the American tribes, and his latest book, The Indians of the Great Plains (William Morrow & Company, $25), is a marvel of its kind. As they followed the huge migrating herds of buffalo, the Plains tribes moved restlessly around a million square miles of grassland bounded by the Mississippi River in the east and the Rocky Mountains in the west. Bancroft-Hunt's prose and Werner Forman's photos are notable for their clarity, interpretation and deep empathy with their subject.
Covering much the same geographical territory as The Indians, William Albert Allard, in his Vanishing Breed (New York Graphic Society/Little, Brown and Company, $29.95), aims his camera and his few words at a different topic: the cowboy and the West. Working cowboys and their horses are shown laboring in the few remaining big ranches, still driving their herds, roping, branding and doctoring livestock much as these hard tasks were performed a hundred years ago. Allard's text is for the most part wisely limited to a few first-person anecdotes by oldtime buckaroos; otherwise, the splendid pictures speak for themselves and nearly every one of the 104 has classic quality.
Leon Mandel, the curmudgeon of the automobile writers' fraternity, has organized a history titled American Cars (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $48.50) based on the shimmering collection of more than a thousand vehicles assembled in Reno by the late William Fisk Harrah. No car nut who can afford it will want to be without it, and none will be disappointed by Mandel's opinionated prose. The photography is lavish, but an occasional shot exposes the cameraman as striving too hard for fancy effect and turns this reviewer off. The endpapers chart the output of America's manufacturers and thereby the pedigrees of just about every wheel to hit the road.
The fattest (448 pages) and heaviest (four pounds) entry on this list is Chris Bonington's Quest for Adventure (Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., ¬£14.95; U.S. edition by Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., distributed by Crown Publishers, $30). Picking up the relentless challenge of the unknown with the end of World War II and the voyage of Kon-Tiki, Bonington has written stirring accounts of 21 of man's greatest adventures: across oceans and deserts and polar ice, over rivers, up mountains, in the air and in space. A celebrated mountaineer himself, whose many climbs include Everest, Annapurna and the Eiger's North Wall, Bonington enjoys a kinship with all men and women who take mighty risks for great goals that enables him to memorialize these 21 achievements with a spirit and understanding few authors could muster. The book is expertly illustrated, mapped and annotated.
Richard Wolters—a research chemist, glider pilot, author, art historian, cabinetmaker and fly-fisherman, among other things—can now add detective to that list with the publication of his latest book: The Labrador Retriever (Petersen Prints, $37.50). In researching Lab, the story of the most popular sporting dog in the world, Wolters spent two years and traveled more than 20,000 miles in the U.S., Newfoundland and Europe tracking down the origins and development of this marvelous dog and exposing many myths about its history along the way. In 1917, one Lab was registered with the American Kennel Club; today there are more than 58,000. Every one of their owners would treasure this handsome book, its well-reproduced action prints and portraits, its photographs and sketches, and Wolters' answers as to why their dog is such a hardy, lovable and enormously useful companion.
For the millions of boat owners and the multimillions of boat lovers, here's a stunning collectors' item: Classic Yacht Interiors, by Jill Bobrow and Dana Jinkins (Concepts Publishing, distributed by W.W. Norton, $35). Bobrow and Jinkins spent several years and traveled widely in photographing and writing about many of the world's great boats, ranging in size from 25 feet to 353 feet and in type from work vessels to charter yachts to racing machines. The result is a feast for eye and sailor's appetite. Here are Sea Cloud's deluxe staterooms with fireplaces and antique furniture; Royono's head with its unique all-mahogany sink and cabinet; Pigalle's innovative interior; the wood-burning stove in Leander's galley; and the best and most original uses of space and material in more than 100 other boats. For many reasons it's unlikely that such a comprehensive collection will ever be put together again. At the price, it's a bargain; at any price, it's a pleasure to dream over.
The Father of Waters: A Mississippi River Chronicle (Sierra Club Books, $27.50) is so specific and all-inclusive a title that the book, seemingly, requires little more to entice readers—other than high praise. The subject is immense, ever changing, ever growing. The river drains 31 states, flows through 10 where 40 million people live—from farmers of Finnish ancestry in the North to Cajun trappers in the South. How does one cover the cultural, economic and natural history of such an area? Author Norah Deakin Davis and photographer Joseph Holmes solved the problem beautifully by joining a "floating classroom" of specialists and students and spending 14 weeks on the river, from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, in all manner of craft. They brought with them wide knowledge of and keen eyes and great empathy for their subject. The result should entertain and enlighten historians, ecologists, fishermen, engineers and all lovers of our lands and waters.
Do not be put off by the misleading title of: The Flight of the Condor, by Michael Andrews (Little, Brown, $22.50). This superb book, companion to the PBS-TV series Nature, comprehensively explores in vivid text and pictures the unique flora and fauna of the world's largest and most spectacular mountain chain (the Andes), the world's driest desert (Atacama) and the most massive natural water system, as it ranges from Cape Horn to the Amazon jungle.
Everything you could possibly want to know about the most popular sailing catamaran, the Hobie Cat, is packed into the 300-plus pages of Hobie Cat Sailing, by Jake Grubb (Hearst Books, $23.50). Grubb writes of the boat's origins, its care and repair, and, especially, how to select, use and enjoy it.
Very likely the most comprehensive and best illustrated one-volume reference work on the whole remarkable range of animal life—350,000 words, 1,000 illustrations—is the new Audubon Society Encyclopedia of Animal Life, edited by John Farrand Jr. (Clarkson N. Potter, $45). Perhaps the ultimate coffee-table book.