EDITOR’S NOTE: Theologically ideal or not, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. So National Review Online asked some family and friend to gather round and offer some advice on books to give.
Thanks to NR Editorial Associate Elizabeth Fisher, who helped compile your shopping list. Miss Fisher recommends taking this time of year to make sure everyone you know and love has read The Brothers Karamazov.
You, of course, don’t have to look far for good books. Victor Davis Hanson has a new one out on the Peloponnesian War called A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. Priscilla Buckley, former longtime managing editor of NR is author of the new Living It Up With National Review. Bill Buckley returned to his Blackford Oakes character with Last Call for Blackford Oakes. Byron York came out with The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy earlier this year, a good primer for any political junkie going into 2006. John J. Miller’s latest is A Gift of Freedom, a look into the world of conservative philanthropy. Mark R. Levin put out the handbook to Supreme Court nominations, Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America. And if you’re into advance ordering, Kate O’Beirne’s Women Who Make the World Worse is but weeks away.
Have a blessed one. And happy shopping too.
If you are looking for a coffeetable book to honor America’s favorite outlaw troubadour, you would be wise to pick up Cash by the editors of Rolling Stone. Filled with insightful essays and spectacular photography, any fan will find it as an elegant testimony to Cash. If you are looking for a really eclectic gift for that Cash fan in your life, perhaps will you want to get Man In White, the recently re-issued novel about St. Paul written by Johnny Cash. Few people are aware that Cash loved biblical-era history and used to sit around with his father in law Ezra “Eck” Carter and read the prolific Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, as well as texts by Roman historian Pliny the Elder.
Johnny Cash At San Quentin remains my favorite recording, followed by American IV: The Man Comes Around. You can’t go wrong with virtually any of the innumerable box-set collections but the best ones remain Love, God, Murder and Cash Unearthed.
–Steve Beard is the creator of Thunderstruck.org, a website devoted to faith and pop culture, as well as being the editor of Good News Magazine and editor-at-large of Risen Magazine.
I also recommend two oldies but goodies that have been the basis for some recent entertainment. “The Light in the Piazza,” which is included in The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales by Elizabeth Spencer, published by the University of Mississippi Press. It is a novella that has haunted me for years , and was the inspiration for the musical that won the Tony this year.
And, of course, the best chicklit book every written Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It is, once again, a new movie–but it is always a better book. Reread it if you haven’t looked at it in quite a while. And if you never read it, lucky you, read it for the first time–and fall in love.
–Myrna Blyth, former 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.
Book of Haikus, by Jack Kerouac. Kerouac’s prose leaves me pretty cold, but this book of haiku (he eccentrically added the “s”) shows a real gift. He is not bound by counting syllables. He defines the form as a three-line snapshot. He gets it better than Allen Ginsberg, and Ginsberg’s very short poems are pretty good.
NR bonus: Kerouac was a reader when he died.
Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments, by Edmund Gosse. Philip Gosse was a 19th-century English marine biologist, and a member of the Plymouth Brethren, an extremely austere fundamentalist sect. Darwin gave these pieces of his head a sharp shock. This memoir, by his son, Edmund, a literary critic who introduced Ibsen to England, is critical, funny, and loving all at once. Astonishingly, it does not condescend. An interesting sidelight on the I.D. debate.
–Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of NR and the author of Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution, among other books.
Math: The Honors Class by Ben Yandell (2001). At the Second International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris in 1900, David Hilbert proposed 23 problems for the consideration of his colleagues. This book, to which I came rather late, tracks these 23 problems through the century, giving essential mathematical background and some sketches of the main investigators. Beautifully done.
Science: Huygens & Barrow, Newton & Hooke by V. I. Arnol’d (1990). A wonderfully discursive romp through 17th-century science and its personalities. Bode’s Law, early calculus, the first investigations of power series, and Newton’s possible belief that he was another Son of God (he was born on December 25, see?) all covered in less than 120 pages.
Classic Fiction: Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1895). Germany’s entry in the 19th century bourgeois female adultery genre, but far less well known than Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina. I thought it dull when I read it in my twenties. Rereading it earlier this year as background for a book I’ve been writing, I appreciated it much better. So low-keyed as to be nearly inaudible, it is a minor masterpiece. Rainer Fassbinder made a good atmospheric movie of it (1974).
