Tales of Travel, an Art History Series, or Just a Good Biography

More than a stocking stuffer, a book can span the world, bring the distant near, or make the exotic familiar

The Explorers: From the Ancient World to the Present

By Paolo Navaresio

Stewart, Tabori & Chang

312 pp., $60

Big Sky Country: The Best of Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho

By William Kittredge

Photographs by Michael Melford

Rizzoli, 176 pp., $50

Call of the River

Edited by Page Stegner

Harcourt Brace/

A Harvest Original

100 pp., $19.95 paperback

Echoes From the Summit

Edited by Paul Schullery

Harcourt Brace/

A Harvest Original.

100 pp. $19.95 paperback

Lure of the Sea

Edited by Joseph E. Brown

Harcourt Brace/

A Harvest Original.

100 pp., $19.95 paperback

Oxford Mark Twain

Edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Oxford University Press

29 volumes, $295,

$16.95 to $25 per volume

The Oxford Book of London

Edited by Paul Bailey

Oxford University Press

377 pp., $25

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Edited by R.C. Latham and W. Matthews,


11 volumes, paperback

$184 for the set

$16 to $20 per volume

The Dictionary of National Biography, 11th Supplement:1986-1990

Edited by C.S. Nicholls

Oxford University Press

576 pp., $95

The Private World of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

By Hugo Vickers


240 pp., $67.50

Masterworks in Berlin: A City's Paintings Reunited

By Colin Eisler

Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown

700 pp., $125

French Art: The Ancien Regime, 1620-1775

By Andr Chastel


400 pp., $75

The Empress and the Architect: British Architecture and Gardens at the Court of Catherine the Great

By Dimitri Shvidkovsky

Yale University Press

273 pp., $60

Master of English Landscape

By Laure Meyer


224 pp., $24.95 paperback

What My Heart Has Seen: Tony Bennett

Introduction by Ralph Sharon


152 pp., $40

Exchanging Hats: Paintings

By Elizabeth Bishop

Farrar Straus Giroux

106 pp., $40

The New York Musicals of Comden & Green: On the Town, Wonderful Town, Bells are Ringing

By Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Applause Books

287 pp., $35

The Complete Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan

Introduced and edited by Ian Bradley

Oxford University Press

1,197 pp., $35

Passion Flowers

By John Vanderplank

The MIT Press

224 pp., $40

For centuries, books have brought far-off times and places close to hand, allowing readers to explore a variety of worlds beyond the confines of their immediate surroundings.

A book that commemorates the exploits of individuals who braved privation and peril to chart uncharted territory is The Explorers: From the Ancient World to the Present, by Paola Novaresio. Although by no means exhaustive, this engagingly illustrated survey makes use of color pictures, maps, and documentary letters, logs, and journals to tell the stories of venturesome souls from the ancient Egyptians and the seagoing Phoenicians (who seem to have circled the coast of Africa in the 7th century BC) to the modern-day astronauts who first set foot on the moon.

Here are traders, missionaries, conquerors, adventurers, seekers of glory or of scientific knowledge; famous names such as Marco Polo, Columbus, Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Livingston, Peary and Scott, not to mention the enterprising 14th-century Moroccan Iba Battutah, who traversed most of Asia and much of North Africa, visiting 45 countries over 26 years before coming to the conclusion there was no place like home.

For those who'd rather be home on the range, Big Sky Country: The Best of Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho offers a poignantly evocative portrait of this spacious, breathtaking region of the North American continent. In 125 magnificent color photographs, Michael Melford captures the richly varied terrain, from the forests, lakes, mountains, hot springs, and geysers of Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks to the undulating fields of wheat and oats ripening under ever-changing skies.

The book includes an eloquent introduction by William Kittredge and some brief and well-chosen excerpts from the writings of explorers, settlers, native Americans, and modern authors like A.B. Guthrie and Wallace Stegner. They express how it feels to visit or settle into such an overwhelming landscape, from the Crow chieftain who believes, "The Crow country is exactly in the right place," to the 19th-century homesteading wife who fears him and his people.

The beautifully illustrated paperback originals of "The Wilderness Experience" series feature a balanced blend of words and photographs selected by prominent naturalists.

