1. Calatrava: Complete Works 1979–2007
By Philip Jodidio

The story of Santiago Calatrava's architectural career begins with a small book by Le Corbusier, which enticed the young Spanish art student to change his field of study. The rest of the Calatrava story unfolds in a stunningly large book, which weighs in at 12.4 pounds and requires its own carrying case. Monographs are published with such regularity that the reader can be forgiven for disregarding the genre, which constantly struggles to be more than a vanity press. But there is a case to be made for a 530-plus–page record of works by the 55-year-old Spaniard. For one thing, it takes a really big page to convey the gargantuan scale of his engineering, whether it's a bridge or the intricate ribbing of an airy galleria. Watercolors and figural studies are surprisingly intimate and unheroic. The author seeks to make a case for Calatrava as “the Da Vinci of our time.” Such an accolade carries a burden almost as heavy as this magnificent volume. The book offers much to inspire. It also demands a sturdy table. Taschen; $125

2. Critical Modernism: Where is Post-Modernism Going?
By Charles Jencks

Thirty years after The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, theorist Charles Jencks strikes again. This book is an update of a lecture first given in 1985. At heart, it is a search for a new way forward. If postmodernism evolved into the sweet nostalgia of Michael Graves, architecture in a world grappling with climate change and terrorism should spark something with more prickly armor, he argues. Say, Rem Koolhaas' Casa de Musica in Portugal (up for this year's Stirling Prize) or Peter Eisenman's City of Culture of Galicia in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, both of which he admires. In a risk-laden pluralistic world, Jencks argues for more skepticism. But the “critical” in the title is essentially optimistic. He sees “critical mass,” which means architects are already on to something. For a clearer explanation, read the book, which tracks modern thinking from the third century Christians to, yes, 21st century Dubai. Wiley; $100

3. Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design
By Michael Bierut

Rather be famous than rich, but how? Waiting for permission to do great work? Wondering why Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal shows up in so many movies? Such queries are fodder for this simple, humorous, and thoughtful collection of essays from graphic designer and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut. His musings will delight and surprise, whether he's telling how he learned to prefer domesticity with Josef and Anni Albers over the über-cool of Donald Judd, or how Target's Clear Rx bottle became the Guggenheim Bilbao of product design. Each chapter is like a conversation with a great dinner guest who dispenses wisdom laced with humor. The typefaces are cool, too. Princeton Architectural Press; $24.95

4. Contemporary World of Interiors
By Susan Yelavich

This 512-page compendium is among the first to record the fresh and exotic world of commercial interiors—retail, restaurants, religious institutions, schools, libraries, and healthcare facilities, to name a few. Susan Yelavich, visiting professor at Parsons The New School for Design and a well-known curator, has compiled 450 examples of interior environments around the world. The author says she is less interested in how spaces “look,” though they all look pretty terrific. Her goal was to identify best practices rather than the usual suspects. Koolhaas and other cultural icons are included, but this is not a celebrity sourcebook, and no one aesthetic language dominates. Yelavich notes the slide of creature comforts from domestic to institutional settings. (Libraries and hospitals are among the needy beneficiaries of the shift.) And although she expresses a conviction that the long-marginalized world of interior design should be allowed in from the cold, the majority of examples were overseen by architects. Phaidon; $79.95

Historical Highs and Lows
Cartographic Relief Presentation

By Eduard Imhof

The legendary Swiss cartographer Eduard Imhof (1895–1986) had no high-tech tools when he created his famously hyper-realistic images of jagged peaks and rushing rivers. With little more than sharpened pencils, paintbrush strokes, and exacting perspective, he escaped the limitations of flat paper to create mountainous topography that wants to leap off the page.

In the digital era, mapmakers produce 3-D images with a few keystrokes. Terrain is routinely photographed by satellites. With holographic film and laser optics, virtual landscapes can be created in minute detail, and even viewed from the inside out. Yet Imhof's reliefs remain so compelling that information specialists such as Edward Tufte still turn to Imhof for guidance.

The task is made easier thanks to Imhof's classic technical guide, Cartographic Relief Presentation, published in 1965 and reissued this year in paperback. Imhof, who worked as a professor of cartography at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology for 40 years, is chiefly known for maps of the mountainous nation used in Swiss schools. He also earned the unofficial title of founder of modern academic cartography for drawing intricate contours and rocks and, as Tufte puts it, developing “all sorts of methods for escaping the flatlands of paper and display screen.” ESRI Press; $59.95