Among this year’s non-fiction works, I will be giving friends Kevin Hasson’s The Right to be Wrong and George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral. The former explains as clearly as anyone ever has what’s wrong with U. S. church-state law and how to fix it. Weigel’s book is a profound meditation on what has gone wrong in Europe, but how to fix it is anyone’s guess.
– Mary Ann Glendon is a Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard.
Robert Lieber’s The American Era: Power and Strategy for the 21st Century is a brief but compelling review of American foreign policy over the last five years, and pretty much demolishes the idea that we are roundly hated or that we are culpable for various alleged sins. A sober and very readable account by a Georgetown University scholar whose intellectual integrity and knowledge shine through on every page.
Tom Holland’s Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West is a great account of the Persian wars, and how a tiny Greece beat back Xerxes and his armada–not triumphalist but not politically correct either, and written by a great stylist for a wide audience.
– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.
Flat Tax Revolution, by Steve Forbes. Tax reform is Bush’s last hope for a big-bang policy proposal. Secy. John Snow is cooking up one. I hope the president and his Treasury secretary read the Forbes book.
Churchill and America, by Martin Gilbert. Winston Churchill was ahead of his time in understanding the power behind the English-speaking nations. Gilbert connects Churchill’s ideas with those of the rising nation across the pond. (For a 21st century update on this theme, read James Bennett’s The Anglosphere Challenge.)
Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating, by Thomas P. M. Barnett. The U.S. military in Iraq must now shift from war to peace. We were brilliant in the Iraq war, but we bungled the peace. Here’s how to solve it.
The New Dealers’ War: FDR and the War Within World War II, by Thomas Fleming. This is the book on why American-style socialism didn’t work then and still doesn’t now.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Lincoln put all his political opponents in his Cabinet, where he befriended them and overshadowed them. Meanwhile, he somehow managed to save the Union and free the slaves. This is a great read.
First off, it’s parochial, but hey ho. Priscilla Buckley’s new book Living It Up with National Review: A Memoir is a delight to read–for NR fans, for history buffs, for those interested in publishing, for anyone who just wants an enjoyable book to read. Speaking of Buckleys, if you haven’t read Bill Buckley’s memoir, Miles Gone By yet, you should. What better way to celebrate his 80th than by treating yourself to his writing?
Mona Charen’s Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (and the Rest of Us) is more helpful sense than partisan attacking. Whether it be the Cold War, the war on poverty, or the war on terror, there’s a reason we’re not buying into much of what the Left is dishing out–and it’s not because we’re mean.
Raymond Arroyo’s Mother Angelica : The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles is the story of one of the feminists of our day–though so-called women’s groups would never acknowledge the successful media mogul as one. A great story of a great woman and her at times downright bizarre life is inspirational. He’s a great storyteller. Those least interested in a book about a nun will enjoy it as much as aspiring Pope Benedict would.
And that reminds me–I haven’t read it yet but look forward to Peggy Noonan’s just-released biography of Pope John Paul II. I suspect it will be under more than a few trees, too, this year.
Of this year’s pickin’s, Jonathan Foreman has the patriot’s handbook you want to put on the bookshelf of your favorite youngsters. (For an all-American education, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution ain’t too shabby either–a heavier, in substance and weight, alternative.) And while we’re in the children’s aisle, Karen Santorum’s Everyday Graces is still a great one to be reading to tots. As are the NR treasuries.
No Christmas book list coming out of NRO would be complete without recommending Steven Vincent’s In the Red Zone. Steven gave his life reporting from Iraq, in pursuit of an honest picture of what life is like there post-liberation; In the Red Zone reflects that.
However long its been, holidays can be hard for those who have lost someone close and two helpful gifts may include Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross by Father Richard John Neuhaus and The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying, edited by the same. Other practical gives: for singles on your list, anything but Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary? (instead give them Leon and Amy Kass’s Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying). For parents, Betsy Hart’s down-to-earth It Takes a Parent.
–Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
The Mountain of Silence, by Kyriacos C. Markides. In the life of an Eastern Christian island monastery, visible devils still attack monks, and a wonderworking abbot can telescope time. Beneath this surprising material is an invitation: a pre-modern, mystical faith still practiced today, which offers a bracing alternative to intellectualized Western Christianity. For anyone interested in spirituality of any stripe, or even for those who think they’re not interested.
Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin. With a Ph.D. in animal science, Grandin says that her autism enables her to understand animals instinctively. Lots to learn for the animal-lover on your list.
–Frederica Mathewes-Green writes regularly for NPR’s Morning Edition, Beliefnet.com, Christianity Today, and other publications. She is the author of Gender: Men, Women, Sex and Feminism, among other books.
The first is Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity. Johnson’s writing is invariably light and crisp. He has a clear point of view (which I like and generally find persuasive) but he gives serious consideration to alternative perspectives. No, Johnson’s histories aren’t the most scholarly; they don’t have the most footnotes. Other authors may explore theology more deeply. But Johnson emphasizes the story in history–and the drama. In this book, he tells one of the greatest stories ever told–the tale of Christianity’s evolution and development.
The second book on this very short list: Paul Johnson’s A History of the Jews. From no other source have I learned more about the Jewish people and their impact on civilization. And I was entertained every page along the way.
–Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.
Edmund Burke and His World, by Alice P. Miller. I’ve read a lot by Burke and I’ve read a lot about Burke, the man Russell Kirk identified as the first important conservative of modern times. This short book is the first one that made him begin to come alive for me as a real human being–it is not an analysis of his thought, but a simple biography. It is sometimes a little too simple, though it is also a better introduction to the man than just about anything else around. Out of print and worth hunting for.
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels, by Arthur Conan Doyle: Everything you’ll ever want to know about A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear.
–John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and co-author of Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France. He is also author of the new A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America..
To my surprise, the sociologist Rodney Stark is just publishing a perfect companion book, The Victory of Reason, a story of how the Christian commitment to reason (even in theology) led to invention and discovery beyond the givens of Scripture (concepts such as person and Trinity, for example), and soon also to creativity in political organization, science, and commerce. Stark rejects the soft-bigotry of the “Enlightenment,” which described its past as the “Dark Ages.” On the contrary, Stark documents how the great victory of reason began much earlier and in a much different place, than the Enlightenment imagined. His shocking subtitle is “How Christianity led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.”
These are two great books to read or give for Christmas.
Top them off with George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral, to learn what happens to Europe when nothing but the Enlightenment is left.
– Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
The Conspiracy of Pontiac, by Francis Parkman. The truth is: anything by Parkman is worth giving as a gift. It could be Conspiracy or The Oregon Trail or Montcalm and Wolfe. Parkman is a great historian and terrific storyteller. And yes, it is possible to be both. There is almost no better way to learn about the history of America than reading Parkman’s books. And if you know someone who is a new immigrant, sharing Parkman’s clear, concise, and moving history, is one of the most generous gifts you can give.
The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York, by Claudia Roden: This has got to be one of the best engagement presents I got. It’s practical because it includes over 800 recipes. But it’s also an amazingly rich, extensively researched, and well-written chronicle of Jewish life. Plus, reading it will help burn a ton of holiday calories.
Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann: Will this book grant the reader a greater insight into the human condition? Probably not. Does Jacqueline Susann offer a serious commentary on relations between the sexes? Not really, but it’s a hell of good way to pass a cold, snowy night. Those little dolls will have you hooked!
–Abby Wisse Schachter edits the Opinion Books section of the New York Post.
Man’s Search for Meaning: Experiences in the Concentration Camp, by Viktor E. Frankl. A book for the ages, and matchless gift in times of hardship.
An Unplanned Life, by George M. Elsey. The newly published reminiscences of the author’s days as a Naval aide to FDR and speechwriter and advisor to President Truman. Now 87, Mr. Elsey spent many hours with Roosevelt in the White House Map Room, served as the president’s personal witness to the invasion of Normandy, and decoded and delivered to Truman the first report of the mission over Hiroshima. The stories are fascinating and engagingly told — the product of careful note-taking, an undimmed memory, and a modest, gentlemanly character.
