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Gift ideas -- choicest new books for the holidays; The Big Apple, 1850-1950; New York, Photographs 1850-1950, by Benjamin Blom. New York: Amaryllis Press/E.P. Dutton. 423 pp. $55.

If you love New York, you'll love ''New York,'' a volume of photographs spanning a century of the city's history. This book, more of a family snapshot album than an organized visual narrative, is as polyglot, amorphous, chaotic, fierce, and hard to reason with as the city itself.

The book is flawed by its unimaginative catch-all categories, and maddeningly spare descriptions.

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But this is counter-balanced by what the book offers. It's a kaleidoscope of bygone city life, whose appeal will no doubt diminish with each mile it travels westward into the American heartland. But for incurable Gothamites, it's like a postcard from home.

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