Columns > Published on December 9th, 2016

7 Coffee Table Books for the Nerd in Your Life

It's so easy to give crappy books as gifts, especially oversized ones meant for the coffee table. If you found it at the chain bookstore in the discount section, it probably sucks. Don't spend your money that way! Coffee table books are a weird book type, aren't they? They're like their own genre, encompassing other genres that involve pictures. Who reads a novel in coffee table format? Nobody. But everyone accepts a fashion retrospective in oversize as legitimate. Personally, I will lust for years after certain oversize titles, but never buy them for myself, because when does it make sense to drop that kind of cash on a giant book? But receiving it as a gift is the best. The best! So go make someone's holiday with one of these fantastic titles from my personal wish list (nudge,nudge).

'Anatomy in Black' by Emily Evans

Even the title sounds cool. Billing itself as "a sophisticated coffee table book for anatomy lovers," Anatomy in Black is like a macabre love story rendered in gold ink on black paper. The author, Emily Evans, is a degreed scientist who makes a living as a medical illustrator. Her images are beautiful and precise with just the right amount of detail. It is the Gray's Anatomy for the modern reader.

Buy Anatomy in Black from


'Dinosaurs — The Grand Tour: Everything Worth Knowing About Dinosaurs from Aardonyx to Zuniceratops' by Keiron Pim and Jack Horner

If you're like me and grew up learning that dinosaurs all looked like giant iguanas, prepare to have your mind blown. Did you know that some of them had feathers or quills? This book will catch you up on all the latest discoveries through tables, narratives, and detailed illustrations. It very much feels like a traditional field guide, like your Peterson's for birds (you have one, right?), but for super interesting creatures that lived millions of years ago.

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'Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide' by Josh Katz

A fantastic home-for-the-holidays book. Doesn't everyone like to chat with their relatives about how they say things the "right" way? This book provides one with evidence. Taking large sets of survey data collected in 2013 through a New York Times interactive quiz, Katz creates visualizations that map regional linguistic differences. It's absolutely fascinating to read about how all you weirdos talk.

Buy Speaking American at


'Where's Warhol?' by Catherine Ingram and Andrew Rae

A book for the art snob to show off just how snobby they are. Andrew Rae's illustrations place our friend Andy Warhol in scenes recreated from famous artistic works, like Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. I dare you to name every reference to art history in these pages. I found Basquiat first!

Buy Where's Warhol? from


'Pheromone' by Christopher Marley

Insects are the coolest. No, really, they are! If you have ever even considered purchasing a mounted butterfly to hang on your wall, then this is the book for you. Christopher Marley is an artist who uses animal and insect bodies (or as he calls it, "preserved natural specimens") as his medium. Pheromone was his first major work and focuses on artful arrangements of insects. What's amazing is the fact that he didn't alter the colors at all - nature just is that loud.

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Rebecca Solnit's Atlas Trilogy

OMG, these are so interesting. Rebecca Solnit takes a Howard Zinn approach to the three cities in her trilogy: San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York. She interviews professionals from the most widely disparate fields (for example: geology and music history) to create a portrait that is historical, physical, and human. Each book contains a number of fascinating and beautiful maps that show things like settlement over time or butterfly habitats and queer public spaces.

Buy a Solnit Atlas from


'Grace: The American Vogue Years'

Not just a pretty picture book! Anyone who has seen The September Issue knows Grace Coddington is the real star at American Vogue, not Anna Wintour. Those lush, fairy tale vignettes for which Vogue is so famous are the product of Coddington's artistic direction. This hefty tome captures some of the best photo shoots from her long career. Please, someone make Grace Coddington a vampire; we really can't afford to ever lose her.

Buy Grace from

Add your must-haves for the nerd in your life to the comments!

About the author

Stephanie Bonjack is an academic librarian based in Boulder, Colorado. She teaches the relentless pursuit of information, and illuminates the path to discovery. She has presented at national and international library conferences, and is especially interested in how libraries evolve to serve the needs of 21st century patrons. When she’s not sleuthing in the stacks, she enjoys chasing her toddler across wide open spaces.

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