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.
To commemorate our first anniversary two months ago, my wife and I indulged in a bit of art collecting. We discovered that we loved a number of Latin American artists, many of whom are affordable even though their careers are clearly ascendant. We settled on a lovely painting by Chilean artist Luis Heriberto Montoya Ortiz that we’re just thrilled about. We purchased it through New Hampshire art dealers Triba, who specialize in Latin American artists.
I know I’m not alone in thinking The Wire is bar none the best show in the history of television. Though the first season of its fellow HBO program The Sopranos comes close to matching it in quality, that program was mostly downhill from there. The level of quality that The Wire has maintained even as it expands the scope of the program with each successive season is simply amazing. Though the show is ostensibly about drug investigations in Baltimore, over the course of four seasons it has explored and indicted nearly every urban institution in America for failing its citizens. True to a show about the criminal underbelly of the urban poor, the show is extremely gritty and not for kids. However, adults will be astonished to discover that the idiot box has finally produced a show that has the breadth and complexity of the best novels.
And finally some books to get you through the holidays:
The most fun reading I’ve had in quite some time was Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts. The title says it all.
If you wish to know about the contemporary Democratic party, Matt Bai’s The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics is illuminating and enjoyable, and only occasionally disagreeable considering the author’s obvious sympathies.
Charles Portis wrote the western True Grit, and it’s overshadowed everything else he’s ever done. Good as that book (and movie!) was, Portis wrote a slew of other terrific books. Recently I read Masters of Atlantis, a deadpan, gut-busting comedy about a delusional misfit that founds his own cult. An exceedingly well-observed satire, it has a lot to say about the American religious character and why conspiracy theories are a national pastime.
– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.
Tired of the People’s Republic feeding your kids date-rape drugs in their lead-laden toys? Perturbed that China sells us toxic pet food to poison our pooches and kitties? Think Beijing deserves to host the Olympics about as much as Kim Jong Il deserves to run the World Food Programme?
This Christmas and Hanukkah, give the anti-China gift package!
A vacation to Taiwan: Embrace the island that told China where to shove its Olympic torch! Don’t forget to give mad props to Chen Shui-bian while generously spending your tourist dollars.
A little reading material: My Land and My People: The Original Autobiography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, by, of course, the Dalai Lama.
Non-Chinese-made toys: You can kill two birds with one stone here. Buy Danish-made Legos to avoid the toxins and roofies, and annoy jihadists still mad over Muhammad cartoons at the same time! Plus, Legos are the coolest thing ever.
Brand-new sports equipment: Why watch the Genocide Olympics in 2008? Instead, host a neighborhood Games to celebrate our right to play as we wish in a free nation. Tiki torches make a peachy substitute for China’s flaming propaganda vehicle.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
Another year, another round of great gift opportunities. I’ll take money. As you all know.
If you purchase no other book before year’s end, purchase My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas. It’s a beautiful tribute to two great American lives.
I’m giving every dog lover on my list Mark Levin’s Rescuing Sprite. In fact, I’m giving every non-dog lover Sprite too. I’m very far from St. Francis of Assisi and felt a little closer to this foreign saint thanks to my Jewish friend’s book.
Anyone who cares about politics and wants to do something will appreciate Laura Ingraham’s Power to the People. If you’re American, you have a voice and a vote, use ‘em!
NR’s Jay Nordlinger has another good gift book — covering enough ground to interest just about anyone.
Anyone with their browser here will want to click here for WFB’s latest collection.
Every single pre-teen and teen on your Christmas list should get Bill Bennett’s two-volume America: The Last Best Hope. In truth, every American could use the riveting reminder of who we are, where we came from, and what great men we owe and are called to be that these books provide.
Every worried father of a college-age daughter should get her Girls Gone Mild by Wendy Shalit. Every baby-boomer will appreciate Lynne Cheney’s Blue Skies, No Fences. Every mom will enjoy Susan Konig.
To get you thinking optimistically: Shop Mitt, and Rudy, and pick up something from the Fred shop and the McCain store, too. One of them will be working on their transition team this time next year and your right-thinking loved ones need to dress for the win.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
This Christmas Memories is a great gift for a newlyweds or someone expecting a first baby. It enables the family to preserve twenty years of holiday memories. There’s enough space to include pictures and describe special events, but it’s short enough that you can complete an entry in an afternoon — important for those of us who might otherwise put off the task. Embossing option is available.
Got an annoying environmentalist in your extended family? Get them a DVD copy of Mine Your Own Business, which exposes how environmentalism stifles progress in developing countries.
The iRobot® Roomba isn’t quite the robotic maid of the Jetson’s, but it’s a step in the right direction. The small disk-shaped device whizzes around the room, navigates around and under furniture, and, after completing its job, returns to its holder to recharge. It’s a perfect gift for families with small children (it can do the daily duty of sucking the smashed goldfish crackers and cheerios off the floor), a pet owner, or anyone too lazy to vacuum themselves.
– Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum and the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.
It seems to be traditional here to recommend several 500-page biographies of worthy men, but I find that the Yuletide combination eggnog and food coma makes reading anything much beyond microwave popcorn instructions too taxing for me. So as long as I’m going contrarian, I’ve decided to go all the way and recommend only French gifts. I suppose its time to come clean about the fact that I am that rare bird: a Francophile NR contributor.
For the ladies: tea from Mariage Freres. The best tea shop in Paris now lets you buy online. Buy any variety, in any amount – it’s the best tea you’ve ever tasted. Possibly the only imaginable way to make tea a romantic gift.
