MOST gift books are glossy of cover, bland of content, irreproachably expensive. They are intended to flatter rather than to instruct or entertain.

But books can make fine gifts. Herewith a sampling of costlier presentation pieces that deserve to be read (or looked at), not just given.

LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE, by Prosper Montagné (1,101 pp.; Crown: $20). In this large, well-illustrated American edition of the famous French encyclopedia of food and cooking are recipes for almost everything edible, definitions of culinary terms, and such curiosa as a description of what Louis XIV liked to...

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