Coffee table book

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Coffee table book on a coffee table

A coffee table book, also known as a cocktail table book, is an oversized, usually hard-covered book whose purpose is for display on a table intended for use in an area in which one entertains guests and from which it can serve to inspire conversation or pass the time. Subject matter is predominantly non-fiction and pictorial (a photo-book). Pages consist mainly of photographs and illustrations, accompanied by captions and small blocks of text, as opposed to long prose. Since they are aimed at anyone who might pick up the book for a light read, the analysis inside is often more basic and with less jargon than other books on the subject. Because of this, the term "coffee table book" can be used pejoratively to indicate a superficial approach to the subject.[ citation needed ].


In the field of mathematics, a coffee table book is usually a notebook containing a number of mathematical problems and theorems contributed by a community meeting in a particular place, or connected by a common scientific interest. An example of this was the Scottish Book created by mathematicians at Lviv University in the 1930s and 1940s.


According to different estimations, 1992's book Sex by Madonna (pictured) is both the fastest-selling and best-selling coffee table book in publishing history. Madonna Live 8 (cropped).jpg
According to different estimations, 1992's book Sex by Madonna (pictured) is both the fastest-selling and best-selling coffee table book in publishing history.

The concept of a book intended essentially for display over perusal was mentioned by Michel de Montaigne in his 1581 essay "Upon Some Verses of Virgil": "I am vexed that my Essays only serve the ladies for a common movable, a book to lay in the parlor window..." [3] Almost two centuries later, Laurence Sterne in his 1759 comic novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman advanced the more lighthearted view that "As my life and opinions are likely to make some noise in the world, and... be no less read than the Pilgrim's Progress itself- and, in the end, prove the very thing Montaigne dreaded his Essays should turn out, that is, a book for a parlour window..." [4]

Beginning in the late 1940s, publisher Albert Skira and a few others, such as Cailler and Editions Tisné, Éditions Mazenod, and Harry N. Abrams, began producing large folio and quarto (4to) format art books, illustrated with tipped-in color plates, often for international markets that were significant in the development of coffee table books as known today. [5] [6] [7]

David Brower is sometimes credited with inventing the modern coffee table book. [8] While serving as executive director of the Sierra Club, he had the idea for a series of books that combined nature photography and writings on nature, with, as he put it, "a page size big enough to carry a given image’s dynamic. The eye must be required to move about within the boundaries of the image, not encompass it all in one glance." The first such book, This is the American Earth, with photographs by Ansel Adams and others and text by Nancy Newhall, was published in 1960; the series became known as the "Exhibit Format" series, with 20 titles eventually published. [9]

The term "coffee table book" appeared in Arts Magazine in 1961, [10] and in the title of The Coffee Table Book of Astrology, published in 1962. [11]

They have also found uses in propaganda, such as a book on the life of East German leader Walter Ulbricht [12] and another on Albanian leader Enver Hoxha. [13]

As of 2011, Madonna's 1992 book Sex remained the most searched for out-of-print coffee table book. [14]

Coffee table books have been featured in several areas of popular culture.

See also

Book sources

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michel de Montaigne</span> French author, philosopher, and statesman (1533–1592)

Michel Eyquem, Sieur de Montaigne, also known as the Lord of Montaigne, was one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance. He is known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. His work is noted for its merging of casual anecdotes and autobiography with intellectual insight. Montaigne had a direct influence on numerous Western writers; his massive volume Essais contains some of the most influential essays ever written.

<i>How to Read a Book</i> 1940 book by Mortimer J. Adler

How to Read a Book is a book by the American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler. Originally published in 1940, it was heavily revised for a 1972 edition, co-authored by Adler with editor Charles Van Doren. The 1972 revision gives guidelines for critically reading good and great books of any tradition. In addition, it deals with genres, as well as inspectional and syntopical reading.

Lettrism is a French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou. In a body of work totaling hundreds of volumes, Isou and the Lettrists have applied their theories to all areas of art and culture, most notably in poetry, film, painting and political theory. The movement has its theoretical roots in Dada and Surrealism. Isou viewed his fellow countryman Tristan Tzara as the greatest creator and rightful leader of the Dada movement, and dismissed most of the others as plagiarists and falsifiers. Among the Surrealists, André Breton was a significant influence, but Isou was dissatisfied by what he saw as the stagnation and theoretical bankruptcy of the movement as it stood in the 1940s.

<i>Sex</i> (book) 1992 book by Madonna

Sex is a 1992 coffee table book written by American entertainer Madonna, with photography by Steven Meisel Studio and Fabien Baron. It was edited by Glenn O'Brien and published by Warner Books, Maverick and Callaway. The book features adult content including softcore pornography and simulations of sexual acts including sadomasochism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Barry Windsor-Smith</span> British graphic novelist

Barry Windsor-Smith is a British comic book illustrator and painter whose best known work has been produced in the United States. He attained note working on Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian from 1970 to 1973, and for his work on the character Wolverine, particularly the 1991 "Weapon X" story arc. His other noted Marvel work included a 1984 "Thing" story in Marvel Fanfare, the "Lifedeath" and "Lifedeath II" stories with writer Chris Claremont that focused on the de-powered Storm in The Uncanny X-Men, as well as the 1984 Machine Man limited series with Herb Trimpe and Tom DeFalco.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marie de Gournay</span> French writer

Marie de Gournay was a French writer, who wrote a novel and a number of other literary compositions, including The Equality of Men and Women and The Ladies' Grievance. She insisted that women should be educated. Gournay was also an editor and commentator of Michel de Montaigne. After Montaigne's death, Gournay edited and published his Essays.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jeffrey Catherine Jones</span> American painter

Jeffrey Catherine Jones was an American artist whose work is best known from the late 1960s through the 2000s. Jones created the cover art for more than 150 books through 1976, as well as venturing into fine art during and after this time. Fantasy artist Frank Frazetta called Jones "the greatest living painter". Although Jones first achieved fame as simply Jeff Jones and later as Jeffrey Jones, after 1998 she transitioned to female and added Catherine as a middle name.

