This the second of six stories devoted to gifts: books, CDs, videos and DVDs. Look for future installments in this spot on Sundays through Dec. 19. A new collection of Sherlock...

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This the second of six stories devoted to gifts: books, CDs, videos and DVDs. Look for future installments in this spot on Sundays through Dec. 19.

A new collection of Sherlock Holmes, a paean to snowflakes, the story of the bicycle — there’s something in this list of gift books for every eccentric on your holiday list. The following list includes top picks in the areas of history, the natural world, literature, humor, religion and the small-is-beautiful “stocking stuffer” category.


HISTORY


“They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators”

by Harold Evans, with Gail Buckland and David Lefer (Little, Brown, 496 pp., $40). A companion volume to the PBS series, this briskly written collection of essays tells the story of America’s innovators and inventors — the famous, such as Henry Ford, and the (relatively) obscure, such as Seattle native and software pioneer Gary Kildall, whose relationship and dealings with IBM, Bill Gates and Microsoft vividly illustrates the promises and perils of inventing something new in an age of cutthroat capitalism.


“Bicycle: The History”

by David V. Herlihy (Yale University Press, 480 pp., $35). A copiously illustrated history of one of the most efficient and utilitarian machines of all time — perfect for any serious cyclist.

“Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas” by David Hackett Fischer (Oxford University Press, 851 pp., $50). A friend or relative who loves American history and is, shall we say, sorting out the results of the last election would welcome this well-written and reasoned (and copiously illustrated) book by the author of “Washington’s Crossing.” “Liberty and Freedom” looks at Americans’ beliefs about freedom and how they have evolved with the country, as it has changed from a loose network of former English colonies to today’s diverse, multicultural society. The story is told through an examination of our national symbols: the Stars and Stripes, Uncle Sam, Rosie the Riveter, 9/11.

“Cartographica Extraordinaire: The Historical Map Transformed” by David Rumsey and Edith Punt (ESRI Press, 160 pp., $79.95). A beautiful and informative volume, based on David Rumsey’s digitized map collection, that showcases the exploration and settlement of America through the eyes of the mapmakers who drew the country as they knew it to be at the time. Includes pre-settlement Northwest maps drawn by French, Spanish and English explorers. Rumsey’s amazing map collection can be viewed online at www.davidrumsey.com.



THE NATURAL WORLD


“Astonishing Animals: Extraordinary Creatures and the Fantastic Worlds They Inhabit”

by Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten (Atlantic Monthly Press, 206 pp., $29.95). An elegant paean to some of the world’s strangest and/or most beautiful creatures, from the marvelous spatuletale, a hummingbird with long tail feathers that end in iridescent discs, to the nightmarish gulper, a fish (we think) that is “nearly all mouth, stomach and tail,” the better to swallow fish as big as themselves.


“Treehouses of the World”

by Pete Nelson, photography by Radek Kurzaj (Abrams, 224 pages, $35). Author Nelson is a principal of Treehouse Workshop Inc., a treehouse design and construction company in Seattle. Many of the creations in this eye-catching book are in Washington state, but the focus is international, showing that there must be some universal drive to build a perch in the trees.


“Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book”

by Christopher C. Burt (Norton, 304 pp., $24.95). A well-organized guide to the worst, er, most extreme, weather in the United States and around the world — “the coldest, hottest, wettest, stormiest, or even foggiest places on earth.” Did you know that the foggiest place in the country is Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River? For the Weather Channel addict.


“Under Antarctic Ice: The Photographs of Norbert Wu,”

text by Jim Mastro, photographic notes by Norbert Wu (University of California Press, 176 pp., $39.95). This amazing book combines otherworldly photographs of life both above and below the Antarctic ice shelf with a narrative that showcases Antarctic creatures’ battle for survival. For the diver/environment/natural history nut.

“The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History,” text by Nancy Pick, photographs by Mark Sloan, introduction by Edwar O. Wilson (HarperResource, 178 pp., $22.95). Okay, maybe it does have a dead bird on its cover (the sole surviving specimen of the Lewis & Clark expedition — a black, or Lewis, woodpecker), but this is a fascinating look at some of the specimens in Harvard’s natural history museum, including butterflies collected by writer Vladimir Nabokov and a painting of a ruffed grouse mysteriously backdated by John James Audubon.



