Byline: CHRISTOPHER HUDSON
PUNCH turned up his toes just six years ago, but already the magazine seems a distant memory.
Several recent editors tried to dust him down and make him more like Private Eye, but it never worked. So why is The Best Of Punch Cartoons (Prion, [pounds sterling]30) such a success? It works as a fascinating insight into the changing face of British humour and as a social history of Britain from the 1840s to the 1990s, as seen through the work of cartoonists, ranging from John Leech, Tenniel, Shepard and H. M. Bateman to Thelwell, Searle, Honeysett and Mike Williams.
The cartoons mirror their age, lightening the gloom. Some of them, naturally, have lost their humour, but many are timeless, such as Paul Crum's two hippos in a pool, one musing: 'I keep thinking it's Tuesday.' This will be a cherishable present, even if it won't fit in a Christmas stocking.
Punch could easily have been chosen as one of the Icons Of England (Think Books, [pounds sterling]20), but the book is produced for the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the 70 contributors are writing about the sights and sounds of the countryside its trees, crags, moors, hills, ruins, monuments and pub signs.
As George Alagiah writes, the country-side is not so much another place as another state of mind, and the lovingly photographed settings bear this out.
WENDY COPE praises water meadows while Robert Macfarlane is fascinating about holloways, the hidden paths of Britain.
1,001 Days That Shaped The World (Cassell, [pounds sterling]20) starts with the Big Bang and gets into its stride with capsule accounts of the date of Creation and the Great Pyramid.
It will be dismissed by academics as knowledge-on-astick, but I disagree.
A chunky 900 pages, nearly every page is illustrated, mostly in colour. The year 1631, for example, reports on the start of the 30 Years' War and the love story behind the building of the Taj Mahal, with a 17th-century painting of the storming of a city. Christmas, by the way, is recorded as being celebrated first in AD336.
The Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge has probably the richest collection in the world of images of polar exploration. It has released some of the best of them for Face To Face: Polar Portraits (Polarworld, [pounds sterling]30) edited by Huw Lewis-Jones.
Most of these photographs have never been published before, and many of the older ones are spellbinding.
The oldest picture in the collection is, amazingly, of Sir John Franklin, sitting uncomfortably on the deck of the Erebus in 1845 before he set out on his ill-fated attempt to find a north-west passage; neither he nor his expedition were seen again.
ROALD AMUNDSEN, the first to make that passage and to discover the South Pole, scowls implacably at the camera in 1924.
Although not chronological, Face To Face amounts to a potted history of polar exploration, past and present.
As usual, the 2008 Wildlife Photographer Of The Year (BBC, [pounds sterling]25) deserves inclusion because of the stunning quality of the images, chosen from 35,000 entries.
The top award went to a picture of a snow leopard in the wild, a creature so elusive that it took the photographer ten months in the remote Himalayas to get his shot.
But the prize could equally well have gone to a death struggle between a tree snake and a tree frog in Belize, or a big-eared bat emerging from a tree trunk in Panama, or the mating of spider crabs in the Canaries.
Horses don't feature in the collection, but Tim Flach's loving photographs for Equus (Abrams, [pounds sterling]30) capture the wildness as well as the beauty of the animal that is linked more closely to human history than any other.
Flach has spent seven years on this book, travelling from Norway to Mongolia and photographing mustangs, zebras, spotted ponies, miniature donkeys, Arabian stallions and przewalskis, the only wild horse left on Earth. …