This gorgeous new edition of the E.H. Gombrich favorite, A Little History of the World: Illustrated Edition (Yale Univ., $29.95), doesn’t just tell the story of civilization from its humble origins to its most grandiose inventions, it shows it, adding faces, maps, and designs to the leaders, places, and creations it discusses. Gombrich wrote this book in the 1930s, intending it as a primer for children to replace the dull, ineffectual texts forced on them. Anything but dull, and no longer just for children, if it ever really was, this Little History is an affectionate but not uncritical look at the world we’ve made.
Frequently on assignment for Vanity Fair in the past few years, Annie Leibovitz has given us some of the most spectacular and theatrical shots of celebrities, royalty, and world-changers ever captured on film. In Pilgrimage (Random House, $50), however, Leibovitz is after a different sort of spectacle, bringing her eye for personality and detail to the sites where literary and cultural creators did their work. The subjects of these photographs range from Louisa May Alcott’s writing desk to the tumult of Niagara Falls. While many of these places are familiar, Leibovitz has captured them in ways that renew their relevance.
When John Lithgow gives an interview, I am never sure whether to laugh uproariously or write down what he says to mull over later. Regardless, Lithgow’s passion is evident and finely honed in whatever he does, and his memoir, Drama: An Actor’s Education (HarperCollins, $26.99), is no exception. In his youth a hybrid of the drop-out and the genius, Lithgow joined the family business and became an actor; he was by turns confused and horrified by outshining his father in their shared trade. Best known for his comedic turn in Third Rock from the Sun and for his bone-chilling role as a serial killer on Dexter, Lithgow has won several Emmys, Golden Globes, Tonys, and much acclaim from critics in and out of the industry. But what drives the book is not Lithgow’s quiet, steady success, but the decades of romance, self-doubt, and education that lie behind his performances. Lithgow reminds us why acting is an art form, why humor is so deeply important, and why family is irresistible. Enjoy Drama for its honesty and its ingenuity, its ability to make you care—and because Lithgow is a hoot.