Now that we’ve arrived at peak sitting-uncomfortably-in-someone-else’s-den season, we GeekParents thought it might be nice to highlight some of our favorite coffee table books. These mammoth tomes, you see, aren’t just for squashing spiders; they’re also a great way to keep your own guests entertained as they wait on the turkey to cook, the halftime show to wrap up, or grandma to finally finish that story about Christmas in the old country.
Celebrating Snoopy by Charles M. Schulz
You’d think, with my oversized noggin and proclivity for shoegazing, I would be more of a Charlie Brown guy—and you’d be right. Still, if the old blockhead was the fulcrum on which the Peanuts world turned, then surely Snoopy was its atmosphere, the very thing that gave the strip life. Released just last month from Andrews McMeel Publishing, Celebrating Snoopy is a massive collection of Snoopy-centric strips from throughout the series’ 50-year run. Organized by decade, it starts with the character’s earliest appearances as a nondescript breed of dog with no particular owner (Schulz himself admitted that he landed on the term “beagle” just because it sounds funny), and grows plump with creativity and characterization across the strip’s lengthy golden age, before finally petering out in its closing days of the early-2000s. With strips cribbed from various sources at various times, there are some obvious differences in image quality, but the book as a whole is a true treasure, and its gorgeous red binding and matching slipcover will surely earn a place of reverence on your bookcase or, better yet, on your coffee table for all to enjoy. [Review materials provided by: Andrews McMeel Publishing] Submitted by: Z.
I am a big fan of hip-hop. (Said the music blogger, surprising no one.) As such, This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History—by rapper, author, and veritable hip-hop legend Chuck D of Public Enemy—is among my current daily reads. Its 350+ pages are packed with hip-hop firsts, groundbreaking albums, and more than 100 amazing illustrations of the rap royalty that made it all happen. From DJ Kool Herc’s early experiments in turntablism to the meteoric rise of Kendrick Lamar and the glorious success of historic hip-hop musical Hamilton, it breaks 40 years of a uniquely American art form down into easily digestible pieces of comprehensive chronology. [Review materials provided by: Black Dog & Leventhal] Submitted by: Z.
If you’re a diehard fan of Overwatch, you may as well stop reading this now and just go order The Art of Overwatch book from Blizzard Entertainment and Dark Horse Books. You’ve probably been wrestling with the idea of picking up the admittedly pricey art collection, but the high-quality art within its glossy pages is worth every penny. Not only will you be treated to official concept art and key art of your favorite characters, you’ll also get a peek into the game’s development that’s hard to find anywhere else. [Review materials provided by: Dark Horse Comics.] Submitted by: Kelly Knox
This oversized hardcover is filled with beautiful photographs and diagrams about natural wonders from across the globe. After an introduction about the structure of the earth and how things change and appear, the book is divided into the various continents and takes you on a trip to see mountains and volcanoes, lakes and rivers, coasts and reefs, forests, and more. Then there’s a deep dive into the oceans for the underwater wonders, and finally a section about extreme weather like cyclones and sandstorms. Whether you love learning how plate tectonics create mountain ridges or you just want to see pictures of spectacular landscapes, Natural Wonders of the World is worth perusing. [Review materials provided by: DK Publishing.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
Moving farther afield, The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA is exactly what the title says: a collection of photographs of our solar system. There are images of the Earth, taken from space, but also of the other planets and moons that share our sun. It’s a treat for the eyes, and is perfect for anyone interested in space exploration and astronomy. Stay tuned—we’ll have a chance to win a copy later this week!
