Every Thanksgiving, National Review Online asks some regular contributors and friends for their suggestions for gift-giving for the upcoming Christmas season. This year, as often is the case, the list is book heavy — but is not without its surprises. We aim to help and hope it does.
The books I enjoyed the most this year and would recommend for gifting are:
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado. An exceptional memoir of the author’s remarkable father and Jewish life in Pre-Nasser Cairo, as well as the family’s experiences as impoverished immigrants in Paris and New York. Written by a Wall Street Journal reporter, it is vivid, graceful, and very, very moving.
In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce. I read it after I went to India and wished I had read it before. The author, a Financial Times reporter, lucidly explains both the problems and the potential of India today.
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. I had never read the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the battle of Gettysburg. I found it fascinating and illuminating and discovered when I mentioned it all sorts of people from serious history buffs to teenagers loved it as well.
And now for some gift-giving advice that is not as intellectual. This season every woman I know would be delighted by the gift of a clutch bag, especially an evening one. It is hot gift and there are pretty ones all over. If you buy her a clutch, dare I say it, she’ll clutch you!
– Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.
If the notion behind the 2005 movie National Treasure caught your fancy, you will enjoy Paul Pasles’s Benjamin Franklin’s Numbers, a journey through the mathematical obsessions of that inexhaustibly interesting Founder, with side adventures in demography, cryptography, and the economics of slavery.
Thomas E. Woods has followed up his bestselling Politically Incorrect Guide to American History with 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask. Many of his points in this new book will be unsurprising to well-read conservatives. You already know that liberals have, historically, been no more antiwar than conservatives; that Herbert Hoover did not sit back and do nothing in the Great Depression from laissez-faire conviction; that the Commerce Clause does not give the federal government the power to regulate everything under the sun, etc. Plenty of people, though, including many conservative-leaning but miseducated young people, do not know these things. For one of them, this book could be a powerful gift.
With Tutankhamen in the news again recently, fans of historical fiction might like to try Michelle Moran’s fine novel about his stepmother Nefertiti, as seen through the eyes of her sister Mutnodjmet. Probably more a woman’s book than a man’s — it includes an account of ancient Egyptian birthing practices — Nefertiti is a convincing re-creation of the 14th-century B.C. by an author who has pulled off the difficult trick of imbedding prodigies of research in a lively popular narrative.
For argumentation on the science vs. religion front, here are two books, one from each side. For believers, WorldNetDaily columnist Vox Day offers The Irrational Atheist, in which he takes on the “unholy trinity” of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Good polemical stuff, with tables of atheist mass-murderers, much sneering at “scientism,” and some arresting eye-stoppers like: “Jerusalem aside, the Crusades were surprisingly irreligious.” On the other side, Cornelius J. Troost’s Apes or Angels: Darwin, Dover, Human Nature, and Race is a good survey of current understandings about human nature — including the religious component — from a coolly naturalistic, “evol-con” point of view. I wish Prof. Troost were not quite so free with exclamation points, but his book fulfills the essential condition any book on the contemporary human sciences should, if it wants to be taken seriously, viz.: it will offend Leftist blank-slaters and Rightist anti-Darwinists equally.
And also on the human sciences, Jon Entine’s Abraham’s Children: Race, Destiny, and the DNA of the Chosen People is a forerunner of a new type of book we shall be seeing much more of, I think: genetically-informed history — in this case, of course, a history of the Jews. Lucidly written, and packed with fascinating facts and personal stories, Entine’s book sets a high beginning standard for this new genre.
Finally, for those like myself who can never read enough about William Hazlitt’s bizarre passion for Sarah Walker, Jon Cook’s Hazlitt in Love tells the whole dismal story once again, very nearly capturing the — let’s face it — un-capturable and inexplicable essence of what Burton called “love melancholy.”
For the un-bookish recipient, two suggestions. First, my own latest acquisition, a banana hanger. For thirty years I have been slicing a banana into my breakfast oatmeal. I marvel that I managed to survive for so long without this wonderful accessory. Second, an electric toothbrush. You probably have one already — I’m way behind the curve on things like this. If you haven’t, get one. I bought an electric toothbrush back in the 1960s, when they first appeared. It was awful: huge, clunky, and ineffective, like brushing your teeth with a power tool. Well, technology has marched on, and now there are great electric toothbrushes at a range of prices from less than $10 to over $200. Your recipient can go low-end to begin with — here’s mine — then upgrade, as I plan to.
– John Derbyshire is an NR and NRO contributor/columnist/icon. His most recent book is Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra.
As a reporter, notebooks are my lifeblood and Moleskine is the Cadillac of notebooks. Moleskine offers a wide variety of sizes and styles, from reporters’ notebooks to graph paper and even storyboards. They also make address books, planners, and city guides. They also make terrific journals and the pocket in the back of each one is great. It’s where I keep photos of my wife and child, as well as travel receipts.