The 30 Essential Coffee-Table Books of 2018
By Walker Loetscher / December 21, 2018 9:00 am

Coffee-table books say as much about the people who own them as the people who write them.

They exist not to be read, but rather to comment favorably on the good tastes of their owner.

But the coffee-table book is also a time capsule of the era that bore it. Flip to the title page, locate the publishing date, and you’ll have a window into the things people valued in that moment: what they ate, where they lived, how they dressed.

So consider this a look back at the lifestyle trends of 2018, as memorialized by 30 of the most beautiful hard-bound photographic tomes that were released this year.

From old-school hip-hop chronicles to luxury watches to four diverse takes on the human body in all its birthday-suited glory, a feast for the eyes awaits.

AMERICAN CULTURE

New York by New York by Wendell Jamieson
Assouline
Checking in at 11 lbs. and 368 pages, this volume features photos, illustrations and excerpts from a who’s who of the city’s most prominent shutterbugs, artist and writers through the ages.

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Tangentially Parenthetical by Ed Templeton
Um Yeah Arts
Gents of a certain age will remember Ed Templeton as a legendary pro skateboarder and founder of Toy Machine in the 1990s, perhaps not realizing that in later years he’s carved out quite the niche for himself as a celebrated photographer and contemporary artist. His new, limited edition book “tells hundreds of new stories through the thoughtful arrangement of semi-related, yet completely unfastened imagery” — we’ll translate that to “takes you on a fun mental journey via weird photos that kinda maybe don’t seem like they go together, but maybe kinda do.” Also comes with a signed limited-edition print that, if Templeton’s current trajectory holds, may be worth a pretty penny someday.

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Christopher Street, 1976 by Sunil Gupta
Stanley Barker
Before the AIDS crisis and after Stonewall, New York’s gay community had, in many senses, its Golden Age. This is photographer and activist Sunil Gupta’s definitive yet highly personal portrait of that cultural moment, as told through the intimate black-and-white photos he snapped while wandering the West Village.

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The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual by Andrew Moisey
Daylight Books
Since its infancy, the survival of American frat culture has depended on a pact of omertà among its members: brotherhood and loyalty above all, even when upholding those values breaches ethical and legal boundaries. Thus, this book represents a watershed moment, insofar as photographer Andrew Moisey was allowed unfettered access to document the rites, rituals and bacchanals of a chapter at UC Berkeley from 2000-2006. The results are expectedly upsetting; whether they’ll provoke a reaction from the culture at large remains to be seen.

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Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents by Pete Souza
Little, Brown and Company
This provocative book from former White House photographer Souza juxtaposes behind-the-scenes photos from the tenure of our 44th president with tweets, headlines and quotes from the tenure of our 45th. No matter your opinion on either, the dissonance is striking.

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CONSUMPTION

Choose Your Wine in 7 Seconds: Instantly Understand Any Wine With Confidence by Stephane Rosa and Jess Grinneiser
Rizzoli
As a paperback, your correspondents weren’t quite sure if this qualified as a “coffee table book,” but ultimately the prospect of an idiot-proof infographic guide to the traditionally flowery world of wine description triumphed over our concerns over cover rigidity. User friendly, intuitive and most importantly, designed to have you navigating even the most intimidating wine list like a champ in no time.

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Cocaïn: History and Culture
Assouline
Before the glamor and destruction, cocaine was best known for its (alleged) therapeutic benefits, which date back centuries and span cultures and continents. Cocaïn attempts to chart that evolution, separating fact from fiction in terms both biological and anthropological.

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Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald and David Kaplan
Ten Speed Press
The team behind NYC’s Death & Co deliver a beautiful looking cocktail book (natch), but it’s the presentation here that should get you excited. Basically, the authors start with six core cocktails that you know and love (from the Old Fashioned to the Daiquiri) and progress the recipes from there. Once you understand these drink templates, you can truly begin to master cocktailing.

