A selection of beautiful books on subjects ranging from royalty to nature
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Diana: The Life and Legacy of the People’s Princess
by Brian Hoey (Pitkin £12.99, 189 pp)
Is it really 25 years since Princess Diana died? It is, and this slender volume brings the story right up to date, with chapters on William, Kate and their children, plus Harry and Meghan and their various money-making schemes.
Hoey has written more than 30 books about royalty, and this one is full of photographs of the Princess, kissing Charles, dancing with John Travolta and shooting the breeze with the Reagans.
There’s nothing terribly new here, but like a book full of fairy tales, the pleasure lies in the legend’s familiarity, and the photos are exceptionally well chosen. People will continue to write books about the People’s Princess when we are all long dead and completely forgotten.
Diana: The Life and Legacy of the People’s Princess by Brian Hoey brings Diana’s story right up to date
Yves Saint Laurent: Gold
by Elsa Janssen and Yvane Jacob (Abrams £35, 192pp)
‘I love gold, it’s a magical colour; when reflecting a woman, it’s the colour of the sun,’ said Yves Saint Laurent once, possibly after a long lunch, and here is a collection of gold-themed photos of Saint Laurent’s long and productive fashion life.
There are gold dresses, golden accessories, gold jewels, golden parties full of guests draped with gold, gold-flecked photos of the designer looking like the gayest man who ever lived, golden drawings of golden dresses, although sadly no pictures of the gold bullion in his safety deposit box.
Yves Saint Laurent: Gold is a collection of gold-themed photos of Saint Laurent’s long and productive fashion life
Gold sparkles, it says here, as it conjures up the true treasures of Saint Laurent’s legacy, and the book accompanies an exhibition that was staged in Paris over 2022 and 2023. It was a golden year, says the introduction, and only a fool would argue with that.
What Makes a Garden
by Jinny Blom (Frances Lincoln £35, 256pp)
What Makes a Garden by Jinny Blom, one of the world’s leading landscape gardeners, is the book for the gardening maniac in your life, which may even be you
Blom is one of the world’s leading landscape gardeners, and here she is writing about what she knows best: how to ‘make’ a garden, often from nothing.
It’s in essence her philosophy of gardening, and combines the practical with the scientific, the natural with the human. The first section looks at how a garden should please all five senses and be an expression of one’s own personal style. The second looks at alchemy, and the transformative results when bringing different elements together. And the third focuses on the passage of time, and how this enriches and shapes the garden.
This is the book for the gardening maniac in your life, which may even be you. I can think of no better way to spend a rainy day than leafing through these pages.
Adventuress: Women Exploring the Wild
by Carolina Amell (Prestel £39.99, 240pp)
Adventuress: Women Exploring the Wild by Carolina Amell profiles twenty women, all of them adventuresses of a sort
Here’s a curious one. Twenty women are profiled in this substantial book, all of them adventuresses of a sort. There’s one who left her high-profile job to explore the world on her bike; another who skied solo across an Arctic plateau; a third who horse-trekked across Australia.
Their stories are told in their own words and illustrated with jaw-dropping photographs of the wildernesses these women travelled through: on passes in the Swiss Alps, through Iceland’s lava fields, deep in the Guyanese jungle and under the stars in Hawaii.
Each of them followed her dream, and the lesson is that we all can, too.
One woman just started going for a walk every morning, and 12 years later she had walked the equivalent of the circumference of the Earth.
Chronorama: Photographic Treasures of the 20th Century
by Pinault Collection and Conde Nast Archive (Abrams £60, 432pp)
A picture of model Veruschka head-to-head with a cheetah is included in this luxurious book of photographs, from 1910 to the end of the 1970s
Here’s an enormous, luxurious book of photographs, from 1910 to the end of the 1970s. Everything and everyone is here, from Gloria Swanson to Cary Grant via a young Karl Lagerfeld and Katharine Hepburn.
Some photographers are famous, others have been all but forgotten, and many of the portraits freeze their models in an eternal youth.
Fashion is the constant, but as the preface insists, ‘fashion is inseparable from art, theatre, dance, architecture and urban life’. Not to mention lower back injuries, if you attempt to lift this book without a fork-lift truck.