For the gents: pajamas from Arthur. Whether he admits it to you or not, every man on earth wants a good pair of pajamas. These sail neatly between the Scylla of itchy puritan flannel that he would never want to be in, and the Charybdis of that shiny stuff that he would never want to be caught dead in. Just consider it his zut alors! suit.
For the whole family: a Buche de Noel. Think French food is prissy? — This translates as “Yule Log.” Like that analogous American culinary invention “bacon salt,” this is as incredible as it sounds. To give you an idea of the Log’s unsubtle awesomeness, here is a special piece of equipment used in its preparation, as suggested by an online recipe: “an oiled broom handle suspended between 2 chair backs and newspapers on the floor, for the caramel.” Needless to say, don’t try this at home. If you have a good French bakery near you, order it there, otherwise you can order online.
– Jim Manzi holds a degree in mathematics from MIT and is the CEO of an applied artificial intelligence software company.
Iconography, the historic form of visual art in the Eastern half of Christendom, has been becoming increasingly popular. An Eastern Orthodox monastery in Wisconsin, St. Isaac of Syria Skete (a “skete” is a small monastery, named for the Desert Fathers’ center in Scetis, Egypt), offers a wide variety of icons, in a wide range of prices–both originals painted by hand, and historic icons laminated onto wooden plaques. A classic icon would be a significant and meaningful memento of the season, and you can also browse here for an icon of the saint whose name the recipient bears.
– 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.
JOHN J. MILLER
Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien know that The Lord of the Rings is a Christmas book in at least one sense: According to the novel’s Appendix B, the Company of the Ring departed Rivendell on December 25. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, didn’t pick this date at random. The latest must-have entry in the Tolkien corpus is The History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff, which includes everything you will ever want to know about how in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
Before the rise of Halloween, ghost stories were associated with the Yuletide – A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, is a ghost story, after all. So perhaps it would be more traditional than creepy to give Icons of Horror and the Supernatural, a two-volume set of detailed essays on everything from aliens to zombies in book and film. I’ve certainly enjoyed dipping into it this year.
Last summer, I took my ten-year-old son to the movies to see Transformers. The special effects are great and he loved it. But a couple of the scenes made my skin crawl, with their sexual double entendres and open talk of masturbation. Because of these vulgar and gratuitous parts, I decided not to buy the new DVD for him. One DVD that did make my Christmas list, however, is National Treasure: 2-Disk Collector’s Edition, which comes out next month. This modern thriller is old-fashioned fun–a film the whole family can enjoy. (The sequel comes out on December 21.) I’m also planning to let my kids try out The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.
– 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.
Fire in the Belly: What better way to keep one’s spirits up — than downing spirits. Personally, I’m more than happy to curl up with a bottle of my favorite cognac no mixology required. But for those with greater ambition (or with guests to impress), Ted Haighs’s book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails charts a path back to an earlier, more spirited age. Also highly recommended are Hemmingway and Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers and Barbara Holland’s The Joy of Drinking, either of which would make better drinking companions than most people (for one thing, you won’t have to share the bottle!).
Outrageous Fortune: Readers of “The American Scene,” where I blog these days, are aware of my passion for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Right about now, as the first snows fall, they are just taking down the sets of the last productions of this past summer’s season to close, and they’ve already begun the process of building the sets for next season. Would tickets to next summer’s productions be a superlative gift? Absolutely. But for those either daunted by the distance or by the falling American dollar, DVDs of two of the best productions from the late 1980s are available: Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew – both shows that will be produced this year, as it happens, so a gift of DVDs today might inspire a trip by summer. And the perfect accompaniment to DVDs of Stratford productions is, of course, the DVDs of the Canadian television series simultaneously parodying and glorifying the Stratford Festival, Slings & Arrows, all three seasons of which are now available on DVD.
Labor Saver: What do you get for the middle-aged suburban immigration restrictionist who has everything? He’s already got a Robomow. But does he have a Looj? Then you know what he needs! As an apartment-dweller, I can’t vouch personally for the quality of the product, but it’s made by the same people who make the Roomba, and the folks I know who purchased that robotic vacuum cleaner are quite pleased with the results.
-- Noah Millman is an investment banker who lives in Brooklyn.
JOHN J. PITNEY JR.
Videos have become a standard Christmas gift to families with small children. It’s natural to pick videos with Christmas themes, but how do you choose? Go with those that acknowledge that it’s Jesus’ birthday. The First Christmas is a nice telling of the Nativity story, with clay-animated characters and narration by Christopher Plummer. A Charlie Brown Christmas seemed merely cute and clever when it first aired in the 1960s, but today one scene comes across as downright bold. Of course, I’m talking about Linus’s speech on the meaning of Christmas, where he quotes directly from the Book of Luke.
There are many videos to avoid, but one particularly obnoxious example is Frosty Returns. This sequel to Frosty the Snowman is so PC that its title character is missing the corncob pipe (can’t encourage smoking!) and nobody even mentions Christmas. Instead, the plot involves an evil businessman who wants to do away with snow. Al Gore didn’t get a writing credit, but he might as well have.
-- John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College.
Just one suggestion this year, but it’s one that will make you a favorite of any rock-lover on your list: Rolling Stone Cover to Cover is a DVD box set that reproduces every single page of every issue of Rolling Stone over these first 40 years of its existence. It’s a magnificent memory trip, and a portable encyclopedia of the music of our times. It’s $125 — but only $78.75 on Amazon. (The same company, Bondi Digital Publishing, is also producing a DVD of the complete Playboy from 1953 to 1959; with other decades presumably to follow. I have not examined that one, but I’m sure it, too, would delight many a recipient under the Christmas tree.)
– Michael Potemra is NR’s literary editor.