Coffee table book

Coffee table book
A group of art-related coffee-table books resting on a coffee table
Coffee table with coffee table book

A coffee table book is a hardcover book that is intended to sit on a coffee table or similar surface in an area where guests sit and are entertained, thus inspiring conversation or alleviating boredom. They tend to be oversized and of heavy construction, since there is no pressing need for portability. Subject matter is generally confined to non-fiction, and is usually visually oriented. 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 the book up 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.


David R. Brower is sometimes credited with inventing the "modern coffee table book".[1] 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.[2]

The concept of a book intended essentially for display over perusal was mentioned much earlier by Michel de Montaigne in his essay Upon Some Verses of Virgil, first published in 1580: "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]

In popular culture

Coffee table books have been featured in many areas of popular culture. In the 1980s, British comedy duo Smith and Jones released The lavishly-tooled Smith and Jones Coffee Table Book[5] — its cover was designed to look as if the book could double as a coffee table. The fifth season (1993–1994) of the sitcom Seinfeld included a story arc involving Kramer wanting to write a coffee table book about coffee tables. His idea was for the coffee table book to have legs built into the back cover and coasters built into the front cover, so the book itself could be turned into a coffee table.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • coffee table book — UK US noun [countable] [singular coffee table book plural coffee table books] a large expensive book with a lot of pictures in it Thesaurus: types of published bookhyponym parts of books …   Useful english dictionary

  • Coffee Table Book — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Los coffee table books son libros de gran formato, tapa dura y una exquisita edición que desbordan con información y maravillosas fotografías e ilustraciones acerca de un determinado tema. Son objetos culturales… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Coffee table book — (en inglés, «libro de mesa auxiliar o de café») es un término aplicado a los libros de gran formato y tapa dura donde su diseño y una exquisita edición, con abundantes ilustraciones, tienen más importancia que los textos. Este tipo de libros… …   Wikipedia Español

  • coffee-table book — coffee table books N COUNT A coffee table book is a large expensive book with a lot of pictures, which is designed to be looked at rather than to be read properly, and is usually placed where people can see it easily …   English dictionary

  • coffee-table book — [kôf′ē tā΄bəl] n. a large, lavishly produced book with many illustrations and, often, an inferior text, esp. one regarded as being for ostentatious display, as on a coffee table …   English World dictionary

  • coffee table book — coffee table .book n a large expensive book that has a lot of pictures in it and is meant to be looked at rather than read …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • coffee table book — coffee table ,book noun count a large expensive book with a lot of pictures in it …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • coffee-table book — ► NOUN ▪ a large, lavishly illustrated book …   English terms dictionary

  • coffee-table book — noun an elaborate oversize book suitable for displaying on a coffee table • Hypernyms: ↑book, ↑volume * * * noun, pl ⋯ books [count] : a large expensive book with many pictures that is typically placed on a table for people to look at in a casual …   Useful english dictionary

  • coffee table book — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms coffee table book : singular coffee table book plural coffee table books a large expensive book with a lot of pictures in it …   English dictionary

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