Can’t get to the British Museum right now? Never mind—let it come to you, in the extraordinary sampling of its collections that is A History of the World in 100 Objects (Viking, $45). First presented as a BBC Radio 4 series, the book has been curated by a team of experts headed by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum. Chronicling material culture from a circa-240 BC Egyptian wooden mummy case to a solar-powered lamp made in China last year, this volume showcases the astounding variety of things humans have created. Here are mosaics and mirrors, ivory labels and gold capes, the Rosetta Stone and Hokusai’s The Great Wave. Arranged chronologically in twenty sections from the Olduvai Gorge era on, the volume presents each of the hundred objects in a full-color photograph accompanied by commentary describing the item’s role in its original culture as well as the significance it has gained in later ones. Most important, unlike conventional text-based histories—the ones written by the victors—this one is drawn from tangible relics and strives to convey what peoples lacking written records made of their experiences.

A History of the World in 100 Objects Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143124153
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - September 24th, 2013

From childhood on, Vincent van Gogh was repeatedly described as “strange.” Though he learned to draw early—instructed by his mother, as were his five siblings—he wasn’t a prodigy in anything but loneliness and alienation. In their thorough, moving Van Gogh: The Life (Random House, $40), the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pollock biographers, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith present afresh the tormented history of one of modern art’s most distinctive and beloved painters. But during his life van Gogh was estranged from his family (including, for long stretches, his famous correspondent, brother Theo); failed at school; at his uncle’s art shops in The Hague, Paris, and London; at teaching and preaching, and, seemingly, at life itself. He came to art only in his late twenties, devoting the last decade of his life to it. Everything he’d attempted before that informed his work, however, and the authors skillfully reveal the deep roots of such quintessential van Gogh images as the sower, the starry night, and the solitary walker.

Van Gogh: The Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375758973
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - December 4th, 2012

If for no other reason than that it was written in part by Edmund de Waal, author of the amazing family memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes, The Pot Book (Phaidon, $49.95), co-written with Claudia Clare, would be worth a look. But pottery is amazing in its own right, and the editors, both master ceramicists and writers on the medium, have expertly and beautifully compiled this encyclopedic look at what clay can do. The color photographs take center stage, with concise, informative commentary describing each work’s style, period, purpose, and artist. The survey time-travels the globe, from Egypt in 1479 B.C. to contemporary artists in Japan and Europe; de Waal and Clare, who also has a background in feminism and human rights, consider social and political contexts in addition to aesthetics.

The Pot Book Cover Image
By Edmund de Waal (Editor), Claudia Clare (With)
ISBN: 9780714847993
Availability: Out of Print in This Format
Published: Phaidon Press - October 10th, 2011

The Pot Book Cover Image
By Edmund de Waal (Editor)
ISBN: 9780714870533
Availability: Backordered
Published: Phaidon Press - September 7th, 2015