When I think of coffee-table books, oversize photographic images of beaches or cities or quilts come to mind. Or perhaps Kramer's idea from "Seinfeld" for a coffee-table book about coffee tables.
But "Blue Planet Run: The Race to Provide Safe Drinking Water to the World" (Blue Planet Run, 240 pp., $45) is an altogether different experience.
In it, Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt offer short bits of text and a stunning array of photos focused on how the world gets water.
Don't read it expecting to see pretty pictures, because the story that emerges often isn't a pretty picture. In all, the book says, 1.1 billion people - one out of every six in the world - don't have access to clean water.
The photos are telling, and unquestionably sad. Children in the Gaza Strip - where residents live on 22 gallons a day, or about one-fourth of what we use here in North America - fill empty soda bottles at a mini-desalination plant. In a New Delhi slum, women fight over access to a water hose. In China, debris litters the black water that flows from a pipe used by a factory that makes MSG and other ingredients.
But the message here isn't a hopeless one. The Blue Planet Run was a 15,000-mile, 95-day, 20-athlete event that spread the word about Earth's water problems. From the Great Wall of China to Red Square, from Kenya to New York City, where the race ended in September, the run was successful in raising money and awareness.
Smolan and Erwitt created the run and put together the book. In its foreword, actor/director/activist Robert Redford writes about low-cost solutions, including wells and the harvest of rainwater. "Water is life," he writes.
Also new on the Green Bookshelf:
• "Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth (and Get Rich Trying)" by David Bach with Hillary Rosner. (Broadway Books, 192 pp., $14.95). You'll find plenty of books that offer advice on adopting a greener lifestyle, but the author of "The Automatic Millionaire" takes the concept in a financially favorable direction. He counsels that going green can save you green, too.
Some tips are a bit too familiar. Such as No. 15, which tells you to switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, or No. 25, where you're urged to use recycled paper products.
But others, particularly Bach's thoughts on green investing, on using more Earth-friendly cleaning products and on getting rid of junk mail, are useful and timely.
• "Easy Green Living: The Ultimate Guide to Simple, Eco-Friendly Choices for You and Your Home" by Renee Loux. (Rodale, 416 pp., $25). Organic chef and TV host ("It's Easy Being Green" Fine Living TV), Loux offers enough advice to change your life.
She endorses products, but also supplies recipes for making your own. Who knew that aloe vera, tea tree oil, essential oils of lavender and grapefruit seed extract would make a perfect Clean Hands Spritz? Loux knew.
From furniture to towels to cosmetics to trash bags, "Easy Green Living" acts as a primer for those seeking to make better choices. Its easy-to-read format enhances that approach.
• "Living Homes: Sustainable Architecture and Design" by Suzi Moore McGregor and Nora Burba Trulsson. (Chronicle Books, 204 pp., $29.95). Phyllis Hunt's Napa home, with Rastra (a mix of recycled polystyrene and cement) walls, comes with a stunning view and an American Indian motif. But I'm a bit unclear whether this house was built using any green-building standards. There are few architectural drawings, and no specifications provided for the roughly two dozen houses on display. Originally published in 2001, and obviously reissued in 2008 to capture today's green wave, "Living Homes" has pretty pictures of pretty houses, and stories of their rammed earth, straw bale or adobe construction.
• "Growing Up Green! Baby and Child Care" by Deirdre Imus. (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 304 pp., $15.95). Wife of controversial radio personality Don Imus, Deirdre Imus has just published the second volume of her "Green This!" series, this one a look at issues involving babies and children. A thin volume with no artwork or photos, topics range from birth to medicine. But entire pages are full of things like lists of fresh vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach), as if those are news to people. And suggestions for kitchen extras includes Imus Ranch chips and salsa and Imus Ranch balsamic vinaigrette. It all seems a bit obvious and self-serving.
• "Wake Up and Smell the Planet: The Non-Pompous, Non-Preachy Grist Guide to Greening Your Day" (Skipstone, 175 pp., $14.95). I like the tone, the informational irreverence of Grist.org. Here's a guide from its editors that covers all the essentials - the best cat litter, top organic beers and the power-zapping appetite of plasma TVs.
Contact Matt Nauman at email@example.com or (408) 920-5701.