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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coffee-Table Books Warm the Season

"A book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us," wrote Kafka to a friend, but the holiday gift books rounded up below seem unwieldy for Kafka's purpose. Think of them instead as conversation pieces to break the ice, or works of beauty warm enough to melt it. They are arranged approximately according to their prices.

How to Skip Stones: and 43 More of Life's Forgotten Pleasures. Cover design by Matt Adamec. (97 pages. Hyperion. Paperback. $9.95.) Or how to fly a kite, catch a snowflake on your tongue, take a nap, tickle, fish, be spontaneous. It isn't the instructions that matter so much in this booklett hat was published in hardcover last year with the title "Balance"; for instance, how you give a foot massage is: 1. "Find someone with feet." 2. "Rub firmly, deliberately pushing outwardly with thumbs. (No tickling.)" 3. "Beg recipient to return favor." What counts are the reminders of the simple silly things that you used to do before life got complicated.

The Sporting News Selects Baseball's 100 Greatest Players: A Celebration of the 20th Century's Best. By Ron Smith. Foreword by Willie Mays. (224 pages. The Sporting News Publishing Co. $29.95.) Ruth is No. 1, of course. And Nos. 2 through 6, reasonably enough, are Mays, Cobb, Walter Johnson, Aaron and Gehrig. But Williams 8, Musial 10 and DiMaggio 11? Pete Rose as low as 25 and Mark McGwire as high as 91? Josh Gibson down at 18? This is combustible fuel for this winter's hot-stove league.

One Digital Day: How the Microchip is Changing our World. Created by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt. Designed by Tom Walker. (223 pages. Times Books/Random House in association with Against All Odds Productions. $40.) Two hundred photos illustrating how the microchip is taking over our lives, from Istanbul, where a magic decoder ring will pay your subway fare, to Tokyo, where a $3,500 toilet will warm its seat to your liking. Granted, it's a book-length ad for Intel Corp., which sponsored the project; still, it entertainingly shows how the world is turning into a computer game.

Saveur Cooks Authentic American. By the editors of Saveur Magazine. (320 pages. Chronicle Books. $40.) No matter what the recipes here may produce, the results appear irresistible in this pictorial celebration of American regional cooking. Even the macaroni and cheese, made with good old Wisconsin cheddar, looks like a gourmet special.

The Prince of Egypt: A New Vision in Animation. By Charles Solomon. (192 pages. Harry N. Abrams. $45.) A sumptuously illustrated how-they-did-it look behind the scenes of the forthcoming Dreamworks animated musical version of "The Ten Commandments," complete with the Burning Bush, the Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Barring too many lines like "Hey, Ramses, how would you like your face carved on a wall?," the film, with its lifelike animation, should be worth seeing if it lives up to the power of this preview.

Just in case you missed any, these two books sum up in words and pictures the peaks and disasters of the past 100 years. One, The American Century, by Harold Evans, with Gail Buckland and Kevin Baker (712 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $50.), says it was not inevitable that the era should have been an American one, and examines just how it turned out to be. The other, The Century, by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster, photographs edited by Katherine Bourbeau (606 pages. Doubleday. $60.), a companion to the ABC News and the History Channel television series of the same name, strives with considerable success to give a documentary sense of what the times were like.

Cartier: The Tank Watch. By Franco Cologni. With a Catalog of Watches From 1917 to the Present by Dominique Flechon. (263 pages. Flammarion. $75.) So ubiquitous has been the tank watch - designed by Louis Cartier in 1917, named after the Renault tank whose modernistic design inspired it and presented to General Pershing in 1918 - that Rudolph Valentino even wore one while playing in "The Son of the Sheik." This elegant volume tracks the watch's life and times, and accounts for why its design, even for those of us who can't afford one, has become as familiar as the back of our, uh, naked wrist.

Jackson Pollock. By Kirk Varnedoe with Pepe Karmel. (336 pages. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Distributed by Harry N. Abrams. $75.) The accompanying volume to the major Pollock exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, this includes more than 200 color reproductions and traces the development of the pioneering abstract expressionist. Like great jazz music, Pollock's radically experimental drip paintings seem with the passage of time increasingly classic.

Jacques Henri Lartigue, Photographer. Introduction by Vicki Goldberg. (288 pages. Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown and Company. $95.) A charming monograph on Lartigue, the first book to survey the French photographer's work in depth since "Diary of a Century," edited by Richard Avedon, was published in the 1970s. Lartigue, in his fascination with kites, airplanes, cars and motorcycles, captured a world defying gravity. As Goldberg, a contributor on photography and the arts to The New York Times, writes in her introduction, "History provided him with a cornucopia of inventions, including a camera with a fast lens, and he responded with the passions of a child and the eye of an adult."

Is New York still the tallest city in the world? You'll have little doubt after viewing these two spectacular photo collections, one looking up at the great city, the other down: New York Vertical, by Horst Hamann, (165 pages. Te Neues Publishing Company. $98. Also available in reduced format, $29.95), in which each of the 66 tall black-and-white pictures is accompanied by a telling comment like the one by Winka Dubbeldam, an architect: "The only city where the sky is not the limit." And New York From The Air, photographs by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, text by John Tauranac (159 pages. Harry N. Abrams. $45.), where the city's familiar buildings appear so cleanly bathed in golden light that you feel almost sorry for all of us who must view them from the ground.

And a happy holiday.