Everything's global now: finance, conflict, trade, communications—even art. Yet, as if we needed to be reminded (and we do), the global consists of things located in towns, in cuisines, in historic moments.

The many high-end art and photography books scheduled for the gift-giving season attest to the complex weave of culture and history, perhaps addressing a need among diverse peoples to connect.

Two Giants

The Republic of China is the scene of the most extraordinary economic, social and political transformation of our time. National Geographic's Inside China ($50) has a wealth of insightful essays on landscape, history, tradition and modernization (see below), and is introduced by Jonathan Spence (author of The Search for Modern China). It also contains dramatic and telling photos by both unknown photographers capturing daily rural life and classic works by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sebastio Salgago.

Thames & Hudson devotes nearly 400 illustrations (at right and above) and 70 small essays to The Seventy Wonders of China (edited by Jonathan Fenby), touching on everything from The Great Wall to Buddhist cliff carvings to a history of tea ($40).

A very personal (and mouth-watering) view of China is offered by famed chef Australian-Chinese Kylie Kwong in her photographic and gastronomic tour of 10 cities and provinces, complete with colorful stories and over 80 recipes.

My China: A Feast for All the Senses (traditional Chinese double doors from Huang Province at left) will be published by Viking Studio ($55).

America is the other big giant in the room (and on this spread). Perhaps tellingly, many illustrated books this season refer to America's past, from DK's A Grand Old Flag (next page) by Kevin and Peter Keim ($30) to an illustrated edition of David McCullough's 1776 (above), containing excerpts from the huge bestseller abetted in this $65 boxed affair by facsimiles of maps and manuscripts, to The Beats: An Illustrated Journey Through the Beat Generation by Mike Evans (Running Press, $29.95)

One shouldn't assume that these Americana books romanticize the past unquestioningly. A Grand Old Flag, in particular (below), vividly demonstrates the divisiveness that is at the center of American democracy. Kevin and Peter Keim, father and son flag collectors, weave a fascinating history around the iconic image that changes over the year but, as they say, forever waves.

The World's Spaces

Great artists inhabit the world forever. This season has among its tributes the Italian giant Raphael (at right), from Phaidon. Scholar Bette Talvacchia has produced what amounts to an illustrated art-historical biography of the rather mysterious 16th-century master.

As a kind of architectural guide to 1776 stands Houses of Our Forefathers, photos by Roger Straus III (Artisan, $50), which gives a glimpse into the private worlds and homes of 40 men who led an insurrection against England.

Speaking of insurrections, all eyes might do well to dwell upon Antarctica: The Global Warning, published by Earth Aware. Sebastian Copeland's eloquent photographs tell an urgent tale that begs our activism; a foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev and preface by actor Leonardo DiCaprio press the point further: the ice is melting. An accompanying DVD with interviews, footage and music by Damien Rice should widen this book's appeal ($55).

Big Art

The drawings of Raphael—along with those of Fra Angelico, Bellini, Botticelli, Michelangelo and a long list of classic names—are featured in Master Drawings of the Italian Renaissance (Harvard) by Claire Van Cleave. The delicate reproductions are exquisite and fulsome, and Van Cleave's short bios of each of the great draughtsman are extremely cogent and lively.

Two things may combine to stir interest in an otherwise quiet title: Frank Lloyd Wright in New York (Gibbs Smith). Jane King Hession and Debra Pickrel tell the story of Wright's conquest of New York, which he commanded from his suite at Plaza Hotel while overseeing the construction of the Guggenheim Museum uptown. With Nancy Horan's novel about Wright's fractious marriages, Loving Frank, gaining admirers (it was published last month to glowing reviews by Ballantine) and the Guggenheim itself undergoing a much-needed renovation, the Gibbs Smith title might find a surprise audience.

However, the biggest book in the gift pile has to be Biblica: The Bible Atlas from Barron's. An absolute steal at $50, this stone-tablet of a book—650 full-color illustrations, 125 original maps—is, as its subtitle says, “a social and historical journey through the lands of the Bible.” And it is full of surprises, such as pictures of oil derricks and even the Star of Bethlehem. This book is bound to be a favored holiday gift.

Figments of the Past

David Plowden has been photographing the American landscape for 50 years, and his work is celebrated in beautiful black-and-white (at right) in Vanishing Point (Norton, $100). David McCullough compares Plowden to Walker Evans in his documentation of fugitive landscapes.

Atria is giving readers the Jimi Hendrix Illustrated Experience, and it is told via Janie Hendrix, who was adopted by Hendrix's father and who controls the estate. The book boasts a 70-minute CD of music and interviews and a wealth of memorabilia and handwritten notes from the great guitarist himself. ($45)

Watson-Guptill brings the past full circle, appropriately, in terms of typography. New Vintage Type by Steve Heller and Gail Anderson is a feast for the eyes as it presents the classic fonts in a digital-age context, demonstrating that type that works works forever ($39.95).