LA Observed on KCRW: Holiday books

la-portrait-of-city-cover.jpgIn my column airing tonight on KCRW, I make some suggestions of Los Angeles-centric books for the Angeleno on your last-week shopping list. I could have gone on with more, but they only give me 3:30 to play with. These are the four books I had time for — and that should please any serious student of Los Angeles. The piece airs at 6:44 p.m. then becomes a free download; my text is after the jump.

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Do you have an Angeleno on your shopping list who you still need to buy for?

If he or she appreciates LA books, or you’d like them to, you’re in luck. It’s been a good year for additions to the Los Angeles canon.

The best of them helps us clarify what we think we already know. Or delights us with the telling detail and nuance you get from closely examining a great photograph. Or a nicely turned insight.

The big, expensive book that every Angeleno-phile wants this year is Taschen’s major work, many years in the making, called "Los Angeles: Portrait of a City."

It overwhelms as both pictorial history and photographic tribute.

There are more than 500 pictures, and they really tell a story of the greater LA area and its people, present and past.

The editor, Jim Heimann of Taschen, and LA Times book critic David Ulin selected images we haven’t seen before and give them crucial context. Essays by the historian Kevin Starr add essential backstory to the scenes we see.

The book lists at 70 dollars, though you can probably get it for less online. This is the one that’s sure to be a hit with anyone who fancies themself a student of LA.

They wouldn’t be disappointed either by the new "Architecture of the Sun: Los Angeles Modernism from 1900-1970," from Rizzoli by UCLA emeritus professor Thomas Hines.
He’s an expert on the modernist architects who invented so much of the look of Southern California’s built environment.

Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright…their work and those of others is observed and given its place in the rise of the modernist style.

My favorite combination of beauty and historical insight in the year’s LA books is easily the gorgeous "Los Angeles in Maps," also published by Rizzoli.

Glen Creason, the map librarian at the Los Angeles public Library, pulled gems from the collection he tends and supplements with other maps. Each one invites us in to study what the lines on the page are saying to us.

Looking at the streets arrayed around the old Plaza where LA was born, or the routes of the inter-urban rail system that stretched out to Newport Beach, or Azusa, you’re stopped by the urge to piece together how it all fits in to the city we know today.

Creason includes contemporary maps too – guides to literary LA, to the murals of East LA, to the movie stars' homes – in case you think it’s just about history.

It’s the 2010 book I’ll spend the most time with – the kind that the Angeleno in your life will thank you for.

The other essential book I got this year is called "A Companion to Los Angeles," edited by two of the most interesting academics who study LA, William Deverell and Greg Hise.

This is a reader. You won’t get much taste of its value flipping through it at the bookstore. Its strength is 25 essays on where LA has been and where it’s going, including a timely piece by architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne on the conversation around density and growth.

Tell me about your favorite LA book at And enjoy your holidays.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

More by Kevin Roderick:
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