A secret history of Hollywood

At first, Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr. (out Tuesday) sounds like a mere curiosity in the way that such “celebrity art” books tend to be. Davis, it turns out, took a lot of photos. Big deal, right?

Actually, yeah it is. The never-before-published images in this 352-page collection reveal Davis to have been a gallery-worthy talent. But they also present a sort of secret visual history of Hollywood grandees at their most intimate and unguarded. An astonishing range of performers, including Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Sean Connery, and Paul Newman, not to mention Davis’s Rat Pack pals, are depicted here, along with political figures (Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy).

Davis, who died in 1990, was an unlikely Hollywood insider who was also, because of his race, a perpetual outsider — which makes this collection a fascinating, poignant social history as well as one of the most surprisingly cool art books of the year.

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A secret history of Hollywood