Beauty in Bloom: Floral Portraits
by Debi Shapiro (Black Dog & Leventhal £45, 288pp)
Beauty in Bloom: Floral Portraits is the first collection of the work of Debi Shapiro, an American who photographs flowers
Shapiro is an American who takes photographs of flowers, and this is the first collection of her work.
It’s full of floral portraits, some a single bloom, others a full, lush bouquet, all of them more beautiful than anything you could pick up at your local florist. Some of her images are prosaic, but others are other-worldly, and look like aliens that may or may not be about to invade Earth.
There aren’t many words, just huge and sometimes terrifying images: anyone who has read John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids should probably steer clear of this volume. But as a fully fledged flower-holic I loved this book, although I am not sure I’ll ever look at any bloom in the same way again.
Tooth and Claw: Top Predators of the World
by Robert M. Johnson III, Sharon L. Gilman and Daniel C. Abel (Princeton University Press £38, 352pp)
Hunters: Marsh harrier chicks may look cute, but they grow into impressive birds of prey
They’re all here: lions, tigers, sharks, wolves and wolverines. These are all serious carnivores, many with enormous teeth, and all best avoided in a dark alley.
As Johnson, Gilman and Abel say of marine mammals, ‘they seem to have “knowing eyes”, and many say they appear to be looking directly into our souls. As scientists we cannot corroborate that, but as humans we cannot deny it either.’ Jaguars, we learn, rely on surprise and brute strength to overpower their prey. Fortunately, they are mainly now found in the Amazon basin, which is a good long way from where I am sitting now.
Many of these fearsome animals are now endangered species, because not many of them have been able to cope with the ultimate predator: human beings.
Life On Our Planet
by Dr Tom Fletcher (Witness £30, 312pp)
Life On Our Planet by Dr Tom Fletcher is a TV tie-in with the epic documentary series exec-produced by Steven Spielberg and funded by Netflix
This whopper is that now rare beast, a TV tie-in — the show in question being an Attenborough-like epic documentary series exec-produced by Steven Spielberg and bankrolled by Netflix.
The starting point is that there are currently 20 million species on Earth, an astonishing number, but this represents only 1 per cent of the species who have ever lived here.
The series, awash in expensive CGI, tells the stories of some of these extinct creatures, from dinosaurs onwards, and this book does essentially the same job.
Dr Fletcher is a vertebrate palaeontologist and wildlife expert, who specialises in sharks and fossil fishes, and his text in this book has both the narrow focus and wide sweep such series tend to demand.
How much you will believe the images here is obviously up to you, but there’s no gainsaying their beauty and power.
A Place Apart: The Artist’s Studio: 1400-1900
by Caroline Chapman (Unicorn £25, 168pp)
A Place Apart: The Artist’s Studio: 1400-1900 by Caroline Chapman (Unicorn £25, 168pp)
This serious, dense, beautifully illustrated book is about the actual business of making great art in Renaissance times and after.
Artist’s studios reflect their personalities: some are battlegrounds steeped in failure and gloom, others are vibrant celebrations of the artist’s brilliance. Van Gogh’s first studio Chapman describes as ‘wretched’. Rodin’s was spattered with plaster. Manet told Emile Zola: ‘I can’t do anything without a model. I don’t know how to invent.’
Gustav Klimt contracted syphilis at an early age and always painted in a floor-length garment, which a friend suggested he should wash more often. But hygiene (and sexual health) is for civilians.
Chapman is a judicious and entertaining guide through these artists’ numerous eccentricities — this is a book of some brilliance.
An Apothecary of Art: To soothe your soul
by Ravenous Butterflies (Batsford £18.99, 192 pp)
Shepherdess Resting by Berthe Morisot (1841-95) is one of the beautiful paintings included in An Apothecary of Art: To soothe your soul
Some books inform, others entertain, and this one seeks to lift the spirit, calm the mind and heal the soul.
Ravenous Butterflies is the online alter ego of artist Lisa Azarmi, and she set it up as a ‘virtual self-help diary, a space to post images and text that resonated with me’.
Ten years on arrives this book, which invites readers to ‘take a transformative journey to improve their mental well-being’ with ‘comforting and restorative’ words and some beautiful paintings, some of them familiar, but a lot of them new to my eyes at least.
It’s a lovely, gentle book, best experienced in your favourite armchair with a cup of tea and a packet of chocolate malted milk biscuits. There can be no higher praise.