The 10 Best Art History Books

Updated June 22, 2017 by Melissa Harr

10 Best Art History Books
Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive
We spent 26 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Including perfect gifts for any student or aficionado, our selection of art history books has something for everyone, from the academic to the casual museum-goer. Each publication provides a look at art throughout the ages, fostering in the reader a greater appreciation of the world’s most cherished pieces. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best art history book on Amazon.

10. The Collins Big Book of Art

The Collins Big Book of Art is a fascinating introduction to the field for those with limited-to-no knowledge of the subject. It includes everything from cave art to pop art, with so much in between, making it a great crash course and a perfect coffee table book.
  • explores themes throughout the ages
  • sizable reference section
  • layout can seem confusing
Publisher The Collins Big Book of
Model n/a
Weight 4.3 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

9. The Painter's Secret Geometry

The Painter's Secret Geometry, an investigation of the European tradition, is ideal for both students and practitioners. It’ll help you understand, through analysis, how famous artists have used geometric patterns to aid in composition, so you can do the same.
  • casts new light on well-known works
  • offers mathematical perspectives
  • very dry reading that can get boring
Publisher Books
Model n/a
Weight 1.6 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

8. Art: A World History

Art: A World History somehow manages to be both comprehensive and concise, covering works from ancient times up to the present with 900 illustrations. It's a great book for passing the time anywhere because it's compact enough to fit in your pocket.
  • brief artist bios
  • inspires further study
  • small pages make images hard to see
Publisher Buchholz, Elke Linda
Model n/a
Weight 1.6 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

7. Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary

Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary opens with a section that details a few uncomplicated steps to analyzing painting and sculpture. This is designed to heighten your appreciation and make reading the subsequent particulars on over 700 artists much easier.
  • features thematic galleries
  • practical historical overviews
  • photos could be bigger
Publisher Dorling Kindersley, Inc
Model n/a
Weight 7.5 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

6. Big Ideas Simply Explained

Big Ideas Simply Explained takes a look at over 100 works and movements from all corners of history and the globe, with the goal of making what could be a dense subject into one that’s approachable, pleasurable, and able to be understood.
  • graphics enhance learning experience
  • includes glossary of terms
  • clear and informative writing
Publisher DK
Model n/a
Weight 2.8 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

5. History and Art for the Traveler

Rick Steves’ Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler is a wonderful companion to anyone making a first trip to Europe. It examines the continent's highly important artistic periods and explains the forces behind them, helping travelers get the most from their visits.
  • helpful list of sites to see
  • humorous and engaging writing
  • a bit too general
Publisher Avalon Travel Pu
Model n/a
Weight 1.6 pounds
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

4. 50 Artists You Should Know

50 Artists You Should Know profiles -- surprise, surprise -- 50 notable artists and their most well-known pieces. Analyses of works and short biographies are presented for each. The book is ordered chronologically and starts in the Gothic period.
  • accessible and not overly academic
  • good classroom reference
  • only a basic introduction
Publisher Prestel
Model n/a
Weight 12.6 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

3. The Art Museum

The Art Museum was created by a team of specialists in the field and is replete with glorious masterpieces — nearly 3,000, in fact. It's one of the most comprehensive art history books anywhere, but that makes it almost 20 pounds in weight and too big to travel with.
  • about a thousand pages long
  • reasonably priced for size and scope
  • splendid image quality
Publisher imusti
Model n/a
Weight 18 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

2. Gardner's Art through the Ages

Gardner's Art through the Ages is a comprehensive illustrated tour through the great artistic traditions of the world, covering the cultural and geographic background of each. You can expect a completely new understanding of the subject thanks to this ever-popular edition.
  • provides information on scale
  • summary at end of chapters
  • true-to-life image colors
Publisher Cengage Learning
Model n/a
Weight 8.7 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

1. The Story of Art

The Story of Art, despite having been written over 50 years ago, remains one of the most beloved and bestselling books in the field. In it, you’ll find an exhaustive survey of Western art reaching back to prehistoric times.
  • eminent and widely respected author
  • edition has undergone updating
  • boasts six foldouts
Publisher Phaidon Press
Model n/a
Weight 3.7 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

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Last updated on June 22, 2017 by Melissa Harr

Melissa is a writer, editor, and EFL educator from the U.S. She's worked in the field since earning her B.A. in 2012, during which time she's judged fiction contests, taught English in Asia, and authored e-courses about arts and crafts. In her free time, she likes to make stuff out of sticks and string.


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