The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee (Abrams, $75) is every coffee-table’s dream book. The gorgeous chrome-hued cover signals Sebastião Salgado’s rich black-and-white photography within, and through the course of three-hundred pages and two-hundred-plus images, Salgado sings a visual love song to coffee plantations from Brazil to India to Tanzania to China, to name a few of these lush landscapes, and to the workers who harvest the fruit. The Scent of a Dream is brilliantly curated, edited, and designed by Salgado’s wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado. The collection testifies that this photographer’s heart and lens are steeped in their subject. Born in Brazil, Salgado grew up watching his father transport coffee to neighboring coastal ports, and eventually joined him in the family business. Later, Salgado worked as an economist for the International Coffee Organization, then let his passion for photography find its muse among the plantation fields of his youth. Salgado began crafting this book in 2002, and with it he hopes to teach café aficionados that coffee beans begin cultivation in vibrant lands and cultured hands, far from the grind of baristas and espresso machines. Marc Powers
Like the legendary Silk Road, The White Road (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27) is a route of wonders. Edmund de Waal’s fifth book is about the “white gold” that is porcelain, and porcelain is about geology and alchemy, shards and ewers, Jesuits, emperors, and Swedenborg’s angels—it’s a rich, multi-faceted story that de Waal, a world-renowned ceramicist who “write[s] books, too,” follows from China to Versailles to Meissen to Plymouth. Along the way he charts where it darkens with exploitation, war, and the Nazis’ brand of figurines, but more often reports the efforts of craftsmen and apothecaries to perfect the balance of porcelain’s kaolin and other (often secret) ingredients, and to discover the best temperatures for firing the clay to its wondrous luminescence. This quest leads de Waal, like so many others, to develop a life-long case of porzellankranheir, “porcelain sickness”—a condition reminiscent of tulip-mania. As he did in his unforgettable The Hare with Amber Eyes, de Waal makes history personal; he is passionate about porcelain, and his exquisitely textured language brings you into the hearts, minds, and hands of some of the world’s most virtuosic—and colorful—artisans of the white clay.
A novelist with a satirical bent, as well as the author of Lives of the Muses and a biography of Caravaggio, Francine Prose is a natural to write the life of the flamboyant heiress and art collector, Peggy Guggenheim (Yale, $25). Unconventional in her personal life and iconoclastic in her work, Guggenheim (1898-1979) was born with “the urge to unnerve,” whether it was by promoting surrealism or by conducting affairs with as many men as possible, including Samuel Beckett. But Beckett, like many of the painters Guggenheim championed, was relatively unknown when she took up with him, and her support of figures now considered art-world superstars—notably Jackson Pollock—testifies to Guggenheim’s sharp eye and prescience. Yet with her often bizarre outfits, public scenes, uncanny knack for getting involved in abusive relationships, and sudden shifts from generosity to stinginess, Guggenheim was sometimes hard to take seriously. Prose, however, looks carefully at her subject’s self-described “inferiority complex,” and notes that Guggenheim was often exploited for her money while being treated dismissively by the male art world—even as her galleries in London, New York, and Venice were instrumental not just in challenging but in changing perceptions—richly fulfilling the modernist mission.