Coffee table books are the ultimate luxury item.
They do not exist to be read (save for a cursory 20 minutes after first arriving in your possession), but rather to sit and be pretty and comment favorably on the good taste of their owner — akin to the throw folded over your sofa or the estate-sale knickknackery adorning your mantle.
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, the pop culture figures of yore they held in highest nostalgic regard.
So let’s take a look at 2015, as memorialized by 30 of the most beautiful hard-bound photographic tomes that were released this year.
1. Cabin Porn
Little, Brown and Company
Based on a popular blog of the same name that has amassed pictures and stories of more than 12,000 DIY cabins, huts and treehouses over the past six years, this 336-page tome promises to provide “an inspiration for your quiet place somewhere.”
2. The New Nomads
The nomadic lifestyle of young urbanites coupled with an unprecedented premium on space-saving has given rise to a new branch of design and architecture obsessed with modularity, efficiency and mobility. New Nomads celebrates the best products and dwellings born of that movement, from pre-fab houses on wheels to intelligent luggage to an inflatable classroom.
3. Jutaku: Japanese Houses
Contemporary Japanese architecture comes in many shapes and sizes, as evidenced by this colorful, country-spanning book that features one image of one house per page.
ART + DESIGN
4. NASA Graphics Standards Manual
Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth
A hardcover recreation of the graphical standards manual created by visual designer firm Danne & Blackburn for NASA in 1975 and used until its discontinuation in 1992 (then printed in a spiral-binder format).
5. Tales from the Loop
Design Studio Press
Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag became an Internet sensation in 2013 when he first began publishing his eerie, dystopian tableaux that juxtapose austere, barren landscapes with urban decay, hulking robots and vaguely familiar sci-fi machinery. Those images are collected for the first time in Tales from the Loop, with a second volume (Swedish Machines, Lonely Places) soon to follow after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
6. The Weegee Guide to New York
Arthur "Weegee" Fellig is considered the godfather of American tabloid photography and perhaps the greatest chronicler of life in New York City. From crime to poverty to everyday goings-on, this 432-page volume featuring new and old photos paints a gritty, unflinching portrait of pre-war New York.
7. Inside Chefs’ Fridges, Europe
You will probably never cook like one of the world's greatest chefs ... but at least now you can buy their groceries. This book surveys the larders of 40 of Europe's premier toques, including the top two from 2015's World's Best Restaurant List and a grand sum of 40 Michelin Stars boasted between the lot of them.
8. Crafted Meat: The New Meat Culture
If you’re of the mind that eating good meat is as much a way of life as it is a vehicle for conveying protein from plate to plasma, this volume of insider knowledge and mind-the-drool photography is your new bible.
Phaidon continues its conquest of the cookbook scene with a graphic-heavy ode to tacos. Inside: recipes, interviews and an in-depth history of Mexico’s most beloved export.
10. Helmut Newton: Polaroids
Shutterbug Helmut Newton is best known for his provocative shoots for just about every name in high-end glossy: Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Playboy. But this new book shows a wholly different — if equally erotic — side of his work: the Polaroids he frequently shot on-set to test for lighting and composition.
11. Miss Lonely
Take it from photographer/publisher Asher Moss: "It's like a dirty magazine from the sixties, except huge and 246 pages of pure unadulterated class. Put down your phone and pick up this god damn beast of a book." Need we say more?
12. 50 Years of the Pirelli Calendar
Did you ever want to see every supermodel of note from the last half century completely starkers in one place? 'Course you did. And Pirelli — the Italian tire company that's been releasing the world's sexiest calendar since 1963 — has you covered with this gorgeous, 576-page ode to bare skin.
13. The Stylish Life Series
Comprising six exquisitely designed, heavy-on-the-hand volumes ("Football," "Yachting," "Golf," "Tennis," "Skiing" and "Equestrian"), this deep dive into the intersection of sport and fashion is a memorial to good dressers past and — since fashion, like history, is cyclical — a preview of good dressers future.
14. Denim Dudes
Laurence King Publishing
A spiritual opposite to the Stylish Life series, this title celebrates the bedrock of every man's wardrobe, be he prep, rockabilly, hipster or beatnik. Inside: more than 80 men in their favorite pair of jeans alongside interviews with and profiles of some of the most important players in the denim industry.
15. Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture
From 19th century running spikes to the original Air Force One, from Doctor J’s Converses to Kanye West’s “What the hell are those?”, Out of the Box scours shoe reserves far and wide (think museums, private collections, the archives of Nike and Adidas, etc.) to produce this definitive history of sneakerhead culture.
