Coffee-table books tend to remain untouched (but admired) for years after their purchase. Former Washington Post writer James Conaway’s glossy 400-page The Smithsonian: 150 Years of Adventure, Discovery, and Wonder is no exception. This Santa special, which fairly screams “holiday gift-giving,” is as meticulously detailed as it is just plain dense. Conaway, who these days teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh, contributes historical text that is more direct than lively, but the glossy illustrations make it nearly impossible to concentrate on the prose, anyway. All the museum’s greatest hits are here in an easy-to-access format: the Spirit of St. Louis, the original Kermit the Frog, the 1948 Tucker, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, and classic squid and dinosaur stuff (including some of the same creepy pictures that have stayed in my head for more than 20 years). And there are enough informational nuggets on the local landmark to satisfy history buffs: John Smithson, an English scientist, never reached American shores, but the interest on his $508,318 bequest endowing the Institution financed construction of the original Smithsonian Castle.