Six recent books journey through the past and across the globe to fabulous destinations. Wendy Smith scans their alluring horizons.

National Geographic: Around the World in 125 Years
edited by Reuel Golden
Evocative photos of exotic places, for which the venerable magazine is justly famous, look even better in the large format of these three slipcased volumes, one each for the Americas and Antarctica, Asia and Oceania, Europe and Africa. The selection favours colour – understandably, since National Geographic’s superb photographers used it early and expertly – but equally striking black-and-white work includes haunting images from Robert Scott’s doomed South Pole expedition of 1910–13. Released in a limited edition of 125,000 copies worldwide.
Taschen, $499

The History of Florence in Painting
edited by Antonella Fenech Kroke
Abbeville’s gorgeous book lavishes 496 capacious pages, including four elegantly designed gatefolds, on a dazzling voyage through the Italian city’s history and art, from the Renaissance to the Risorgimento. The big names are here – Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, et al. – but works by lesser-known artists also display the subtle colours and dramatic use of perspective that characterise this great tradition. Florence’s panoramas, people and public events are depicted with such dynamic variety that you will want to hop on the next plane.
Abbeville, $235

The Most Beautiful Opera Houses in the World
by Antoine Pecqueur, photographs by Guillaume de Laubier
A grand tour sweeps us from Sweden’s Drottningholm Slottsteater to Australia’s Sydney Opera House. Sumptuous photos convey each building’s distinctive character: the Baroque charms of La Fenice in Venice, the Art Deco splendours of Chicago’s Civic Opera House and the modern panache of Valencia’s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía. Pecqueur’s candid text deems the opulent décor of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater “over-the-top,” and warns of hard wooden seats in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus’s “spartan” auditorium.
Abrams, $60

From Galilee to the Negev
by Stephen Shore
Acclaimed photographer Shore roamed throughout Israel and the West Bank to assemble this poignant human portrait of a region where contemporary conflicts unfold within an ancient land. His images make palpable the range of day-to-day realities: a Jerusalem bakery brimming with food; graffiti on a Hebron wall picturing a machine-gun-bearing soldier. Surrounding them both are the stony deserts and undulating hills that speak of eternity: “more vast than anything a man can make,” as Yotam Ottolenghi writes in one of several insightful essays accompanying the piercing photos. 
Phaidon, $100

An American Odyssey: Photos from the Detroit Photographic Company, 1888-1924
by Marc Walter and Sabine Arqué
The past seems close enough to touch in these vintage photographs, the first ever taken in colour of North America. Readers travel back in time to observe the Moki Snake Dance in Arizona, jostle among the hordes of pushcart shoppers on Mulberry Street in New York City, join the bathers in Utah’s Great Salt Lake or take in the Columbia River Cascades as a paddleboat steams by. From majestic wilderness vistas to teeming cityscapes, this extraordinary collection captures a continent undergoing historic change.
Taschen, $200

A Virgin Island
by Russell James 
Paradise beckons in an oversized collector’s edition featuring idyllic glimpses of British tycoon Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island. Pink flamingos flock on white-sand beaches, seagulls soar over azure waters, giant tortoises peer from the shrubbery, you can almost smell the frangipani blossoms – and of course, no book by Australian photographer Russell James would be complete without plenty of beautiful models nestled amid the spectacular scenery. A signed, numbered photoprint accompanies each copy encased in a clamshell box.  
te Neues, $2800