BOSTON — Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone
By Edwin S. Grosvenor
and Morgan Wesson
Harry N. Abrams
303 pp., $45
The History of the Illustrated Book: The Western Tradition
By John Harthan
Thames and Hudson
288 pp., $39.95 (paperback)
Max Beerbohm Caricatures
By N. John Hall
Yale University Press
240 pp., $45
Meetings with Remarkable Trees
Text and photographs
By Thomas Pakenham
191 pp., $40
Oxford Atlas of Exploration
Foreword by John Hemming
Oxford University Press
248 pp., $40
Chequers: The Prime Minister's Country House and Its History
By Norma Major
Photographs by Mark Fiennes
Cross River Press
A Division of Abbeville
272 pp., $50
Bernini: Genius of the Baroque
By Charles Avery
Photographs by David Finn
Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown & Co.
288 pp., $75
By Peter Washington
By Andrew Steptoe
By Jeremy Siepmann
Alfred A. Knopf/Everyman's Library - EMI Classics Music Companions Series $47.50 each
Gaud of Barcelona
Photographs by Melba Levick
Text by Lluis Permanyer
188 pp., $50
Remember when you were young enough to feel sadly disappointed by books that didn't have pictures? The holidays make children of us all, with a tempting array of tomes that combine pictures and words.
The History of the Illustrated Book: The Western Tradition, by John Harthan, a retired Keeper of the Library at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, offers a comprehensive yet diverting survey of the Western tradition of illustration from ancient to modern times. It examines the role of pictures in Egyptian, Roman, Hebrew, Byzantine, Carolingian, and Gothic manuscripts, then traces the many developments that followed the invention of printing.
Covering a wide range, Harthan explores his subject in aptly illuminating detail. He discusses the various functions of pictures - as decoration, as illustrations of a text, or as the central focus of a book. He describes the ways in which artists through the ages have approached their task and explains the various techniques of the craft, from Drer to Dali, Hogarth to Matisse, Eric Gill to Ernest Shepherd.
Illustrations, as this book shows, can be solemn, instructive, satiric, playful, dramatic, whimsical, fantastic, realistic, harsh, or delicate. First published in hardcover in 198l, now issued for the first time in a reasonably sturdy paperback edition, this rich survey is a feast for the eye and for the imagination.
Admirers of Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) may well spend hours debating whether "the incomparable Max" should be deemed more incomparable for his way with words or pictures in Max Beerbohm Caricatures. The delightfully witty Beerbohm penned some of the most brilliant literary parodies ever written (collected in "A Christmas Garland," an illustrated edition that was published by Yale University Press four Christmases ago). He also produced a wealth of marvelous caricatures that captured the distinctive personalities of some of the most notable persons of his era.
Starting with the aesthetes of the 1890s, such as Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, going on to eminent Edwardians, including Arnold Bennett, G.K. Chesterton and King Edward VII himself, and continuing on through the first half of this century, Beerbohm deftly portrayed leading artists, writers, musicians, politicians, and other colorful characters who strutted and fretted their hours on the world's stage. Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Woodrow Wilson, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Lloyd George, Arthur Balfour, and Winston Churchill are among those whose portraits appear in the pages of "Max Beerbohm Caricatures," by N. John Hall.
For anyone who has ever felt that trees have "personalities" - or, at very least, that they are uniquely distinctive presences, Thomas Pakenham's Meetings With Remarkable Trees is a book with its roots in that same kind of perception. The author's beautiful color photographs of 60 impressive specimens catch the uniqueness of each one. There is the massive ash tree at Clapton Court, Somerset, with its giant, belly-like trunk, and the eerie yew tree in East Lothian, whose drooping branches seem to form a sepulchral cavern.
Pakenham's text, although intermittently interesting, is somewhat flippant. Its approach is once over lightly, making it less satisfying than the pictures. It skimps on scientific detail while failing to compensate with a sense of its subject's poetry.
All the trees featured here live in Great Britain or Ireland, although quite a few of the species originally came from other countries all over the world. So, although this may not be the ultimate book on trees, it will still have considerable appeal to those who cherish them. The photos are sumptuous.
From the ancient Egyptians to modern-day oceanographers, the authoritative Oxford Atlas of Exploration offers maps, pictures, and highly informative accounts of some of the greatest journeys and voyages ever undertaken. The book is chiefly organized by geographical region, but also proceeds more or less chronologically.
The famous explorers are all here, of course: Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Magellan, Columbus, Cortes, Cabot, Mungo Park, Livingstone, Stanley, Captain Cook, and Captain Scott. In addition, many fascinating, less well-known figures are included, like the Cornish-born Lander brothers, whose cheerful manners and outlandish traveling garb amused the locals whom they encountered in their successful quest to navigate West Africa's Niger River in 1830.
Nameless explorers and peoples who left little or no recorded histories are covered as well: Vikings, Phoenicians, the merchants who traveled the Silk Road, the mysterious folk who settled Polynesia. (This book favors the theory that they came from the East Indies, though mention is also made of Thor Heyerdahl's hypothesis that they sailed west from South America.) Strong on colorful anecdotes, scholarly detail, and historical background, this atlas offers a lot more than maps.
