No debate about the season's star title, so long as you can carry a tome the size (and weight) of a paving stone. Phaidon has followed up the triumph of The Art Book with The Photography Book (pounds 25): 500 images, each from a different photographer, spanning the 150-plus years from Daguerre to Don McCullin, from Julia Margaret Cameron to Annie Leibovitz. The Art Book soon downshifted into a chunky pocket format; no doubt this will too.

As well as sampling work from every major "art" photographer, the book shuffles many of the iconic images that define our times. So the red flag rises over the shattered Reichstag in 1945; Jack Ruby guns down Lee Harvey Oswald; a napalm-stricken girl runs naked down that road in Vietnam again. And the faces of mass fantasy, from Lola Montes to Madonna, pout in their eternal youth. A shrewd commentary supplies some cross-references and invites readers to configure their own patterns of the past.

More explicit history-cum-theory drives the volume on The Photograph (pounds 8.99) in Oxford's new History of Art series. Cleverly selected pictures and a wealth of powerful ideas make up for the finger-wagging seminar manner that sometimes seizes Graham Clarke's text. For another broad survey, this time from a tighter angle, turn to Mark Haworth-Booth's account of the V&A's great collection, Photography: an independent art (V&A Publications, pounds 30). An even finer monument to pioneers behind the lens comes in Taschen's keenly-priced reprint of every image from Alfred Stieglitz's avant-garde magazine Camera Work (pounds 16.99). More intimate and touching is Letters to my Parents by Brassai (Chicago, pounds 23.95), which mixes the Hungarian's written record of art and bohemian life in between-the-wars Paris with some of the images that made him its most lyrical chronicler.

In the homes of armchair travellers, Royal Geographical Society Illustrated (Scriptum Editions, pounds 45) will be splitting many a stocking this month. This monster volume collects 160 years' worth of exploration and exotica, from Tibet to Texas, from sepia to Cibachrome. For a grittier, less picturesque, window on the whole world, check out the first ever paperback of Sebastia Salgado's epic, harrowing but beautiful tour among the planet's toilers, Workers (Phaidon, pounds 45). Magnificent as it is, the RGS volume portrays Them; with Salgado, solidarity replaces spectacle and They become We, whether he climbs into the toxic air of the Java highlands with sulphur- gatherers or plunges to the Channel Tunnel rock-face as the French and British meet.

India's anniversary year finds a fitting tribute in India: a Celebration of Independence, edited by Victor Anant (Aperture, pounds 35) which not only spans the subcontinent from palace to slum but contains work from almost every premier-league snapper of the past half-century. For more exclusive Indian views, tinged with post-Raj melancholia, meet the moth-eaten maharajahs of Derry Moore's Evening Ragas (John Murray, pounds 20). Back home, Brian Moynahan's The British Century (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pounds 30) repeats the wonderful trick of its Russian forerunner. Thanks to some inspired sleuthing in the archives, it finds a memorable image for every social shift and sudden crisis: war, peace, sports, fads and royal nuptials alike.

Among the mavericks with their fingers on the shutter, Joseph Koudelka's Exiles (Thames & Hudson, pounds 32) contains more eerie studies from the great nomadic Czech. The Essential Duane Michals by Marco Livingstone (Thames & Hudson, pounds 32) sums up the career of one of the camera's boldest living artists, now 65. To Sleep, Perchance to Dream by Ferdinando Scianna (Phaidon, pounds 19.99) delivers a quirky gem that reminded me, in its gentle humour and tenderness, of Kertesz's portraits of readers. Scianna (a Magnum veteran) breaks the first rule of every documentarist: he captures people asleep, so unable to consent. His dreamers doze in Delhi; they snore in Seville; they kip in Colombia; they nap in New York. Yet I have never seen a less voyeuristic collection. Drop off after the mince pies this year, and you'll join a charmed company.