If you were lucky enough to have gotten some greenbacks for the holidays, here are four fine ways to do your coffee table proud.

by Marilyn Nissenson and Susan Jonas

Making a silk purse out of a sow's ear may be impossible, but journalists Nissenson and Jonas have done the next best thing: provided a well-larded pictorial look at our long and curiously affectionate relationship with the whole hog, from Greek mythology to the divine Miss Piggy.

The Chinese first tamed Sus scrofa some 5,000 years ago, and we have since used its flesh for food, its supple skin for garments and its bristles for blushes. But human involvement with this barnyard animal has long been more complex—and emotional. Look right in a pig's eye, claim defenders like writers E.B. White and Charles Lamb, and meet a stubborn, loyal, fierce and intelligent friend. Nonsense, say detractors from Dante to Johnny Carson; his bulk and lazy love of wallowing has rightly made him our prime symbol of greed and sloth.

Through 136 colorful pages, the authors' sentiments in this debate are clear. With reproductions of centuries of art, jewelry, banks and even a needle-point by Edward Gorey, Pig celebrates a fascinating animal. Pop culture offers the amiable and timid Porky Pig (the first Looney Tunes cartoon hit in the 1930s), the genteel Wilbur of Charlotte's Web and the tyrannical Napoleon of Animal Farm. Best are photos, including Lord Snowden's witty portrait of Lynchett's Princess, a prize Tamworth sow. Not to be too swinish, the only complaint about The Ubiquitous Pig is it might have contained more such pictures. (Abrams, $34.95)

Photographs by William Eggleston

Snapping the last piece into a jigsaw puzzle gives you a little thrill: Nothing missing, nothing left over, it's perfect and complete. An Eggleston photograph delivers a similar frisson. Each one is a puzzle—provocative, mysterious, yet fully resolved. An aristocratic Southerner of independent means and elliptically eloquent manner, Eggleston, 53, for the last couple decades has been radiating outward, with camera in hand, from Memphis and Mississippi to the rest of the U.S., England, Berlin, Egypt and South Africa.

Color is his language—an ineffable palette of meanings grounded in the sensuous and specific jigsaw jumble of the everyday world. Eggleston legitimized color photography in the art world with his one-man show at the Museum of Modem Art in New York City in 1976. Since then he has created hundreds of thousands of images, most of them unseen. This is only his third book. Summarizing his career, it makes a good introduction to his subtle harmonies and absorbing conundrums. For those who have long marveled at Eggleston's work, Ancient and Modern offers the greatest gift: new images, each an unerring, uncanny poem-puzzle. (Random House, $55)

by Kelly Klein

Why are we drawn to pools? Because life on Earth began in the water? For the bliss of buoyancy? Or is it the irresistible smell of chlorine? Klein doesn't speculate in her modest and minimal text. But she does present 187 superb and superbly reproduced color and black-and-white photographs, by names ranging in ethos and era from Stieglitz to Mapplethorpe. As you would expect, the wife of Calvin Klein celebrates the pool as symbol of luxury. But there is much more: the pool as temple of athletic endeavor, as theater for the contemplation of beauty (both architectural and anatomical), as civic glory and backyard playpen and—mirroring the infinite sky or cupping arboreal shadows—as shimmering oracle, zen den. Indoor, outdoor, on ship (below decks on the Queen Mary) or shore (Acapulco, Sydney), in these pages the water's always fine. (Knopf, $100)

Edited by David Cohen

Side by side they gaze at us solemnly, while on the opposite page their modern counterparts have been assembled in the exact same pose: nine members of the Pottstown, Pa., police force, 1898 and now. Mustaches are narrower and down to three in the present, while gleaming leather and visible armament are up, along with a more subtle and troubling sign of the times—black tape over the badge numbers.

While some things recorded here seem not to have changed (the confident faces of lumberjacks, the proud, vulnerable bearing of soldiers, the smiles of brides), striking contrasts are everywhere (tall-masted schooners in 1905, automated container ships today; the Ku Klux Klan parading down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington in 1928, a gay rights march there in 1987). Today's America looks less formal, more integrated in the workplace by race and gender. The book's strengths include fact-filled captions, a caution about equating change with progress and a sense of humor. (HarperCollins, $40)

  • Contributors:
  • J.D. Reed,
  • Eric Levin.