Some of the best gift books of 2010 were written by friends and virtual friends — both in the non-Facebook sense! — so I’ll gladly grab this opportunity to plug them.
First up for political junkies, tea partiers, and most other literate citizens is Stanley Kurtz’s Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the SecretWorld of American Socialism. Part detective story, part political biography, it uncovers as no one else has (or ever will need to) the president’s deepest ideological roots — in stealth socialism, as his colleagues call it. It’s just right for all the conservatives on your list — and for any other-minded recipients you want to see squirm.
Another timely political gift is this:
Arthur Brooks’s The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’sFuture.
It’s a short but expertly executed manifesto that packs history and economic facts into highly readable form. Recommended especially for college students and young adults as a clear and punchy guide to the current U.S. financial mess — of which they’re among the leading victims.
One more sure bet for anyone interested in history, religion, spy stories, or just plain masterly writing is George Weigel’s second installment of his biography of the Polish pope, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — the Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (reviewedhere). Based in part on recently available documents from the Stasi, Polish secret police, and KGB files, it’s a page-turning account both of John Paul II’s lifelong battle against communism and of his poignant last years.
A perfect pairing with the Weigel book is Pope Benedict’s remarkable book-length interview with Peter Seewald in Light of the World: The Pope, theChurch, and the Signs of the Times. The most candid printed discussion with a pontiff ever rendered, the Seewald book is also a fascinating look for non-believers into Josef Ratzinger, one of the best minds of Europe (or anywhere else) in our time.
Readers seeking something on the irreverent side of the shelf are also in luck. This year, we saw the publication of another instant classic by P. J. O’Rourke: Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards. Like everything else written by America’s best satirist, it is serious social criticism washed down with generous shots of humor — and with rare literacy, cultural and otherwise. Perfect for anyone who could use a laugh about the political state we’re in, which is pretty much everyone right now.
Finally, for readers seeking compelling fiction: It’s not my fault that my sister-in-law, Fernanda Eberstadt, is one of the finest novelists of her generation, or that her 2010 book Rat was the best fiction I read this year. Called “rich, wry, and heartbreaking” by Booklist and “shrewd and sensuous” by TheNew York Times Book Review, Rat tells the unforgettable tale of a teenaged girl from the wrong side of the tracks in southern France, travelling from her rough rural home to glittering London to find the father she’s never known. It’s a beautiful, heartrending read — and the perfect gift for any American who may not make it to Europe any time soon, but who would love a stylish yet serious novel to transport them there.
— Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author most recently of The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism.