If your bookshelf is a capsule of your tastes and point of view, a coffee table book acts as a mission statement. The best coffee table books tell anyone that happens to come by exactly what you’re into, whether that’s the fashion of hip-hop or Danish-inspired decor.
Most people interact with their coffee table books by appreciating the cover and occasionally thumbing through, which is why coffee table books can get a bad rap for being surface-level. But many of the best coffee table books are in-depth visual compendiums of their subjects. And there are plenty of coffee table books with thoroughly researched and in-depth writing, not just pretty photos.
Of course, there’s no shame in just skimming through the photos of a coffee table book on a slow couch-bound Sunday while you wait for the coffee maker to brew. And the cover and design of a coffee table book can be a great addition to your interior when styled with other small objects like ashtrays and potted plants.
Coffee table books also make great gifts. You can find a book relevant to someone’s interest, without missing the mark and buying something related to their hobby that they already have or don’t need.
When shopping for coffee table books, you can always search by subject; with so many out there, you’ll be sure to find what you’re looking for. Or, you can look by publisher. Rizzoli covers a broad swath of culture, while Taschen and Phaidon are great for art. Prestel is known for architecture and design, while Assouline is known for luxurious, high-end books.
Whether you actually read them or just appreciate the covers, the best visual books add culture to your coffee table. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite illustrated books that were released in 2022 and 2023.
Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History
As much as hip hop has changed sonically, it’s changed even more visually. You can tell a lot about the era just by the jewelry, and this tome tells the story of hip-hop jewelry from both the perspective of the artists and the jewelers. The book includes photos from celebrated art photographers like Wolfgang Tillmans and contemporary concert and portrait photographers like Ravie B. Whether you’re a hip-hop fan, jewelry connoisseur or all of the above, this Taschen book is a sure hit.
Jimi might not tell you much you don’t already know about the iconic musician and guitarist, as it reserves most of its pages for large print quotes and colorful photographs. But it’s a great gift for any fan, and it celebrates what would have been Hendrix’s 80th birthday.
Black American Portraits
Publisher: DelMonico Books/LACMA
This just-released book pulls from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s expansive permanent collection to chronicle over two centuries of art by and of Black Americans, with 224 color pages of photography and painting. There are about 140 pieces featured in this collection, including work by contemporary Black artists like Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, as well as photographers and artists of other backgrounds.
Architecture and Design
In just over two short decades, Danish design firm HAY has established itself as one of the most influential and important contemporary interior design companies in the world. They wear it lightly, injecting plenty of color and playfulness into their practical, reasonably priced modern wares. This book, published in 2022 by Phaidon for the HAY’s 20th anniversary, is the first book about the brand. It features pictures of rooms, prints and objects that are great inspiration for designing your own space.
Plant Magick. The Library of Esoterica
A gorgeous, oversized coffee table book, Plant Magick features over 400 images that explore the historical roots of plants in myth and practices, from Ancient Egyptian stonework to Victorian botanical art to modern plant art. Plant Magick is part of Taschen’s Library of Esoterica collection, and it bridges the gap between nature, art, history, and mysticism in a beautiful and unique way.