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Last-Minute Gift-Guide: Great, Big Books Equal Great, Big Holiday Fun

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Michael Spooneybarger
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CREO University of West Florida

Coffee table books are can’t-miss choices for the impossible-to-buy-for people on any holiday list. Titles cater to extremely specific interests. Whether you’re shopping for a James Bond movie poster collector or a connoisseur of wine from Slovenia, publishers provide.

Packed with history, new-found facts, trivia, lavish photographs, illustrations, graphics, lists of Web sites and bibliographies that lead to even more troves of information, they rarely fail to intrigue. Other advantages of big books as big gifts? One size fits all. Wrapping requires little more than adding a bow. They stand up to year-round use. Here are a few stand-out titles for 2015 shoppers.

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THE WEST POINT HISTORY OF WORLD WAR II, VOLUME 1. Simon & Shuster, 339 pages, $55.  The second installment in The West Point History of Warfare series is a completely revised textbook used to instruct the cadets at our nation’s military academy. It covers the time from the end of the First World War through mid-1942. Organized chronologically, it showcases both political and military tactics on both war fronts. (The first mega-popular installment in the series, “The West Point History of the Civil War,” was published last year). A military collector’s must-have.

THE NATIONAL PARKS: AN AMERICAN LEGACY. Insight Editions, 240 pages, $50. Published to coincide with the National Park Service’s centennial, this lavish tribute features 200 original images of these cherished landscapes from award-winning conservation photographer Ian Shrive.  Coupled with essays from many conservancy groups, the collection serves as a fitting salute to those who have worked, and continue to work, to preserve our natural treasures. 

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QUEEN ELIZABETH II AND THE ROYAL FAMILY. DK, 320 pages, $40. A royal tribute not only to the enduring and popular iconic monarch, but to her family and forebears as well. Replete with photos, artwork, graphics and historical timelines that cover the entire history of the British monarchy. A worthy tonic for any ardent anglophile.

A FIELD GUIDE TO AMERICAN HOUSES. Knopf, 848 pages, $29.95. First published in 1984, Virginia Savage McAlester’s “Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture” has been thoroughly revised, expanded and published in a handy paperback edition. Perfectly sized to check out the houses in the neighborhood.

SOUTHERN LIVING 50 YEARS: A CELEBRATION OF PEOPLE, PLACES, AND CULTURE. Oxmoor House, 320 pages, $40. Fifty years. Nearly 600 covers. This in-depth look at the “Magazine of the Modern South” takes us on a visual road trip through the evolution of the modern South. The distinct regions, the music, the homes and gardens, the food and the people are all here in a fascinating and stylish presentation. Reserve a space on the coffee table.

CABINET OF CURIOSITIES: COLLECTING AND UNDERSTANDING THE WONDERS OF THE NATURAL WORLD. Workman. 187 pages, $24.95. From leaves to butterflies, from feathers to rocks, from seeds to shells, author Gordon Grice offers an engrossing (and educational) guidebook about the “how to” and the “where for” of collecting and classifying nature’s wonders.  Satisfy that curious urge.

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Credit Michael Spooneybarger / CREO University of West Florida
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CREO University of West Florida

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND: The FULL TEXT OF LEWIS CARROLL’S NOVEL WITH  ITS MANY HIDDEN MEANINGS REVEALED.  Penguin. 296 pages, $45.  It has been 150 years since Macmillan published Lewis Carroll’s original “Alice.” This commemorative volume includes biographical information about Carroll as well as illustrations, explanatory charts and much, much more. It will delight bibliophiles and Alice fans of all ages.

HIGHLIGHTS HIDDEN PICTURES COLORING BOOK FOR GROWNUP CHILDREN. Highlights Press, 96 pages, $12.95. Rediscover the pleasure of a favorite childhood activity. This collection has more than 80 intricate black and white hidden picture illustrations that will challenge the kid in all of us. Don’t worry, the solutions are included. Get everyone his or her own copy.

THE WINE BIBLE. Workman, 1008 pages, $24.95. Originally published in 2001, this completely updated revised second edition by renowned wine expert Karen MacNeil is now in paperback.  New to this edition are the wines of China, Japan, Mexico, and Slovenia.  Perfect for both the wine-savvy and the wannabes.

Brandy Hilboldt Allport is a staff writer at the University of West Florida’s Center for Research and Economic Opportunity. Before moving to Pensacola this fall, she spent the last two decades reporting, writing and editing for newspapers. Most recently, she was with the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. One of her many hats was editor for the Books Page. Brandy was also a regular guest on Jacksonville’s NPR affiliate station WJCT 89.9-FM.  Though Brandy has a bachelor’s degree in journalism, she launched a second career when she completed her master’s degree in education. She has more than 10 years of classroom experience with students ranging in age from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers. Brandy taught reading readiness and early literacy skills as well as creative writing, English literature, speech and journalism.  She also hosted “Storytime with Mrs. Brandy” hour-long events for non-profit groups through Northeast Florida.