2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Beautiful Books

Visual cornucopia

In the days leading up to the holidays, we are presenting a series of gift suggestions. Today: our favorite visual reference books. (Previous gift guide post: Low Cost Tools)

Art Forms in Nature, by Ernst Haeckel, is a library of possibilities. Artists, engineers, and natural scientists use this album for inspiration, since each of these bizarre forms is a living highly-evolved organism. $17

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia There are so many levels to these tattoos that they were officially collected and copied by the authors in order to decipher them. Each one is a small bomb of meaning; as visual source material you can’t have more power than these. $23

Secret Museum of Mankind It’s sort of a combination of early uncensored National Geographic and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Reproduced without a known author, or copyright, or even authentication of the captions, it was for many years a “secret” underground publication. And for pure gawking pleasures it still can’t be beat. $25

Parallel Encyclopedia, by Batia Suter, is a fat encyclopedia of thousands of pictorial gems taken from old books. These old-timey results won’t show up on Google image search. Each page is a wonderful orthogonal view of our world –- Items are roughly grouped by category. It’s a constant source of amazement, kind of a visual curiosity cabinet. (Out of print, but copies are available on Amazon)

Natural Art Forms, by Karl Blossfeldt, is similar to Haeckel’s book, but primarily close ups of plants and seeds. There is an other-worldly aspect to these organic forms, in monumental black and white. A great inspiration for sculpture and 3D thinking. (Out of print, but copies are available on Amazon)