Brain Pickings

Books for Dad: 7 Esoteric Father’s Day Gift Ideas

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Film neverland, copper, maps, and how to save dad from having a midlife affair.

With Father’s Day just around the corner, what better way to show dad some love than with a good book? We’re not talking your usual grilling/home-improvement/business books that are right up there with ties and bluetooth accessories on the scale of gift unoriginality. We’re talking smart, thoughtfully curated reads that are bound to inspire, delight, enrich and tickle dad’s curiosity. Here are seven we promise will do at least one of those.

THE ELEMENTS

If there ever was a perfect intersection of geekery, curiosity and artfulness, look no further than Theodore Gray’s superb The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe — a marvelous, beautifully photographed compendium of everything you could drop on your foot.

We couldn’t praise the book enough — it’s a handsome, lush volume of never-before-seen photographs of the 118 elements.

But it gets better: Depending on where dad falls on the tech adoption spectrum, you may also want to consider the fantastic accompanying iPad/iPhone app, which takes things to a whole new level with multitouch 3D. Though certainly on the priciest end, it’s wroth every gram of copper in every penny:

For the dad who: Loves the intersection of art and science and/or treasures gorgeously produced encyclopedic volumes

KUBRICK’S NAPOLEON

Speaking of epically beautiful volumes and equally epic price points, we aren’t saying this is an option for everyone, but if you’re feeling particularly fond of your dad this year, here’s something to put you on the favorite child list forever: Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made — a remarkable 10-books-in-one tome about the Napoleon biopic Stanley Kubrick spent years crafting but never materialized, including Kubrrick’s correspondence, research material, costume studies, casting considerations, location scouting photographs, sketches, and even the final draft of the screenplay reproduced in facsimile.

For a closer look at we can assure you is of the most ambitious books ever produced in the history of human civilization, see our full review from last year.

For the dad who: Worships Kubrick and/or is a general film nut and/or has expensive culture taste

THE MEANING OF TINGO

Traditional travel books, with their expected exotic photography and mainstream tourist to-do’s, are not only contrived, but often backfire: Rather than allowing us to live vicariously through the lens of the photographer and the pen of the travel writer, they make us drool over all the places we’ll never get to see and leave us with little gratification. Enter The Meaning of Tingo: and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World — an entirely new way to explore the world in all its cultural diversity and interestingness, one that leaves you with something more than a lingering image of the Taj Mahal at sunset. Something you can drop at a dinner party and impress with your knowledge of the esoteric.

From BBC researcher Adam Jacot de Boinod, who swallowed some 200 dictionaries, The Meaning of Tingo finds words that the English language doesn’t have but needs. And because we know you’re itching to know: “Tingo” itself comes from the Pascuense language of Easter Island and means “to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by borrowing them.”

For the dad who: Loves language and/or is curious about the world and/or likes to impress his friends with his knowledge of the obscure.

THIS BOOK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE

If dad is headed for a midlife crisis (and, let’s face it, who isn’t?), there are better ways to jolt him out of than wtih a Ferrari and a mistress. Enter This Book Will Change Your Life — a compendium of 365 quirky, creative, comfort-zone-cracking daily exercises and mini-projects designed to turn your humdrum existence into an exhilarating free-fall into serendipity. Bonus points for the superb art direction, which transforms each daily idea into a visually indulgent mini-poster and makes the entire book a complete design treat.

Also worth checking out is the sequel, appropriately titled This Book Will Change Your Life, Again.

For the dad who: Is headed for that midlife crisis and/or has a penchant for creativity and quirk

STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS

More than three years after its publication, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness remains one of the best, most well-researched yet captivatingly digestible books on the art and science of what makes us happy, delivering a powerful punch of empowerment through enlightenment without ever stepping even remotely into self-help territory.

The book is an essential must-have without which no culturally-grounded contemporary home library is complete.

For the dad who: Resents self-help books but appreciates smart self-improvement with an intellectual edge

THE VISUAL MISCELLANEUM

Staying with the design-and-fascination theme, we reviewed David McCandless’ excellent anthology of infographic brilliance, The Visual Miscellaneum, when it came out last fall and we still maintain it’s one of the most beautiful, fascinating, multiplicitously engaging books in existence. While it’s essentially a homage to infographics and data visualization as a visual storytelling medium, it is also relentlessly interesting in terms of the actual information being depicted — from the most pleasurable guilty pleasures, to how long it takes different condiments to spoil, to the creationism-evolution spectrum.

Read our full review for a sneak peek inside this treasure trove of interestingness and a closer look at what makes it so special.

For the dad who: Is endlessly curious about, well, everything and/or has a soft spot for feats of graphic design

STRANGE MAPS

As the stereotype goes, men may hate asking for directions, but they love poring over interesting maps. And nothing offers a more curious, esoteric, eclectically interesting treasure chest of fascinating maps than the blog-turned-book success story of Strange Maps, also previously reviewed.

From the world as depicted in Orwell’s 1984, to a color map of Thomas More’s Utopia, to the 16th-century portrayal of California as an island where people live like the Amazons, the book features 138 priceless anecdotes from our collective conception of the world over the centuries.

See our full review for a sneak peek of some of the book’s remarkable maps.

For the dad who: Loves history and the obscure, especially a history of the obscure

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