Books of the Season

Our selection of the year's best in art and architecture.

ANSEL ADAMS AT 100 As a young man, Ansel Adams wrote of a trip into the California mountains: "I was suddenly arrested in the long crunching path up the ridge by an exceedingly pointed awareness of the light. . . . I saw more clearly than I have ever seen before or since the minute detail of the grasses, the clusters of sand shifting in the wind . . . the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks. There are no words to convey the moods of those moments." Adams did write voluminously (letters, books, and technical guides), but he best captured those moods in his photographs. And though critics have tended to view his work with aloof admiration, he remains an artist whose highly personal visions of transcendent nature became, for better or worse, highly public icons of majestic America.

Ansel Adams at 100 (Little, Brown; $150) accompanies a show of the same name (now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), and this austere, elegantly produced volume is its own work of art. John Szarkowski, director emeritus of the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art, in New York, has made a selection of photographs that is, he writes, "a product of a thorough review of work that Adams, at various times in his career, considered important." There are the expected spectacular views of Yosemite's Half Dome and El Capitan, under brilliant sun and fulminating thunderheads; the piercingly clear winter sunrise over the Sierra Nevada; and the serene October moonrise (Halloween night, it's noted) over Hernandez, New Mexico. But there are also lesser-known images—such as rock formations of the Alabama Hills, in the eastern Sierra (top), and a low-key view of rain-covered grasses in Alaska. The book's portrait is not one of a famous photography titan but of a supremely gifted and disciplined artist whose expressions of spirit are, yes, sometimes heavy-handed, but many more times sublime.

— Andrew Long

GREAT MASTERS OF MEXICAN FOLK ART A bright compendium of work by contemporary artisans of Mexico. Among the most striking pieces are a tower of emerald-green glazed clay pots by Neftalí Ayungua Suárez and Francisco Coronel Navarro's fantastically colored wood chest. ABRAMS; $85.

ROBERT POLIDORI: HAVANA Photographer Polidori's seductive and moving album of crumbling facades along the Malecón; atmospheric interior views of grandly faded marble entrance halls, pastel bedrooms, and moldering living rooms; and still-running, pre-Revolutionary Fords, Oldsmobiles, and Chevrolets. STEIDL/D.A.P.; $75.

MANET: THE STILL-LIFE PAINTINGS A luminous collection of many of the 80 natures mortes—bouquets of peonies, a basket of strawberries, a salver of oysters avec Champagne—that the revolutionary French realist painted throughout his career. ABRAMS; $40.

ROMAN GARDENS A tour of 12 villas, from ruined imperial palaces on the Palatine to Renaissance masterworks by Bartolomeo Ammannati and Bramante. Art historian Marcello Fagiolo and photographer Roberto Schezen provide sumptuous images and descriptions. MONACELLI PRESS; $65.

INDIAN INTERIORS Photographer Deidi von Schaewen and journalist Sunil Sethi take readers on a private tour of India's varied and gilded homes, including one designed by Le Corbusier for a family of textile magnates in Ahmedabad. TASCHEN; $40.

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT AND THE ART OF JAPAN Art historian Julia Meech examines the architect's lifelong fascination with Asian woodblock prints, folding screens, textiles, ceramics, sculptures, and carpets. Generously illustrated with prints and photographs from Wright's own collection. JAPAN SOCIETY/ABRAMS; $50.