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20 Greatest Coffee Table Books of All Time

Updated October 9, 2019 655.2k views20 items

Nothing says refined like a fancy coffee table book to add that perfect touch to your living room. Depending on what it is, it can say a lot about your interests, your style, and overall eye for design. For instance, if you want to impress your guests and show off your good taste, a renown photography coffee table book can go a long way. Or perhaps you just bought a new coffee table and you need something to put on it. Maybe you don't care about all of this; you just want a cool coffee table book. Whatever the case, you can get some great ideas here with this list of the best coffee table books ever. From classics like Robert Frank's The Americans to something a little less specific like National Geographic: The Photographs, there are some great coffee table books right here. 

Whether you're looking to add a cool touch to your living room or just love big books full of pictures, you'll get some great ideas below.

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    Muscle men, midgets, socialites, circus performers, and asylum inmates: in the 1950s and 1960s, photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971) cast her strong eye on them all, capturing them as no one else could. Her documentary-style photos of society's margin-walkers were objective and reverential, while she often portrayed so-called normal people looking far more freakish than the freaks. Her powerful work was well-received in its day. Arbus received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and 1966 and was included in a major show at MOMA in 1967. But her work entered the realm of near-myth after her 1971 suicide.

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    Vanity Fair magazine has a reputation as one of the preeminent showcases for portraits in the world, and this book gathers together a good chunk of them in all their glossy, artificial splendor. There's almost as much celebrity behind the lens as in front of it: Edward Steichen, Herb Ritts, Mario Testino, David LaChapelle and of course, Annie Leibovitz are all included, and the portraits themselves amount to a who's who of culture and politics, with the quality of the images justifying the inclusion of the occasional lesser-known figures.

    The photographs have been arranged to supply the reader with subtle (and not so subtle) visual and cultural frisson: what are we meant to think when Joseph Goebbels is juxtaposed with Richard Perle? In a face-off between Rob Lowe and Louise Brooks, who has the most glamorous jaw line? For posing questions such as this, and for the production values and sheer scale, not to mention introductory essays by Graydon Carter, Christopher Hitchens, Terence Pepper and David Friend, this is a book that will no doubt be adorning the coffee tables of the world's culture brokers for many years to come.

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    Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) is one of the most influential and beloved figures in the history of photography. His inventive work of the early 1930s helped define the creative potential of modern photography. Following World War II, he helped found the Magnum photo agency, which enabled photojournalists to reach a broad audience through magazines, such as Life, while retaining control over their work. Cartier-Bresson would go on to produce major bodies of photographic reportage, capturing such events as China during the revolution, the Soviet Union after Stalin's death, the United States in the postwar boom, and Europe as its older cultures confronted modern realities.

    Published to accompany an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, this is the first major publication to make full use of the extensive holdings of the Fondation Cartier-Bresson-including thousands of prints and a vast resource of documents relating to the photographer's life and work. The heart of the book surveys Cartier-Bresson's career through 300 photographs divided into 12 chapters. While many of his most famous pictures are included, a great number of images will be unfamiliar, even to specialists. A wide-ranging essay by Peter Galassi, Chief Curator of Photography at the Museum, offers an entirely new understanding of Cartier-Bresson's extraordinary career and its overlapping contexts of journalism and art. The extensive supporting material– featuring detailed chronologies of the photographer's professional travels and of spreads of his picture stories as they appeared in magazines– will revolutionize the study of Cartier-Bresson's work.

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    This stunning volume was the gift book of the year when it first published, and the images that grace its pages remain iconic. From the famous Afghan girl whose haunting green eyes stare out from the book’s cover, and her poignant story that captured the world’s interest, to award-winning photography culled from the Society’s vast archives, The Photographs offers readers an inside look at National Geographic and a sharp-eyed view of the world.

    The book showcases the skill and imagination of such notable Geographic photographers as David Doubilet, William Albert Allard, Sam Abell, Jim Stanfield, Jodi Cobb, Jim Brandenburg, David Alan Harvey, and many more. They share their techniques, as well as personal and colorful anecdotes about individual images and their adventures in the field—sometimes humorous, sometimes terrifying, always vividly compelling. Author Leah Bendavid-Val writes about the photographers’ achievements from technical, journalistic, and artistic perspectives.

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