Now I have a smartphone and feel something has been lost. I think it's the sense of what an enormous amount of words there are (in every language) that looking at that two volume monster gave me. It also managed to convey something of the scale of the job of collecting them, and more intriguing- what words make it in, which are cut out, who decides these things - thevquestions go on.
Peter Gilliver's 'The Making of The Oxford English Dictionary' covers its century and a half history from conception to realisation. In the process it reveals some of the human stories behind the OED as well.
It's a substantial tome in its own right, one which I've been slowly working my way through for a while now, and one of the things I like most about it is how many people have been interested (and frankly covetous) when they've seen it. I haven't checked to see if it's on many recommended lists for present buying, but it's on mine. Given the lack of reviews on Amazon I'm guessing it might have slipped under the radar a bit, but if you're reading thit s the chances are that you, like me, will know at least a couple of people who find this sort of stuff really exciting. This Link to a review on Vulpes Libris gives more details.
There is only one wine I can think of that can match a project like this and it's Madeira. I wrote about it last year Here so will try and be brief. It's amazing stuff, the way it's made means it keeps indefinitely even after the bottle is opened (nothing else does this in quite the same way, not even spirits). The older the Madeira, and it's possible to get some very old examples, the more complex and fascinating it becomes. If you like the stuff getting your hands on a really old bottle is a luxury worth paying for.
If you don't yet know Madeira start with something basic like Blandy's Duke of Clarence, if you don't like it, it will still help make excellent gravy (a basic bottle ought to be a kitchen staple). If you do like it run through the different styles to find how dry or sweet you prefer it, and when you have that sorted look for bottles that are a minimum of 15 years old.
Madeira is everything I find most exciting about wine, from a purely intellectual point of view it has to be my favourite (which isn't quite the same as my favourite to drink - that would be top end claret, but I can't afford that anymore so it's a moot point) because there's so much to think about, so many aromas and flavours to unravel, and because there's really nothing else quite like it.