The 10 Best Coffee Table Books
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in June of 2015. Whether you are an avid reader or you just like to look at amazing pictures, these stunning coffee table books will not only add a decorative touch to your home, they will enthrall, educate, and enlighten you and your guests with their compelling imagery and fascinating texts. We've ranked them by topic, image quality, and writing style, and included volumes to appeal to a wide range of tastes. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
January 21, 2020:
Over the years, coffee table books have become more than just a way to get a conversation started or to entertain your guests when you've left the room. They offer a glimpse into your personality and act as a means of showcasing your good taste. For this reason, we endeavored to create a list that was wide-ranging and informative, as well as compelling and evocative to suit many tastes. When paired with a good art book, interior design book, or photography book, your coffee table can offer a trove of knowledge to almost any person who crosses your threshold.
Before They Pass Away is a thought-provoking narrative that offers detailed images of cultures the reader has likely not heard of. We're aware that it has received criticism from some tribal and indigenous people who take issue with the perspective that they are passively dying out rather than thriving or being affected by external oppressive forces, and that the book neglects to detail those aspects. We believe this volume offers a great starting point to learn about these amazing people and spur further research into their point of view and unique situations to open a dialogue.
For this update, we wanted to diversify our list by adding Humans of New York in lieu of The Most Beautiful Libraries In The World. Humans is an ideal coffee table book — it has short bits of text that draw you in and get you thinking and large, colorful photographs of people from all walks of life. It's easy to flip through and can be opened at any page.
We also replaced Living With Wine with the more recent, more accessible Wine Simple, an extremely educational book written with an encouraging tone. Its multitude of graphics and charts make it easy to understand, while its helpful tips can apply to anyone, not just experienced oenophiles.
Treasured Lands claimed a spot on this list at the expense of National Geographic: Stunning Photographs, which we still feel is a great selection with plenty of eye candy. However, Treasured Lands goes much further by giving high levels of detail on its various locations, from off-the-beaten-track paths and hidden caves to exactly how the images were made and where they were taken. This makes it a treat for the traveler, the nature lover, and the photographer.
Why a Coffee Table Book?
Guests' eyes need to be drawn to something on the cover to get them to pick it up.
While topics and styles can vary, the general motivation behind having a coffee table book is to inspire conversation. This does not mean your friends or visitors are boring, but sometimes we all can use a little conversation starter. It can also be used to keep a guest occupied when the host leaves the room. In the Victorian era, sitting rooms and parlors would have always had a massive book on a table for perusal.
Regardless of topic, they need to first be visually appealing on the outside. Guests' eyes need to be drawn to something on the cover to get them to pick it up. Topics are also usually general, though can become serious such as a photographic journey through war-torn countries, or showing animal extinction.
They are generally more expensive than other books, regardless of the publisher. This is due to the amount of material needed within the book, and almost always high-quality photographic paper to display lush color pictures. Another factor is whether it has a hard or soft cover. Hardcovers always cost more, and of course are more resistant to wear and tear.
Don't let this go under the rug; coffee table books are much more than just appealing to your guests. They're also a display of your personality. If your house resembles a mountain-man style log cabin, maybe a book on trees with a brown accented cover will suit nicely. Or if you're still raging on the Spice Girls, a colorful book on pop culture is sure to be a hit.
What Makes a Good Coffee Table Book?
Starting with the obvious, does the topic interest you? If yes, then proceed to how it looks. Does the cover offend in any way? Is it visually stunning and intriguing? The topic should be general and relevant, but you want something that will get anybody to pick it up.
Height, width, and weight all matter when considering how it will look on your table.
Nature is always a good start. People love looking at cute animals or breathtaking landscapes. They might be interested in children starving in Africa as a social cause, but it would be best to leave such a book off your coffee table and saved for another time.
Height, width, and weight all matter when considering how it will look on your table. Color too, because you want something which will contrast well with its surroundings. An exciting cover is indicative of an exciting book, since these projects always go with pictures over words.
Narrow your search down to a few, and always consider price because many go into hundreds of dollars. It's a bit of risk versus reward. You may love the topic at hand, but do you want to see it every day? Do you want your guests to see it when they visit? Furthermore, will it be worth the money and inspire the conversation you want?
Necessity Was the Mother of This Invention
It seems like coffee table books have been around forever. Well, they have been, at least when compared to our lifetimes. It started in 1580 when Michel de Montaigne wanted to publish a book that would be more for display and browsing than actual reading and study, which he targeted at the ladies, since all they did during this era was pace their pastel parlors.
Two centuries later the idea of a coffee table book was still not widely popularized, but had not died out. The term "coffee table book" has been popularized by the British, and the idea of the "modern coffee table book" is credited to environmentalist David Brower, who first had the idea of publishing books that combined writings on nature paired with nature photography.
Of course now topics have expanded dramatically, from nature, propaganda, and countrysides to works of art and even sex. That's right, the best selling coffee table book in history was titled Sex, written by none other than the queen of said topic, Madonna.