[Review materials provided by: Chronicle Books.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
This huge volume, produced in association with the Smithsonian Institution, follows human history through its travels, starting from the earliest known evidence of human travel and migration and going all the way up to the age of flight, space exploration, and new frontiers. (Bonus quote from Doc Brown: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”) Journey also includes a hefty biographies section and a “Journeys” section, which explains many significant paths and locations, like the Old Tokaido Road or Alexander the Great’s path to establishing his empire. [Review materials provided by: DK Publishing.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
For those who love comparisons and seeing how big or small something is, Magnitude: The Scale of the Universe is a fantastic examination of the very small and the very large (and a lot of things in between). There’s an explanation of linear versus logarithmic scales and scientific notation so you have a basic understanding of what you’re going to be looking at, and then Arcand and Watzke launch into various types of measurements. We start with size and quantity: distance, area, volume, mass, time, and temperature. Then we explore rates and ratios: speed, acceleration, density, and rotation. Then, there are some phenomena and processes: energy, pressure, and sound. Finally, we close with computation—a look at how computers are used to measure and calculate, but also the magnitude of computing power. For each measurement, you get a logarithmic scale, and then various items are placed along the scale: volume starts with the lungs of a mouse (1.5 × 10-7 m3) up to the entire Milky Way Galaxy (1.6 × 1060 m3). It’s a lovely book, with illustrations by Katie Peek, and is a great way to visualize these vast differences in magnitude. Arcand and Watzke also wrote about light and the electromagnetic spectrum in Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond. [Review materials provided by: Black Dog & Leventhal.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
How do universal translators work? Could we actually build a working cloaking device? When will we all have tricorders? Ethan Siegel dives into these and more in Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive, describing which devices have made the leap from science fiction to science fact how they’re supposed to work on-screen and how they would work in real life. Wake me up when those teleporters are functioning, okay? [Review materials provided by: Voyageur Press.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
Although Harry Potter: The Wand Collection isn’t a huge book, it’s definitely the sort of book you would display on your coffee table. After an introduction about the creation of wands for the Harry Potter film series and the way that the actors were trained to use them, the bulk of the book is a collection of photos of the many, many wands from the film, along with a brief bio of the character and sometimes a significant moment involving the wand. I hadn’t realized that there were some characters (including Harry himself) who got new versions of wands during the film series (aside from those whose wand replacements were actual plot points). Each wand is presented on a black background so you can really admire the wand by itself. This book would make a lovely gift for a Harry Potter fan. [Review materials provided by: Insight Editions.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
The history of Stormtroopers, from the first Star Wars film to the upcoming The Last Jedi, is laid out in Star Wars Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor. Starting with Ralph McQuarrie’s concept paintings, of course, the image of the stormtroopers was developed and refined until it became what audiences first saw in A New Hope. Subsequent films and the animated television series have introduced more troopers and pilots and guards and clones. The book contains photographs from film productions as well as a lot of stormtrooper merchandise, but there’s also plenty of text about the making of the movies and a lot of other stormtrooper trivia. As you would expect, the 501st Legion features pretty heavily throughout as well. There’s even a sneak peek at some of the new troopers from The Last Jedi—and I think it’s safe to assume that there will be more troopers on the way in the future. [Review materials provided by: HarperDesign.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
I’ll confess that I’ve only seen a few episodes here and there of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, but my wife and daughters are all huge fans and have watched the entire series, along with the recent feature film. But I always love looking at “art of” books, and The Art of My Little Pony: The Movie is a fun volume that takes a closer look at the making of the movie. At the beginning of the book there’s a section that details some of the visual differences between the ponies on the TV show and the ponies in the movie, since they would have to appear both smaller and larger than they do on the TV. There are also sketches and concept art for the character designs and locations, accompanied by quotes from many of the people involved in the creation of the movie. I will note that the book does have a few spoilers, so you may want to save it until after you’ve seen the film. [Review materials provided by: Viz Media.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
While we’re on the subject of “art of” books, The Art of Coco is a lovely book that I haven’t looked at too closely yet because I don’t want to spoil any big surprises from the film. What I can tell you, though, is that—as you’d expect—the book is filled with wonderful visuals: concept art of the characters, ranging from sketches to paintings to digital illustrations to clay sculpts. There are lush illustrations of the land of the dead, and storyboards for some of the scenes. The book is mostly visuals, with paragraph descriptions from various people involved in the making of Coco. I’m planning to spend a bit more time with this one after I see the movie!
Update: having seen the movie, I went back and looked through the book some more. While it does have some spoilers simply because you see characters, scenes, and some other things that weren’t seen in the trailers, the book does avoid some of the major plot surprises, which is nice. Still, it’s probably a book that’s best read after viewing rather than before. [Review materials provided by: Chronicle Books.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
Confession time again: I haven’t watched Steven Universe (I know, I know) but my teenage daughter loves it, and she’s already read through this entire volume multiple times. While Steven Universe: Art & Origins is an “art of” book, it includes a lot more text as well: there are a lot of transcribed interviews with Rebecca Sugar, the creator of the series, as well as many of the others who work on the show. While the focus is Steven Universe itself, the book also gives a glimpse into some of Sugar’s inspirations for the show as well. [Review materials provided by: Abrams.] Submitted by: Jonathan H. Liu
50 Cities of the U.S.A. by Gabrielle Balkan
Our family received a review copy of 50 Cities of the U.S.A., a beautiful coffee-table book featuring two-page spreads of 50 different cities in the United States. They aren’t all capital cities, or even large cities, and not all 50 states are represented (sorry, West Virginia and New Hampshire!), but many of the cities featured in the book are often overlooked by other travel media. For each two-page spread, there are dozens of fun historical tidbits, mini-biographies of famous residents, adorable artwork, and key facts and statistics. This information is presented on a backdrop of an artist’s rendition of a map of the city. In addition, each city’s pages include “A Day in…” with a one-day schedule of family-friendly activities that can be done in each of the cities. This book is perfect for children who know how to read. The facts featured are short and sweet, with vocabulary that’s designed to challenge younger readers without overwhelming them. There is some cursive writing font on each city’s spread, so parents might have to help kids read those particular words, especially if they haven’t had (or are never going to receive) cursive writing education in school yet. Read more about the Cleveland and Cheyenne features here. [Review materials provided by: Quarto Kids Wide Eyed Editions] Submitted by: Patricia Vollmer