The Spirit of the Dog: An Illustrated History

By Tamsin Pickeral. Photography by Astrid Harrisson. Barron’s Educational Series, $35.

This 288-page, coffee-table showcase is categorized differently than its predecessors, which have tended to be alphabetical or by dog-show group. Instead, “The Spirit” is beatifically presented by breeds’ most noted traits — Elegance and Speed, Beauty and Endurance, Power and Strength, Noble and Faithful, Determined and Brave, Agile and Wise, Tenacious and Spirited, Devoted and Loyal.

But each vignette is more than just a pretty picture with accompanying text. It begins with a listing of size, appearance, color and aptitude rundown, followed by a detailed history noting how it evolved into a companion animal, complemented with Harrisson’s sensitive, striking color photos.

This ambitious, nourishing work is the perfect holiday gift and a colorful celebration of dogs’ incredible diversity as man’s companion for 14,000 years (and very likely more).

For some, it will prompt heartwarming memories of a breed they once owned. For others, it’s a warm, reflective portrait of the breed in their home now.