16. James Bond: Cars
Aurum Press Ltd.
A visual history of the rare and classic autos featured in the Bond films, including those piloted by his nemeses and love lust interests. Also featured: the zonky spy-gadgets and gear used by JB, complete with technical specs and trivia that’ll pique the interest of any vintage fetishist.
17. Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!
For automotives of the vintage and sporting variety, auction house Bonhams is gospel. The large format pictures herein are porn for classic auto enthusiasts, and provide evidence of the gap between cars as art and cars as tools.
18. The Ride, 2nd Gear
The past few years have seen a major boom in the custom-built motorcycle scene, and this book — along with its companion first edition, published in 2013 — is the definitive guide on the subject. Every two-wheeler featured inside is impressive, built-to-spec and completely one-of-a-kind.
19. Arctica: The Vanishing North
Polar explorer and esteemed photojournalist Sebastian Copeland goes in depth into the majesty and uncertain future of one of the world’s most astounding (and endangered) regions: the North Pole.
20. 59 Illustrated National Parks
Anderson Design Group
An inside book for the outdoorsman featuring full-color posters — 59 of ‘em — history, travel tips and more. Touted as a keepsake for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, this one’s sure to stand the test of time.
21. Expanding Universe: Photos from the Hubble Space Telescope
Arguably one of the most important developments in recent history, the Hubble Space Telescope has blasted open our understanding of the universe — and our place in it. In full color and high definition, this book celebrates the technical as well as photographic wonders of one of humanity’s greatest inventions.
22. It All Dies Anyway: LA, Jabberjaw and the End of an Era
L.A. “coffeehouse art gallery” Jabberjaw’s 1989 opening made serious waves in the nation’s underground punk and indie music and art scenes durings its eight-year lifespan. Its story reaches an even wider audience with this new release, a final collaboration between the club’s owners and the musicians, artists and ruffians who convened there.
23. Saturday Night Live: The Book
From the first time Chevy Chase broke character at the end of a “cold open” to holler, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” to the heydays of Belushi, Radner, Murphy Farley, Carvey, Ferrell and Wiig, this very official history of TV’s longest running variety show more than meets the price of admission.
24. 101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die
Gorgeous illustrations, compelling graphic design and exceptional curation are on offer in this colorful ode to our shared musical history. Pick it up anytime you’re in a rut and need a little musical pick-me-up — there’s something in there to suit every mood and occasion.
25. Exquisite Mayhem: The Spectacular and Erotic World of Wrestling
Billed as “blood, sweat and bikinis” by publisher Taschen, this mostly black-and-white volume explores the gritty beginnings of American professional wrestling, as captured by indie photog Theo Ehret throughout Los Angeles from the early 1960s to the late 1980s.
26. 1/1000th: The Sports Photography of Bob Martin
Vision Sports Publishing
Referencing camera speed as well as the every-millisecond-matters nature of elite athletic competition, 1/1000th is a compendium of the work of accomplished sports photographer Bob Martin, long-time documentarian of some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events, from the Olympics to Wimbledon.
27. The Fisherman’s Son: The Spirit of Ramón Navarro
Published by outdoor goods giant Patagonia, The Fisherman’s Son tells the story of Chilean surfer Ramón Navarro and his stunning coastal homeland of Punta de Lobos — a region that has come under threat in recent years from commercial interests. Bonus: a portion of the proceeds from every book sold will help support Navarro’s efforts to protect Chile’s wildlands.
28. Hunting: Legendary Rifles
A rifle is, above all, a machine that serves a purpose. But some rifles are far more than that — some rifles are veritable works of art. You’ll find those rifles scattered throughout the pages of this beautiful title from Assouline, a meditation on the rich tradition, supreme functionality and superb craftsmanship that have long been fundamental to gunmaking.
29. Green: A Field Guide to Marijuana
An dizzyingly thorough handbook for the refined toker. What you won’t find: tons of totally groovy ganja lingo or instructions on how to roll a righteous doob. What you will find: an in-depth introduction to the botany and diversity of one of the world’s oldest, uh, medicinal supplements.
30. Psychedelic Sex
LSD and free love invaded glossy men’s mags during the late '60s, adorning the centerfolds with some pretty wild psychedelic imagery. Art publisher TASCHEN’s collected the best of flower-power-era sexiness in their latest hardcover.