It's not hard to find wonderful books to give as holiday gifts. The hard part is deciding which book to give. This season, as in past years, the selection is gloriously, confusingly varied.
To help clarify matters, here's a sampling of the wide range of the latest books:
There's nothing wrong with finding bugs in your holiday gift--so long as those bugs are in the book "Bugs" (Black Dog & Leventhal, $24.98), by Frank Lowenstein and Sheryl Lechner.
Before you smugly squash another bug, consider this: If humans disappeared from Earth, insects would barely notice; but if insects disappeared, the world's ecological balance would be disastrously disrupted, the book claims.
This large--almost 14 inches square--book contains hundreds of bug facts and hundreds of color photos showing insects many times their normal size.
From crickets to cockroaches, mayflies to moths, beetles to butterflies, various insect species are explored in several ways: behavior, eating habits, social and sex lives, physical features and development, enemies, food, habitats and relationship to humans.
"Bugs" is one of several books that the people on your holiday gift list might enjoy exploring.
Among other choices:
* "Tulipa" (Artisan, $65), by Willem Lemmers. Text and 350 color photos by Christopher Baker capture Dutch tulips at the peak of their beauty.
* "Secret Worlds" (Firefly, $35), by Stephen Dalton. More than 125 high-speed close-up photos freeze the actions of birds, insects, animals and plants.
* "Egyptian Treasures From the Egyptian Museum in Cairo" (Abrams, $75), edited by Francesco Tiradritti, photographs by Araldo De Luca.
Lovers of Egyptian art need look no further. This sumptuous book gives the reader a private tour of a priceless collection, the legacy of one of the world's most intriguing civilizations. Its overview covers early and late periods, more than 5,000 years of art: sculpture, paintings, jewelry, furniture and ceramics.
This is a large-format book, its lavish illustrations laced with enough informative and scholarly text to keep a recipient enthralled well into the next millennium.
* "Surrealism: Two Private Eyes" (Guggenheim-Abrams, $95) is a massive, two-volume, slip-cased set that surveys the collections of surrealist art assembled by magazine publisher Daniel Filipacchi and record producer Nesuhi Ertegun.
The highly rated collections were publicly exhibited for the first time at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum earlier this year. These volumes are made up almost entirely of full-page color reproductions of the works--there are more than 1,000 illustrations.
For anyone who's a fan of surrealism, its fantasies, dreams and nightmares, this is a special treasure. The collections include paintings, sculpture, photographs, works on paper and rare books, by most of the movement's leading artists, from Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte to Giorgio de Chirico and Frida Kahlo.
The books were edited by Filipacchi, with essays contributed by art historians and scholars.
* "French Art Treasures at the Hermitage: Splendid Masterpieces, New Discoveries" (Abrams, $75), by Albert Kostenevich, gives readers multiple insights: handsome reproductions of legendary artworks and an insider's comments about them.
Kostenevich is the curator of modern European art at the museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, so who better to have as a guide to its wealth of French art from 1860 to 1950? The tour only starts with some 60 works by Matisse and 40 by Picasso; the tally of other artists represented and illustrated meanders richly, via Manet and Monet, Gauguin and Rodin, and on through a familiar litany of revered names.
The author's stories about the works smoothly combine individual history with art history, and the illustrations include six gatefolds.
* "Monet and Bazille: A Collaboration" (High Museum of Art-Abrams, $24.95) is about the relationship between Claude Monet and his fellow artist Frederic Bazille as they struggled to develop the new style of painting that became Impressionism.
* "Faces of Impressionism" (Baltimore Museum of Art-Rizzoli, $50), by Sona Johnston et al., is related to a current exhibition of portraits.
* "Art in Venice" (Abrams, $39.99), by Stefano Zuffi. Text and about 500 color plates take readers on a chronological tour of Venetian art--paintings, sculpture, architecture and decorative arts--from the Byzantine era through the Renaissance and into the modern age. Artists represented include Bellini, Carpaccio, Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto.
* "Buildings That Changed the World" (Prestel, $29.95), by Klaus Reichold and Bernhard Graf takes readers on a series of picturesque visits to 180 remarkable structures, spanning at least 5,000 years.
Start with Stonehenge, a magnificent mystery looming out of the shadows of prehistoric times. As a grand finale, contemplate a visionary design for a Millennium Tower, twice as tall as Chicago's Sears Tower, that has not yet been built.