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) not only invented the telephone, but also applied his creative genius to a host of other fields, including aviation, medical technology, and education for the deaf. It was Bell who in 1914 coined the term "greenhouse effect" in an essay that warned of the dangers of global warming. He was an early advocate of civil rights and a supporter of women's suffrage.
His life, as historian Robert V. Bruce observes in his foreword to Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone, seemed to "demonstrate the oneness of the world. He was born in Scotland, buried in Canada, and his epitaph, as he had wished, reads, 'Died a citizen of the United States.' "
This well-researched and generously illustrated biography by Morgan Wesson, a documentary film producer, and Edwin S. Grosvenor, Bell's great-grandson, examines many aspects of Bell's immensely active and productive life: his early work in the study of speech and phonetics, his career as a teacher of the deaf, his marriage to one of his students, Mabel Hubbard, who could not hear her own uncommonly beautiful voice, and his invention of the telephone.
The book explores his long struggle against lawsuits by rivals trying to claim credit for his idea. It also depicts his ideas on early airplanes and on hydrofoils, his role in promoting National Geographic and Science magazines, his interest in Maria Montessori's method of education, and his pioneering ideas in the field of solar energy.
Paying attention both to Bell's public life as an inventor and his personal life as a husband, father, and grandfather, the authors of this biography offer an engaging portrait of a truly impressive man.
Built in the 16th century and donated to the nation in 1921, the country estate of Chequers, located in the Chiltern Hills of Buckinghamshire some 40 miles northwest of London, has served as the official country retreat for Britain's prime ministers from Lloyd George to Tony Blair. Norma Major, the wife of the prime minister who left office last spring, offers an intriguing look behind the scenes in Chequers: The Prime Minister's Country House and Its History. She adds a sense of her own personal experiences to an informative account of the long and rich history of this handsome house.
Thanks to the invention of the compact disc, we now have gift books that boast sound as well as pictures. Not very many of these words-and-music packages, however, feature recordings of more than novelty value. A welcome exception are the recordings being issued in the Everyman's Library-EMI Classics Music Companions Series.
Each volume focuses either on an eminent composer or on a musical instrument and its development. Bach, by Peter Washington for instance, is an accessible, non-technical treatment of the man and his music with considerable emphasis on the age in which he lived.
Jeremy Siepmann's The Piano, offers a lively look at the instrument that became not only the star of the l9th-century concert stage with composer-performers like Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin, but also the mainstay of countless middle-class households, providing in-home entertainment in the days before radio, television, and phonograph.
Each book comes with three compact discs featuring top-flight performances of, where possible, entire works rather than brief excerpts or single movements. Andrew Steptoe's knowledgeable volume on Mozart, for example, includes the whole of Symphony No. 29 (performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under the baton of Neville Marriner) but (understandably) only some of his opera "The Magic Flute." The books are all illustrated by pictures as well as music.
If, as the German Romantic philosopher and poet Friedrich von Schelling brilliantly remarked, architecture is frozen music, it would be interesting to imagine the musical versions of the fantastic buildings designed by the Catalan architect Antonio Gaud (1852-1926).
Curiously Gothic in their ornate facades, domes, and spires, distinctly Moorish in their curved windows and colorful mosaics and tiles, boldly Modern in their experimentalism, Gaud's creations also suggest the lavishly inventive imagination of childhood. His buildings understandably provoked controversy in his day, but have since gone on to become the pride of the city that helped nurture them.
The 178 full-color photographs by Melba Levick in Gaud of Barcelona offer a close-up look at the exteriors and interiors of remarkable landmarks. They include the Palau Guell (a magnificent, domed townhouse now serving as a museum of theater arts); the beautiful, relatively sedate Teresianes School for girls; the wondrously fluid, free-form apartment building Casa Mila, that vaguely resembles a home made wedding cake; and the strange and marvelous unfinished church known as the Temple of the Sagrada Familia. Lluis Permanyer's text briefly fills in the necessary background on Gaud's life and career and also describes the various fates of his creations in the years following his death.
Highly successful and well-rewarded in his lifetime (1598-1680), the Italian Baroque sculptor and architect Gianlorenzo Bernini is responsible for many of Rome's most distinguishing landmarks and monuments. His work includes the imposing Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, the exquisite Apollo and Daphne at the Villa Borghese, much of the splendid interior of St. Peter's, and - perhaps his most famous sculpture - the Ecstasy of St Teresa in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria Church.
In Bernini: Genius of the Baroque, Charles Avery, former deputy keeper of sculpture at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, has written a comprehensive, in-depth guide to the great sculptor and his magnificent creations. David Finn's photographs capture the play of light and shadow over sculpted surfaces, highlighting many of the fine details of the individual pieces. Blending mysticism and sensuousness, idealism and realism, elegance and dynamism, Bernini's art remains a source of wonder and delight, now as ever.
* Merle Rubin regularly reviews books for the Monitor.