Call of the River, edited by Page Stegner, includes writing by his father, Wallace Stegner, as well as Wendell Berry, Gretel Ehrlich, Barry Lopez, and Ann Zwinger.

Luminously beautiful photographs of mountain scenery in Echoes of the Summit, edited by Paul Schullery, are accompanied by essays by Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, among others.

Lure of the Sea, edited by Joseph E. Brown (to my mind the least visually exciting) offers reasonably lively texts by Rachel Carson, Jack London, and some venturesome modern sailors who've piloted amazingly small boats across incredibly vast oceans.

Always in favor of lighting out for new territory, Mark Twain helped forge a new style and idiom for American literature. The 29-volume, Oxford Mark Twain, under the general editorship of Shelley Fisher Fishkin, offers the complete works of the path-breaking writer whose wry, ironic outlook still manages to raise some hackles among literal-minded readers.

Fishkin, who examines the uses and abuses of Twain's legacy in the introductory volume, "Lighting Out for the Territory," has invited a variety of contemporary writers to provide introductions to the individual volumes: Toni Morrison introduces "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Ward Just, "The Gilded Age," Mordecai Richler, "The Innocents Abroad," and Hal Halbrook Twain's "Speeches."

Another series that can be purchased in parts or in its entirety is the eleven-volume paperback edition of The Diary of Samuel Pepys. This is the unbowdlerized version, edited by R.C. Latham and W. Mathews.

The son of a tailor, Pepys (1633-1703) rose to prominence through a combination of intelligence, affability, marriage, nepotism, and uncommon dedication to public service. In his secret diary, he also proved himself an astute observer. Covering nine crucial years, 1660-1669, the diary is a frank and lively portrait of English restoration society.

The Oxford Book of London, edited by Paul Bailey is a wonderfully diverting and provocative selection of what has been written about the city between 1180 and the present.

The editor has chosen well from an impressive array of material by everyone from 12th-century monks to 20th-century poets and playwrights. Some are famous, some are not, but all are fascinating.

Anglophiles will also welcome the latest supplement of that celebrated reference work, The Dictionary of National Biography, (a.k.a. the DNB).

The most recent volume covers noteworthy persons who died between 1986 and 1990. These minibiographies blend reliable research with incisive, often sprightly commentary by a host of knowledgeable contributors.

Among the entries featured in this supplement are actor Laurence Olivier, author Christopher Isherwood, philosopher Alfred Ayer, biographer Richard Ellmann, actor Carey Grant, actress Beatrice Lillie, prime minister Harold Macmillan, and the Dutchess of Windsor.

Commonly perceived as the greatest love story of the century, the real story of the king who gave up his throne to marry a woman he loved was a lot less romantic, but in many ways just as interesting.

In The Private World of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Hugo Vickers provides an intelligent and balanced account of the background, courtship, marriage, and subsequent lifestyle of one of the most famous couples of our time.

This book features an album-full of photographs and mementoes, many of them previously unpublished, that were found hidden in a bathtub (!) in the Windsors' Paris mansion when the villa's new owner, Mohammed Al Fayed, was having the place restored.

One of the season's most sumptuous books, which also provides a kind of crash course in European art history, is the hefty, handsomely produced, Masterworks in Berlin: A City's Paintings Reunited. This treasure trove celebrates the "reunion" of the art collections housed in museums formerly separated by the notorious Berlin Wall. The splendidly reproduced paintings represent major periods in European art from 1300 to 1914, with particular emphasis on the Renaissance.

A foreword by Wolf-Dieter Dube discusses the history and future of Berlin's museums, while Colin Eisler's text provides a magisterial yet lively and pointed history and commentary on the artists, who include Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Botticelli, Memling, Constable, Friedrich, Manet, Pissarro, and some anonymous but outstanding "masters" of the Middle Ages.

At the time of his death, Andr Chastel was finishing French Art: The Ancien Regime, the third in a series of books chronicling the history of art in his country. Chastel's elegantly written and informative text divides the age into three periods, roughly corresponding to the reigns of Louis XIII, XIV, and XV. This was an era that saw the founding of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648, a time when artistic life became institutionalized as a national industry.

