The collection of the National Museum of the American Indian represents a staggeringly wide range of peoples, eras, and artifacts. Looking back some 13,000 years, the Museum has gathered objects representing native cultures from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic. This is truly an INFINITY OF NATIONS (Smithsonian, $29.99), and this handsome volume, edited by the Museum’s associate curator, Cécile R. Ganteaume, has made it both accessible and fascinating. Considering its subject-stretch region by region, the book has enlisted experts to lay out the history, cultures, geography, and other significant factors of each one. This textual mosaic is gorgeously illustrated with more than 200 lush color photographs of items in the Museum’s holdings, from bark masks and ceremonial shields to baskets and baby carriers, often accompanied by pictures of the objects in use.
Maira Kalman (The Elements of Style Illustrated) has created a new form: the visual essay (hand-painted and hand-lettered, with photographs and embroideries). Her follow-up to The Principles of Uncertainty, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS (Penguin Press, $29.95), takes on American democracy itself—Kalman becomes a modern Tocqueville, an inquiring tourist and a philosopher traveling the country. The month-by-month chapters start in January 2009 with the Inauguration, and end in December with a meditation on George Washington at Mount Vernon. Painting artifacts and ephemera, interiors and people—a National Gallery museum guard, a Capitol tram operator—as she travels, Kalman observes, makes connections, and drifts into reveries. The book is especially a treat for Washingtonians: Kalman spent a lot of time in the Library of Congress, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court. There are detours to the Land of Lincoln, Monticello, Fort Campbell, even the edible schoolyard program in Berkeley. A wonderful book for students of American history—or for anyone; you will be delighted, and transformed.
See the names Harold Holzer and Craig L. Symonds on a book, and you know you have a comprehensive, well-researched, and illuminating history of the Civil War era before you. The two have now edited THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPLETE CIVIL WAR 1861-1865 (Black Dog & Leventhal, $40), which contains a wealth of information about events of the period as they happened. The New York Times was one of the few newspapers to have correspondents on the battlefronts, and the editors have reprinted some 600 of the stories they filed, adding commentary on the places and people involved and discussing larger issues, including battle tactics, slavery, racism, politics, and more. The volume is generously illustrated throughout, with period drawings and etchings, photos, and reproductions of posters, maps, cartoons, and other artifacts. To top it all off, there’s a DVD-ROM, which contains all the articles the Times published during the war.