Is there an avid traveler on your gift list? Or even someone who doesn't go too far from home, but simply loves reading about faraway places and other cultures? Maybe you have a friend or loved one who might enjoy spending a winter's day gazing at pictures of places they love or long to see. Books with a travel theme — whether practical, beautiful, inspirational or just a good read — make a good holiday gift. Here are a few ideas and recommendations.
Pauline Frommer, the travel book writer and founding editor of Frommers.com, lists "MapHead," by Ken Jennings (Scribner, $25) as one of her recent favorites. Jennings, the legendary "Jeopardy!" winner, is "a very witty, insightful writer and has written an entertaining and educational book about maps and the geeks who obsess over them," Frommer said.
City Secrets, a new series of small hardcovers for discriminating travelers, has new guides out this year for London ($20), Rome ($20) and Florence/Venice ($15), with City Secrets Manhattan ($20) due in late November. "Remarkable contributors — writers, artists, curators, and others — reveal their favorite strolls, hidden gardens, buildings, shops, and restaurants," is how Pat Carrier, owner of the Globe Corner Book Store in Brookline Village, Mass., describes the series.
Other suggestions from Globe Corner include "City: A User's Guide to the Past, Present, and Future of Urban Life" by P.D. Smith (Bloomsbury, $40), which Carrier describes as a collection of essays about urban life on everything from skyscrapers and shantytowns to street food and skateboarding, as well as two cookbooks with a strong sense of place, "Mourad: New Moroccan," by Mourad Lahlou (Artisan, $40) and "Saraban: A Chef's Journey Through Persia" by Greg and Lucy Malouf (Hardie Grant Books, $60).
Topics for kids
Lonely Planet has published its first series for children, Not For Parents books on Paris, London, Rome and New York. The $15 paperbacks offer curious kids cartoons, photos and drawings packed with tidbits on local history, geography, the arts and pop culture. "Not For Parents: Paris, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know," for example, mentions everything from crepes and the origins of plaster of Paris to a look at Deyrolle, a bizarre showcase for taxidermied animals. Lonely Planet is also offering a version of "The Travel Book" for kids ($20) subtitled "Cool Stuff to Know About Every Country in the World."
Lonely Planet's new books for grown-ups include "Great Journeys" ($40), a coffee-table book about "the world's most spectacular routes," from the trail to Peru's Machu Picchu to America's classic Route 66, and a collection of stories by celebrities called "Lights, Camera ... Travel!" ($15) including Brooke Shield's tale of her wintertime visit to the Arctic.
The staff of Distant Lands, a travel bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., is recommending Lonely Planet's "1000 Ultimate Sights" ($23) as the "quirkiest" of LP's new travel must-see books. "If you like golden things, for example, there's a section on 'Golden Greats,' encompassing such attractions as the Golden Buddha in Bangkok, the Golden Mummies in Egypt's Western Desert, and Dawson City's Bonanza Creek," said Distant Land's Susan Hickman. "Other favorite topics include 'Most Eye-Opening Workplaces' and 'Most Astounding Ego Trips,'" from Versailles in France to a 65-foot-tall monument to North Korea's Kim Il Sung.
If you're feeling generous toward your favorite Francophile, Distant Lands recommends "Monumental Paris" by Herve Champollion and Aude de Tocqueville (Vendome, $150). Hickman says the "panoramic photos bring you to many of Paris' hidden corners ... gardens, canals, parks and secret waterways that make Paris one of Europe's most endlessly fascinating and enchanting cities."
Also on Distant Lands' list: Braun & Hogenberg's "Cities of the World: Complete Edition of the Colour Plates of 1572-1617" (Taschen, $70), which offers snapshots of how people lived in cities in Europe, Africa, Asia and Central America in drawings and text.
Patricia Schultz is out with a new edition of the ultimate bucket-list, "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" (Workman, $20). This version adds 200 new entries, including countries not in the original 2003 edition, like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Qatar and Mozambique, plus budget-conscious suggestions for lodging and food. An interactive companion iPad app for "1,000 Places" is scheduled for release Nov. 22, offering photos, maps and a way to log your past and future travels. The full app is free with a code included on the first stickered printing of the book; without the book, you can download the app for free with a preview of 99 places or pay $10 for full content.
Tour by train
"America's Great Railroad Stations" (Viking Studio, $40) is the perfect gift for train buffs, a coffee-table book with 250 photographs by Roger Straus III (plus vintage black-and-white pictures) and text by Ed Breslin and Hugh Van Dusen. Organized by region, the book tells the story of the role these buildings played in the lives of the people and cities they served, from Beaux Arts monuments in New York and Washington to adobe structures in the Southwest, from the Union Pacific to Michigan Central.
Another coffee-table beauty is "The World's Must-See Places: A Look Inside More Than 100 Magnificent Buildings and Monuments" (DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, $25) with photos and 3-D cutaways and diagrams of places like Beijing's Forbidden City, Mexico's Chichen Itza and Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock.
"The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond" (Globe Pequot Press, $18) is Ben G. Frank's account of Jewish communities in a handful of places, from a relatively new synagogue in Tahiti that serves expats and tourists to the nearly gone remnants of North Africa's once-thriving Jewish communities. The book is by no means an exhaustive survey of Jews around the world — Vietnam, India and Burma are there, but not China, for example — but the snapshots offered will be of interest to readers with a passion for Jewish history.
Manhattan's High Line, the unique linear park built 30 feet off the ground on an old rail line, has quickly become one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. A new book is out for devoted fans: "High Line: The Inside Story of New York City's Park in the Sky" (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, $30) by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, cofounders of Friends of the High Line. The first half is a written conversation alternating between the two authors about their discovery of the old rail line and how they managed to shepherd it against all odds through city bureaucracy from a decaying dinosaur to a vibrant public space. The second half is a collection of photos, both historic and recent, showing the High Line's history and transformation.
Finally, Travel + Leisure is out with lovely photos and engaging text in "Europe: The Places We Love," $30, from the "Sweet Life in Capri," to "Secret Villages" like Norcia, Italy, and Marvao, Portugal.