For young children, The Crippled Lamb, by Max Lucado. The lovely story of an outcast lamb destined to find a place in the manger and to warm the baby Jesus. Also recommended for children: Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White’s classic tale of friendship, clemency, and rebirth. Movie version comes out in June, courtesy of Walden Media and its co-president, NR alum Micheal Flaherty.
The Apprentice, by Lewis “Scooter” Libby. A fine novel by a first-rate man, who is now enduring an entirely undeserved ordeal (and who, when he is vindicated, should be promptly returned to his White House post).
Bombers, Bootleggers and Bolsheviks: A Study in Constitutional Subversion, by Leon F. Scully, Jr. A family favorite, by my late father, who was probably the only legal scholar ever examine the original documents and actual events behind Weeks v. United States and Mapp v. Ohio–the Supreme Court cases that gave us the exclusionary rule of evidence and similar court-imposed constraints on law enforcement. The story he tells–of collusion, rigged test cases, ACLU conniving, and illegitimate precedents–will be of great interest to attorneys, prosecutors, and especially police officers. A short Introduction sets forth the case, with the command of both language and the law that characterizes the entire book.
–Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, is the author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.
I’m delighted to report that America’s other O’Connor–Edwin O’Connor, author of The Last Hurrah–is now represented in the Loyola Classics series of Catholic novels with The Edge of Sadness, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961. Long out of print and all but forgotten, this haunting tale of a Boston-bred priest and his struggle with loneliness is one of my all-time favorite American novels, at once intensely poignant and warmly funny. The Loyola Press has done yeoman service to the republic of letters by making it available once more.
Turning to three of my professional specialties, the best new book I read this year in my capacity as a drama critic was Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography, a lively, wonderfully well-written mixture of known fact and plausible speculation through which I galloped with the utmost pleasure. As for music, Jean Pierre Lion’s Bix: The Definitive Biography of a Jazz Legend is a superior piece of biography that tells the sad story of jazz pioneer Bix Beiderbecke skillfully and sensitively. Finally, I commend your attention to Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse, the second and final volume of Hilary Spurling’s biography of the greatest painter of the twentieth century. Speaking as an art collector who appreciates both sound scholarship and lucid writing, I can’t begin to say enough good things about this gripping chronicle of a crowded, complicated life.
At Play in the Fields of the Lord, by Peter Matthiessen: An exquisitely written story of an American missionary family’s determined descent into the world of an Amazon River tribe, the family’s conflicts with unsavory castaways who co-habit that world, and the Americans’ discovery of an unexplored and primitive side of their souls. A provocative story of how idealistic American intentions and religious zealotry can cause unforeseen epiphanies.
South, by Ernest Shackleton: A first-hand chronicle of the author’s infamous 1914-1917 British expedition to the South Pole, the fate that befell his wooden ship and his tenacious crew, and their miraculous and arduous journey across the ice pack to the edge of the Arctic Sea. The best adventure story I have read and a testament to some of the world’s bravest explorers.
The Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer: Arguably the finest book ever written about war, this is the true story of the author’s experiences as a German foot soldier on the frigid Eastern Front in 1942, his baptism by fire in the horrific battles against the Russians, and the ignoble German retreat, where Sajer and his mates display the utter desperation and the awe-inspiring determination of the soldierly spirit.
The Easter Offensive, by Colonel Gerald Turley, USMC, (Ret.): A first-hand account of the last American military advisors in South Vietnam, most of them U.S. Marines, and how they almost single handedly turned the tide of battle and helped the South Vietnamese army repel the Communist invasion in Spring of 1972. This story is even timelier as a historical reference point in light of our current transition to a military advisory role in Iraq.
>The Aquariums of Pyongyang, by Kang Chol-Hwan: A chilling account of a modern day North Korean family’s fall from political favor and their abrupt exile to a hard labor camp, where they are subjected to the cruel pathology of their government, witness the hopelessness of their fellow internees, and experience the endurance of the human spirit. The author eventually made his way out of North Korea and is now a journalist in the South. A must read for anyone who wants an insider’s view of life in North Korea.
–Brooks Tucker served as a Marine infantry-unit leader in the Persian Gulf War and is the author of Breach, the first novel about combat Marines in that war. He is a major in the Marine Corps Reserve.