<i>Essays</i> (Montaigne) Collection of works by Michel de Montaigne

The Essays of Michel de Montaigne are contained in three books and 107 chapters of varying length. They were originally written in Middle French and were originally published in the Kingdom of France. Montaigne's stated design in writing, publishing and revising the Essays over the period from approximately 1570 to 1592 was to record "some traits of my character and of my humours." The Essays were first published in 1580 and cover a wide range of topics.

<i>Minotaure</i> French surrealist magazine

Minotaure was a Surrealist-oriented magazine founded by Albert Skira and E. Tériade in Paris and published between 1933 and 1939. Minotaure published on the plastic arts, poetry, and literature, avant garde, as well as articles on esoteric and unusual aspects of literary and art history. Also included were psychoanalytical studies and artistic aspects of anthropology and ethnography. It was a lavish and extravagant magazine by the standards of the 1930s, profusely illustrated with high quality reproductions of art, often in color.

Albert Skira (1904–1973) was a Swiss art dealer, publisher and the founder of the Skira publishing house.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Madonna bibliography</span>

American entertainer Madonna has written eleven coffee table books, eleven articles in different publications and contributed a piece in a biography. She has also ventured into children's literature, writing seven picture books and twelve chapter books. Three of her books have topped The New York Times Best Seller list.

Tériade is the pen name of StratisEleftheriades, a native of Mytilene who went to Paris in 1915 at the age of eighteen to study law, but who instead became an art critic, patron, and, most significantly, a publisher.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Crump</span> American film director

James Crump is an American film director, writer, producer, art historian and curator. His films include Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe; Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art; and Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco.

To celebrate its 60th anniversary circa 1995, Penguin Books released several boxed sets of "Penguin 60s", miniature books about sixty pages in length. The books were also sold individually.

In the book trade, a tipped-in page or, if it is an illustration, tipped-in plate, is a page that is printed separately from the main text of the book, but attached to the book.

<i>Selfish</i> (book)

Selfish is a coffee table photobook written by television personality Kim Kardashian. It was released on May 5, 2015, by the Universe imprint of the art bookseller Rizzoli. The book features Kardashian's personal selfies, collecting various images previously posted on Kardashian's social media accounts. The photobook received positive reviews from critics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Skira (publisher)</span> Swiss publishing firm

Skira Editore and Editions d'Art Albert Skira, also known as Skira, is a publishing firm founded by Albert Skira in Switzerland in 1928 and now based in Italy. The firm is known particularly for its art books of "vastly improved quality of colour reproduction".

Anton Zwemmer (1892–1979) was a Dutch-born British bookseller, book distributor, art dealer, publisher and collector who founded Zwemmer's Bookshop and the Zwemmer Gallery in London. He was a "friend and patron of many leading artists", from Picasso to Henry Moore and Wyndham Lewis, and he played "an important role in spreading knowledge and appreciation of modern art" in Britain during the 1920s and 1930s.

Livres d'art are books in which the illustration holds a predominant place in relation to the text. They often require high quality papers as they belong in the category of high quality publications.


  1. Morton 2002 , p. 54
  2. Horswill, Ian (September 25, 2015). "Madonna's Sex remains the most wanted out of print book". Archived from the original on November 8, 2020. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  3. "Essays by Michel de Montaigne". Archived from the original on 2013-10-08. Retrieved 2014-03-28.
  4. "The novels of Laurence Sterne (Volume 1)" (PDF). 1873. Retrieved 2014-03-28.
  5. Chilvers, Ian and John Glaves-Smith (2015) A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780191792229 (accessed 25 August 2019)
  6. Dufrêne, Bernadette (2002) L'édition d'art des années 1950-1970 : des promesses non tenues ?, Communication et langages. No. 134, 4 ème trimestre 22-38 pp. [Dufrêne, Bernadette (2002). The Art Edition of the 1950s and 1970s: Unfulfilled Promises? Communication and Languages, 134(4): 22-38.]
  7. Corisande Evesque. Albert Skira et ses livres d’art (1948-1973). Histoire. 2015. ffdumas-01256888. PDF: (accessed 25 August 2019)
  8. "Harold Wood Presentation on H.R. 2715 - LeConte Memorial Lodge". 2003-11-15. Archived from the original on 2012-09-10. Retrieved 2014-03-28.
  9. "Natural Visions - Nature on the Coffee Table".
  10. Arts Magazine, Volume 36. Art Digest Incorporated. 1961.
  11. National Review, Volume 13. National Review, Incorporated. 1962.
  12. "Walter Ulbricht — ein Leben für Deutschland, excerpts from the German Propaganda Archive, Calvin University". Retrieved 2014-03-28.
  13. Enver Hoxha: 1908-1985. Tirana: Institute of Marxist-Leninist Studies at the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania. 1986.
  14. Flood, Alison (30 August 2011). "Madonna's Sex most sought after out-of-print book". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
  15. Jones, Griff Rhys; P. R. McGrath; Clive Anderson (1986). The lavishly-tooled Smith and Jones Coffee Table Book. ISBN   0-00-637123-X.