LITERATURE


“The Annotated Sherlock Holmes,”

edited by Leslie S. Klinger, introduction by John le Carré (Norton, two volumes, 1,878 pp., $75). Two handsome, handsomely illustrated slip-cased volumes will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Holmes, Victorian England, and whether Holmes and Professor Moriarty really died when they plunged over Reichenbach Falls. Le Carré suggests reading the stories first, then the notes. This is not the complete Holmes, as Norton will publish a third volume of four Holmes novels late next year.


“American Writers at Home”

by J.D. McClatchy, photographs by Erica Lennard (Library of America, 224 pp., $50). From the spare Georgia bedroom where Flannery O’Connor spent her final years confined by lupus to Edith Wharton’s opulent “The Mount” in Massachusetts, this volume showcases the homes some of America’s greatest writers used as retreat and inspiration.


“The Annotated Brothers Grimm,”

edited and translated by Maria Tartar, introduction by A.S. Byatt (Norton, 461 pp., $35). A sumptuous volume that tells the stories behind the stories of Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Rapunzel, the Frog King and others. One of a series — Tartar, dean for the humanities and professor at Harvard, previously edited “Annotated Classic Fairy Tales.” A good primer for the “Brothers Grimm” Terry Gilliam movie scheduled for release in 2005. For a fresh set of fairy tales you’ve probably never read, check out the delightful “The Robber With a Witch’s Head: More Stories from the Great Treasury of Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales Collected by Laura Gonzenbach,” translated and with an introduction by Jack Zipes (Routledge, 272 pp., $30).

“Library of America American Poets Project,” edited by Robert Pinsky (Library of America, several volumes, $20 each). This worthwhile project aims to collect the work of every major American poet in a series of compact, well-designed volumes. This fall’s installments include the poems of John Berryman, William Carlos Williams and Amy Lowell. Library of America is a nonprofit publisher dedicated to preserving America’s most significant writing, an endeavor Newsweek called “the most important book-publishing project in the nation’s history” (www.loa.org).


HUMOR


“The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker: A Decade-by-Decade Compendium Featuring a Book with 2,500 Cartoons and 2 Compact Discs with All 68,647 Cartoons Ever Published in the Magazine,”

edited by Robert Mankoff, foreword by David Remnick, essays by writers for the New Yorker (Black Dog & Leventhal, 656 pp., $60). Enough said! Plus, a specialty item for the feline aficionado in your family: “Cockatiels For Two: A Book of Cat Cartoons by New Yorker Cartoonist Leo Cullum” (Abrams, $19.95).


RELIGION


“The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary,”

translated by Robert Alter (Norton, 1064 pp., $39.95). This new translation of the ancient text that Jews call the Torah, Christians the Pentateuch, is receiving raves for its clarity, its faithfulness to the original Hebrew and the abundant footnotes by Biblical scholar Alter that comment on the work’s language, themes and interconnections.

“The Jewish World: 365 Days, From the Collections of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem” conceived and written by Daisay Raccah-Djivre, Silvia Rosenberg, Yigal Zalmona, and the staff of the Israel Museum (Abrams, 744 pp., $32.50). An easily digestible way of absorbing Jewish culture — each day’s installment highlights an artifact, piece of art or object of everyday life from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, along with an explanation of its significance.


STOCKING STUFFERS


“Call for the Dead”

by John le Carré, foreword by P.D. James, and “A Murder of Quality” by John le Carré, foreword by Otto Penzler (Walker & Co., both 176 pp., both $18). It’s the 45th anniversary of the creation of George Smiley, le Carré’s existentially tortured Cold War spy. Many Smiley fans know him only through the trilogy of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “The Honorable Schoolboy” and “Smiley’s People,” but these nicely designed hardcover volumes introduce the character when the author was sketching his outlines, as in this sentence: “short, fat, and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like skin on a shrunken toad.”


“The Little Book of Snowflakes,”

photos and text by Kenneth Libbrecht (Voyageur Press, 96 pp., $7.95). This is a compact sampling of stunning photos by the author and photographer of last year’s “The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty.” Libbrecht is head of the physics department at Caltech — check out his work at www.snowcrystals.com.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com