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Gift Books for the Literate

These are a few of our favorite doorstops

Bookstores are overflowing with "gift books" this time of year, most of them filled with beautiful and expensive fluff: the joy of Labrador retrievers, scenes of Provence, luxurious home interiors, the magic of tattoos, whatever. But, as we've noted here before, publishers also produce gift books "for people who actually read." Here are some recommendations of great gift books you can buy for that lucky minority.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction (Warner, 240 pages, $24.95).

The laughs are harder to come by on Stewart's Daily Show since the election, but this satirical history of democracy picks up the slack. The mock textbook takes on the glories and foibles of politics and civic life in a way you'd expect from Daily Show writers. We particularly liked topics like "Ancient Rome: The First Republicans" and "The Founding Fathers: Young, Gifted, and White," among many, many others.

Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Musicals of All Time by Ken Bloom & Frank Vlastnik (Black Dog & Leventhal, 336 pages $34.95).

Broadway: The American Musical by Michael Kantor, Laurence Maslon (Bulfinch Press, 480 pages, $60).

You can't go wrong with either of these books on Broadway musicals, America's homegrown version of popular opera. The Kantor/Maslon book accompanies the recent PBS series and is a more detailed and captivating history with plenty of photos. The Bloom/Vlastnik work is big and splashy, more select in its coverage, but still very knowledgeable and full of great photos.

Native Universe by Clifford E. Trafzer (National Geographic, 320 pages, $40).

Published in conjunction with the opening of the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, Native Universe could have easily been 600 pages long. It's magnificent, containing a deep representation of Native American artwork, mythology and history relayed through essays, poems and more than 300 color illustrations. It'll definitely make you want to see the museum.

Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker by Robert Mankoff, David Remnick (Black Dog & Leventhal, 655 pages, $60).

The New Yorker is where American single-panel cartoons became an artform. Finally, for the first time, ALL of the magazine's cartoons are available, making this a genuine publishing event. The book itself features the best of each decade, plus you get two CDs, Windows and Mac compatible, with every "toon in New Yorker history. FYI, that's over 68,000 cartoons.

In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon, 42 pages, $19.95).

The author/artist of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus returns with a large, complex, delightful, harrowing and at times hilarious work in reaction to being in lower Manhattan on 9-11-01. This genuine masterpiece is a combination of journal, therapeutic unloading, political screaming, and homage to the comic strip genre itself.

The Architecture and Design of Man and Woman: The Marvel of the Human Body, Revealed by Alexander Tsiaris (Doubleday Canada, 264 pages, $50).

This astonishing and beautiful book uses advanced medical and computer technology -- including ultra powerful microscopes, body scans and molecular surveillance tools -- to reveal and explain the male and the female human bodies in all their complexity. In the process, Tsiaris emphasizes the body's elaborately constructed systems and reveals structures that have never been seen before, from the molecular level up.

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