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The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi and David Zilber
Artisan
Chef René Redzepi abides a philosophy of hyper-locality, asserting that any region’s cuisine should be dependent on the ingredients afforded by its surroundings. In Copenhagen, where his exalted restaurant Noma is located, that means getting creative when the notably barren Scandinavian winter sets in. Thus, Redzepi has developed some of the most complex methods of preservation on earth — methods that he shares in detail here for DIY gastronomes everywhere.

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STYLE

Rolex: The Impossible Collection by Fabienne Reybaud
Assouline
Really, what’s left to say about Rolex? Enough to fill 194 pages, apparently. Arranged by Fabienne Reybaud, senior editor of watches and jewelry for the French newspaper Le Figaro, this volume tracks down Rolex enthusiasts around the globe to evince a comprehensive brand profile that stretches all the way back to 1905.

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The Complete Highsnobiety Guide to Street Fashion and Culture
Gestalten
As the Venn diagram of music, art, fashion and street culture continues to overlap, global authorities Highsnobiety affirm their place as the movement’s unofficial historians with their first hardcover tome. Featuring treatises on everything from Commes des Garcon to Pusha-T, a must-own for sneaker-sportin’ devotees of the era of creative crossover.

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Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe by Stan Smith
Rizzoli
Smith’s brilliantly titled tome charts the meteoric rise of his iconic tennis sneaker, complete with historical photos, treatises from style mavens like Raf Simmons and Pharrell and an exclusive portrait series shot by artist Juergen Teller. But the recollections and anecdotes from Stan the Man himself provide wonderful insight into the former world champ and the era in which he played as well.

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Rankin: Unfashionable, 30 Years of Photography by Rankin
Rizzoli
Few have left such an indelible mark on the worlds of fashion, photography and popular culture as British polymath Rankin, who personally edited this, the first retrospective of his entire career. Three decades of provocative imagery (remember a topless Heidi Klum defiantly flipping the bird?) are highlighted, from portraits to fashion spreads to the artists earliest polaroids.

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SKIN

#SENDNUDES by Iman Whitfield
teNeues
A meme turned artsy photo tome, these are nudes as selected by some of the world’s most well-known erotic and professional photographers. Overseen by fashion film director Iman Whitfield, the book presents sensuality from a more female-driven perspective than its counterparts (and feel free to use that line).

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David Lynch, Nudes by David Lynch
Thames and Hudson
Sensual? Sure. But also rather abstract and certainly inspired by film noir — lots of shadows, canted close-ups and cigarette smoke here. Why nudes? Here, Lynch is far less mysterious. In a press release, the director noted, “I like to photograph naked women … It is amazing and magic to see how different [they] are.”

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Mirror Mirror by Ryan McGinley
Rizzoli
From shooting drug-fueled downtown NYC denizens for the early days of VICE magazine to Brad Pitt tumbling down sand dunes for GQ style, Ryan McGinley has always had an innate ability to capture his cohorts in moments that are at once visceral and strangely poignant. This go-round, the celebrated photographer asked more than 100 friends and colleagues (whom he provided with a camera and detailed instructions) to shoot nude portraits of themselves using mirrors and other props. McGinley himself then chose which image of each subject to publish. Impactful, intimate work, that, while not shot by his own hand, is very much in keeping with the traditions of his aesthetic.

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Kate: Photographs of Kate Moss by Mario Sorrenti
Phaidon
“I remember sitting next to her and feeling like my heart was going to stop; her beauty overwhelmed me.” For most, the person who evokes that sort of teenage love-at-first-sight declaration is long gone. For fashion photographer Mario Sorrenti, who’s responsible for this particular ode, that person is Kate Moss.

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MUSIC, FILM AND LITERATURE

Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz
Spiegel & Grau
Not your typical music biography. Ad-Rock and Mike D, the surviving members of the seminal NYC hip-hop group, not only spill on their past — they also present a cookbook by chef Roy Choi, a graphic novel, a map of Beastie Boys New York, mixtape playlists and guest contributions from the likes of Amy Poehler, Wes Anderson and Colson Whitehead).

