Gilbert Cruz
December 06, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

As that gift-giving time approaches, your coffee table’s looking pretty bare. Don’t fear. Here are 12 good-looking photo books that have a couple of things in common. Several have pictures of Marilyn Monroe (and why not?) and most of them are pretty fat. If you manage to collect all 62 pounds of holiday happiness, you may never need another one again. Buy them one at a time, though. These suckers are heavy!

HORSES, Yann Arthus-Bertrand A horse is not just a horse, of course. Especially not to Arthus-Bertrand, who spent 15 years traveling around the globe to take shots of horses not just as animals, but as expressions of regional character. It’s great to see a well-lit shot of a purebred steed from the Kyrgyz Republic. It’s even better to see a wide-angle shot that depicts it amongst the serene snowcapped mountains of its central Asian surroundings.

IN FOCUS: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC GREATEST PORTRAITS There aren’t many of the magazine’s trademark exotic vista shots in this affordably priced collection, which editor Chris Johns describes as ”uncommon photographs of common people.” And while the focus is on the diverse peoples of the globe (more than enough pictures of ”tribesmen”), there are a surprising number of subjects close to home. Where else but in that kooky state of Maine would two women dress up like lobsters?

UNDER ANTARCTIC ICE, Norbert Wu Above ground, Antarctica looks pretty boring, all white ice and black, craggy rocks. Beneath the thick ice shelf, however, exists a watery world of resplendently colorful animals — giant pink jellyfish and vibrant red starfish. As photographer Wu puts it, ”There’s something special about peering beneath the bottom of the world.” No kidding.

FALL, Christopher Griffith Even the lowly leaf has a majesty of its own, which Griffith brings into relief with his beautifully backlit shots of autumn leaves from the northeastern U.S. ”What of the humble leaf in the last vestiges of life as it dries and dies in glorious Technicolor,” he says. Just take a peek at a fiery red sumac with the barest of yellow and green on its edges. Glorious Technicolor indeed!

THE GREAT LIFE PHOTOGRAPHERSFor 36 years, EW sister magazine LIFE published some of the most incredible pictures ever, weekly. Many of them — Bill Eppridge’s dying Bobby Kennedy on the floor of a California hotel, Gjon Mili’s shirtless Picasso sketching with a penlight — you’ve probably seen before. But in its sheer comprehensiveness, this squat, simple volume is the 20th century.

EARTHSONG, Bernhard Edmaier From above, the uninhabited parts of the Earth resemble a different planet. Edmaier’s collection of aerial photography includes shots that are simply stunning — the hairpin curves of Utah’s emerald Green River, the waters of the Atlantic smashing head-on into the sandy Namibian coast, and the deadly but gorgeous lava-filled crater of Ethiopia’s Erta Ale volcano.

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