Accompanied by 400 color illustrations, the text covers not only paintings and sculpture, but also the gardens, architecture, interior furnishing, crafts, and the political and cultural background of this age of heroic display, classical consolidation, and Enlightenment ideas.

An intriguing side-light of the Enlightenment is treated by a Russian scholar, Dimitri Shvidkovsky, in his learned and well-researched book The Empress and the Architect: British Architecture and Gardens at the Court of Catherine the Great. Shvidkovsky focuses on the story of Charles Cameron, a Scottish architect summoned by Catherine the Great to work on her palaces, parks and gardens. The handsomely illustrated text goes beyond the story of these two individuals to encompass the cultural climate in which this encounter takes place.

An eclectic, eye-opening assortment of some very nicely reproduced paintings by artists from the Renaissance to the current century makes Laure Meyer's Masters of English Landscape a pleasure to page through. Featuring the work of Gainsborough, Stubbs, Turner, Constable, Whistler, and Kokoschka, not to mention Canaletto, Cotman, Robert Wilson, and the innovative Alexander Cozens, this book offers a fresh look at the emergence and subsequent popularity of the landscape genre. The text is oddly awkward, perhaps a result of inadequate translation.

Tony Bennett may not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of paintings, but the immensely popular and talented vocalist who left his heart in San Francisco had actually set out to become an artist before he was "discovered" as a singer.

This, and more, we learn from Ralph Sharon's affable introduction to What My Heart Has Seen: Tony Bennett, an eye-catching assortment of his vibrant, colorful paintings, including landscapes and cityscapes of Boston; London; Florence; Bangkok; Tokyo; Rio de Janeiro; Cape Cod; Louisville, Ky.; Crete; New York; and of course San Francisco. The last two feature prominently in his work.

But there's more yet: still-lifes, studies of Monet's garden, and portraits of friends like Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Duke Ellington, and David Hockney. Bennett signs his family name Benedetto to his artwork.

The distinguished poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), much admired for the painterly quality of her verse, loved to draw and paint. She did so in a notably casual way: Most of her drawings, gouaches, and watercolors were done on inexpensive paper no larger than a page from a writing tablet.

"They are Not Art - NOT AT ALL," she declared with characteristic modesty. Fellow poet William Benton, who edits and introduces a charming collection of her pictures, Exchanging Hats: Paintings, by Elizabeth Bishop, thinks otherwise.

The quality of the pictures is uneven, and the mildly sacerdotal tones of Benton's introduction are mildly offputting, but this handsomely designed book will doubtless delight aficionados of Bishop's poetry and it offers an interesting glimpse into the workings of her fastidiously observant, richly creative mind.

At long last, lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan who aren't always able to make out every witty word of the former's sparkling libretti can regale themselves at leisure with The Complete Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan, edited by Ian Bradley. Here are all the words to all of the operas still performed today, along with copious notes explaining the most obscure references and allusions, so that modern fans need not miss a jot or tittle of the pointed, satirical humor in the lines of one of the cleverest librettists ever to rhyme.

And finally, moving from late Victorian England to midcentury New York City, lovers of witty musical theatre will surely enjoy The New York Musicals of Comden & Green, by that talented, long-standing team of lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Generously illustrated with black-and-white photographs from the Broadway productions of these plays, it provides the complete texts of three great hits: "On the Town" (1944); "Wonderful Town" (1953), about a pair of sisters from Ohio hoping to make it in the Big Apple; and "Bells Are Ringing" (1956), which starred Judy Holliday as a lovable switchboard operator.

John Vandenplank, the author of Passion Flowers, the standard work on the subject of these intricately beautiful flowering vines, has been studying and cultivating these blossoms for years. This Expanded Second Edition of his classic guide, includes 53 new species of the plant and 41 new color photographs.

Scholarly, informative, and just plain gorgeous, this book deals with each species in detail, and its 120 color photographs of these elaborately constructed flowers, their delectable purple and golden fruits, and some of the exquisite-looking butterflies associated with them are a pleasure to behold.

*Merle Rubin regularly reviews books for the Monitor.

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