This year’s recommended holiday books feature groundbreaking women and modernist masters, atlases and itineraries, fresh looks at beloved American institutions and critical investigations of the technology that permeates our everyday lives—plus one delightful cookbook.
Perfect to wrap up for a loved one or keep you company on a long winter’s night, each of these thought-provoking books is also thoughtfully designed. These are books that can hold their own on an end table—you might find yourself planning an entire room around the day-glo cover of multidisciplinary designer Gere Kavanaugh’s book.
Need more gift ideas? We’ve updated our 101 books about where and how we live and have a brand-new list of 101 Curbed-recommended books for kids and teens. And here’s last year’s list of holiday books, too.
Ezra Stoller: A Photographic History of Modern American Architecture by Pierluigi Serraino
Architects shape buildings, but architectural photographers shape how we perceive them. During the mid-20th century, one photographer had an outsize influence: Ezra Stoller, who leading practitioners like I.M. Pei, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill trusted to communicate their work and who, in turn, made them famous. This new book offers an unprecedented exploration of Stoller’s archive and what made his images so captivating. While his photographs have become one of the primary records of midcentury architecture, never before have so many of them appeared in a single tome.
Infinite Cities: A Trilogy of Atlases―San Francisco, New Orleans, New York by Rebecca Solnit, Rebecca Snedeker, and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
Over the last decade, Solnit has produced breathtakingly beautiful portraits of San Francisco, New York City, and New Orleans, as told through a series of essays plotted across annotated, illustrated maps. Now all three atlases are collected together in one boxed set that includes handsomely bound volumes, full-color maps of each city, and a bonus map of Solnit’s popular City of Women project, where she renames every New York City subway stop after a notable woman.
Midwest Architecture Journeys edited by Zach Mortice
For many, Midwest architecture starts with Frank Lloyd Wright and ends with the Gateway Arch, but this collection of heartland design rewards with dozens of works that are, by turns, eclectic, infrastructural, and indigenous, ranging from skyscrapers to grain silos—plus the odd parking lot. The book features over 30 essays by architects, critics, and journalists on notable Midwestern structures, and includes an introduction by Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange.
Herman Miller: A Way of Living by Amy Auscherman, Sam Grawe, and Leon Ransmeier
One classic piece at a time, a furniture company headquartered in Western Michigan has come to define modern design and given rise to an entire regional economy. Across 600 pages, the authors dig deep into Herman Miller’s voluminous archives, collecting anecdotes from the company’s long list of collaborators including George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard, and many more. The spellbinding history of the brand’s global impact is presented alongside snippets of Herman Miller’s corporate culture, like a recipe for a salad served at the company picnic that became part of a legendary poster series.
BBC never sold the “Great British Bake Off” as a children’s show, but it has proven a surprisingly good way to teach design-savvy kids about craft, experiment, and failure. It helps that each season has included young bakers who seem to have stepped straight from Harry Potter, Little Women or, in the case of Kim-Joy, an animated movie. In her new cookbook, the 2018 finalist shows kids (and their doting parents) how to make food as cute as a sticker collection.
The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast by Andrew Blum
Every day, a global network of scientists successfully predicts the future, and they’re getting better at it all the time: The six-day weather forecast you can get on your phone today is as good as a three-day forecast delivered on the local news in the 1980s. Yet as forecasts improve, the effects of extreme weather are getting worse, putting more people into the paths of deadly storms, floods, and heat waves. Blum’s book is a compelling, technologically astounding, and sometimes terrifying examination of how vital weather prediction has become to contemporary society.
Radical Suburbs: Experimental Living on the Fringes of the American City by Amanda Kolson Hurley
Americans have certain ideas about suburbia. But the suburbs aren’t a monolith, and as Hurley shows in her book, they never have been. From a group of anarchists who built a neighborhood of tiny homes in New Jersey, to one of the first integrated subdivisions in the country, this engaging book highlights communities that go against our stereotypical images of the suburbs in both design and social mission.
Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People edited by Mateo Kries, Jolanthe Kugler and Juhani Pallasmaa
Although he trained under the iconic modernist architect Le Corbusier and collaborated with Louis Kahn, the 91-year-old architect and first Indian recipient of the Pritzker Prize continues to design enduring buildings that are wholly suited to India’s culture, climate, and context. The first book to include all 100 projects Doshi has completed in Indian cities is as richly textured and vibrantly colorful as his work, from the groundbreaking Aranya Low Cost Housing development in Indore to the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology in Ahmedabad.
