Edward Steichen was one of the 20th century’s masters of photography. His career spanned six decades. For a little more than a decade, his work appeared in two of the most important American magazines, Vogue and Vanity Fair. Then as now, they were purveyors of culture, taste, and style. Anyone exploring Edward Steichen: In High Fashion: The Condé Nast Years, 1923-1937 (W.W. Norton, $75), edited by William A. Ewing and Todd Brandow, will notice that along with the period’s supermodels, there are photos of the stars of the time, including Norma Shearer, W.C. Fields, and an unrecognizable young Ginger Rogers. You’ll also find wonderful portraits of William Butler Yeats, Jack Dempsey, and Ernst Lubitsch, as well as Steichen’s memorable photographs of Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and Gary Cooper.
Spanning the worlds of art, music, sports, cinema, business, and politics, Vanity Fair: The Portraits (Abrams, $65), is an elegant new volume from Grayson Carter and the editors of Vanity Fair. The photographers here are the finest: Annie Leibovitz, Edward Steichen, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Cecil Beaton, and together the 300 images reproduced showcase the best from the last 95 years of Vanity Fair. This gallery of portraits represents a rich cultural history, one in which it is hard to say whether Vanity Fair was creating the famous, or whether the culture of fame was creating Vanity Fair. For bibliophiles there are stunning images of such literary lions as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, and Toni Morrison.
Dark Water (Doubleday, $26) is a must for travelers (armchair or actual) to Florence. Robert Clark spent two glorious years, 2005-06 in Florence. His story is bookended by the great flood of 1966, but it is really a love letter to that graceful city of the Renaissance that has bestowed its affections on so many visitors. The fascinating and little-known history of Florence during World War II also constitutes a large section of the book.