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Stanley Kubrick Photographs: Through a Different Lens by Luc Sante
Taschen
Every great artist has a beginning, and for Stanley Kubrick, it involved working as a lifestyle photographer for Look Magazine in 1940s New York. This book collects those shots, along with tear sheets from the magazine and liner notes that paint a veritable portrait of the filmmaker as a young man.

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Hip Hop at the End of the World: The Photography of Brother Ernie by Ernest Paniccioli
Rizzoli
More than 250 vintage snaps documenting the evolution of hip hop and the artists who shaped it on both coasts, featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes images of everyone from Biggie to Tupac to N.W.A., all accompanied by Brother Ernie’s personal anecdotes and candid stories behind the images.

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The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons, Deluxe Edition by Bob Mankoff
Black Dog & Leventhal
For 20 years, Bob Mankoff oversaw one of the most rigorous, demanding and storied departments in all of print journalism: the cartoon section at the New Yorker. It appears he’s not slowing down in his retirement, having since spearheaded the publication of this Odyssean project — a two-volume, 1,500-page cartoon almanac that dates back to 1924. Only 1,000 copies will be made.

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Point of View: Me, New York City and the Punk Scene by Chris Stein
Rizzoli
Who better to document the gritty punk heyday of ‘70s NYC than one of its most influential luminaries? Blondie founder/guitarist Chris Stein’s new collection of vintage photographs feature iconic scenesters from William Burroughs to Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol to Iggy Pop, all set against “New York City streetscapes in all their most longed-for romance and dereliction.”

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Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin
Reel Art Press
Released in October to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the (all-time greatest?) band’s formation, this paperweight of a picturebook features hundreds of photos from the road, stage and everywhere in between, many of them from the members’ personal archives and seen here for the first time.

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SCIENCE & NATURE

Animal Kingdom: A Collection of Portraits by Randal Ford
Rizzoli
There’s something amazingly incongruous about seeing wild animals in a portrait studio setting — hats off to acclaimed shutterbug Randal Ford for using this incongruity to imbue a zoo’s worth of fauna with a degree of (often hilarious) humanity not previously seen.

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Space Is Cool as Fuck by Kate Howells
Lost the Plot
“Everything you thought you could never understand about the universe … explained in plain-old filthy English.” Plus: vibrant, full-page illustrations from 40 artists and an in-depth interview with Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

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Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs from a Year in Space by Scott Kelly
Knopf
Regardless of their creed, race, gender or nationality, nearly every human who’s ever been to space uses similar words to describe the experience: the beauty, the vastness, the immediate and overwhelming sensation of our own human insignificance. And while photographs could never do that condition justice, Kelly’s snaps — which were taken on a Nikon D4 over the period of his year on the Space Station — are surely the closest most of us will ever get.

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WORLD CULTURE

Inside North Korea by Olivier Wainwright
Taschen
A good companion piece to Kelly’s Infinite Wonder (see above), if only because a glimpse into North Korea — to a Westerner — is nearly as foreign and unfathomable as a glimpse into the cosmos. Rebuilt almost from scratch after the Korean War, the city of Pyongyang is an architectural wonderland in an otherwise dismal place, full of color, eccentricity and mid-century design motifs.

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African Twilight: The Vanishing Rituals and Ceremonies of the African Continent by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher
Rizzoli
Beckwith and Fisher have 40 years of African fieldwork under their photographic belts, the last 15 of which were spent seeking out remote communities to record “the sacred ceremonies, powerful art forms, and boundless creativity” — an astounding and heartbreaking 40 percent of which has already vanished of this writing.

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Hideouts: Grand Vacations in Tiny Getaways by Gestalten
This tome shrinks the concept of house porn down to a modest, manageable size, showcasing ambitious, attractive cabins, huts, tiny homes and more from around the globe.

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All the Buildings in London (That I’ve Drawn So Far) by James Gulliver Hancock
Rizzoli
Hancock’s previous illustrative love letter to New York was so popular that the Australian artist elected to take his show across the pond — part Roald Dahl whimsy, part architectural study, Hancock’s offbeat style masterfully captures everything from Buckingham Palace to the London Eye. Impossible not to smile while reading.

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All images via publishers