Bauhausmädels: A Tribute to Pioneering Women Artists by Patrick Rössler
A hundred years after the founding of the Bauhaus, most retrospectives focus on the school’s all-male directors, ignoring the critical role that women played in the German school that aimed to unite art, craft, and industry. This long overdue book highlights the contributions of Bauhaus women, including Marianne Brandt, Gertrud Arndt, Lucia Moholy, and more. While male students could pursue any discipline of their choosing, women were steered to a weaving workshop. But they thrived there, originating many of the signature elements of Bauhaus style—from lamps to rugs to curtains to the way every piece was photographed.
Face: A Visual Odyssey by Jessica Helfand
The designer and Design Observer co-founder masterfully blends cultural commentary and visual history into a revealing, fantastically inventive portrait of our own selves. Behind an arresting cover, 26 chapters are arranged alphabetically, one essay for each letter—B is for “biometrics”; V for “vanity”—covering seemingly innocuous subjects like sculpture and Instagram and journeying into darker topics like surveillance and facial-recognition software. Helfand’s interrogations are topical, thought-provoking, and often troubling. It is impossible to look away.
Cars: Accelerating the Modern World by Brendan Cormier and Elizabeth Bisley
Has a single product impacted the world more than the car? From Henry Ford’s assembly-line factories to visions of flying-taxi utopias, this catalog for the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition (which is up through April 19, 2020) traces how one invention commandeered our roads, cities, and lives. Although there are plenty of pages devoted to quote-unquote car culture, from the quirky Volkswagen Beetle’s ad campaign to the aerodynamic design of sports cars, the book also reads as a retrospective for the soon-to-be-transformed automobile age, with a knockout essay by urbanism writer Allison Arieff.
A Colorful Life: Gere Kavanaugh, Designer by Louise Sandhaus and Kat Catmur
Sometimes designers who work between fields on ephemeral-but-memorable exhibitions, store interiors, textiles, and graphics get left out of the histories of big buildings and big ad campaigns. This new book makes sure Kavanaugh’s career—and colorful life at home—doesn’t suffer such erasure: Between purple-pink-and-orange covers it tells the story of a prodigious Memphis girl who was the third female MFA graduate of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and was promptly hired by General Motors to market its cars and refrigerators to women.
Ballpark: Baseball in the American City by Paul Goldberger
The author, critic, and Vanity Fair contributing editor explores how the growth of baseball—from the sport’s urban roots in the late 19th century to today’s era of mega-developments and technologically advanced stadiums—mirrors the country’s views on urbanism, for better or worse. From the utilitarian beauty of early 20th-century ballparks like Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park—each nestled into its respective neighborhood—to the doughnut-shaped concrete structures that sprouted in suburbia after World War II, baseball’s growth has neatly paralleled the country’s attitudes not only about cities, but about shared civic space.
User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work, and Play by Cliff Kuang with Robert Fabricant
Getting notifications on your phone is something many people take for granted, but behind that simple interaction—your phone letting you know about a text or an Instagram like—are decades of research on how humans and technology can better communicate. Kuang’s book on user experience design is as much design history as commentary on our present-day relationship with the world at large, taking readers on an exciting journey from the harrowing Three Mile Island partial nuclear reactor meltdown to the Facebook “like” button and beyond. In the process it opens our eyes to the many ways human behavior has been affected by designers striving to make their products “user friendly”—and the unintentional consequences that arise from that aspiration.
Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World by Jacques Barsac, Sebastien Cherruet, and Pernette Perriand
As the designer of Le Corbusier’s interiors, including a modular kitchen for his Unité d’Habitation, Perriand achieved international recognition. But the French designer’s work went beyond Corbu collaborations, creating timeless pieces using then-experimental materials like tubular chrome, aluminum, and bamboo across an eight-decade career. (She died in 1999.) The catalog of the acclaimed Fondation Louis Vuitton show (on view through February 24, 2020) includes essays that firmly assert Perriand’s influence—not only within the design world, but as a passionate advocate for social housing.