It has become a tradition (2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 . . . you get the idea) on National Review Online for regulars and friends to share Christmas-gift recommendations (well, besides giving the gift of NR) around Thanksgiving time. Once again, we hope we are a help. Happy shopping (and thank you for clicking through — your Amazon purchases through this list put a few coins in NRO’s stocking). And, most importantly, ultimately, merry Christmas. Enjoy the season. There is a reason for it.
Christmas is my favorite time of year. Once Advent begins, faith, music, and memories are newly revived. Here are a parcel of gift suggestions to share these treasures with those you love and cherish:
#ad#The Sopranos: The Complete Series. It is hard to believe that it has been more than a year since Tony Soprano cut to black. My Sunday nights have not been the same since. Well, here is a chance to relive the brilliance of one of television’s great achievements — and David Chase’s masterpiece. The writing, the acting, and the coherent moral universe make this series one of the all-time greats. If you haven’t met the Soprano clan yet, “poor you.” Here’s your chance. Weighing in at 10 pounds, the 33 disks contain every episode of the series and hours of bonus features. But if you’re looking for an explanation for that abrupt ending — fuggedaboudit. Chase and company keep the truth to themselves.
Sinatra: Vegas. Forgive the Italian theme here, but Sinatra is, strictly speaking, an American classic — and this box set demonstrates why. Though it has been out for a few years, this attractive set features far more than the standard tracks that populate so many Sinatra collections. These are live audio recordings of the Chairman of the Board from 1961-1987, as well as a DVD recorded at Caesar’s Palace in 1978. The music swings, and for hardcore Sinatra devotees like me, there can be no better gift. Ring-a-ding ding.
Exiles by Ron Hansen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The great Catholic author, Ron Hansen, has written a haunting novel which simultaneously describes the creation of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, as well as the shipwreck it commemorates. With a remarkable eye for detail and mastery of his craft, Hansen breathes new life into the Jesuit poet — exiled from his family for the sake of his faith — while making us care for a troop of nuns who leave their native Germany to follow God’s will. Every book Hansen has ever written is worth reading (don’t miss Mariette In Ecstasy, The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Atticus). But this Christmas, you may as well give that special someone the latest. Hansen is that rare writer capable of revealing the powerful struggle of good and evil just beneath the surface of the observed world. In his book A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction, Hansen wrote “ . . . religion and fiction have in common the unquenchable yearning to achieve the impossible, fathom the unfathomable, hold on to what is fleeting and evanescent and seen, in Saint Paul’s words, ‘as through a glass, darkly.’ Read his work and you’ll experience this firsthand. Merry Christmas.
– Raymond Arroyo is the author of the New York Times Bestseller Mother Angelica’s Private and Pithy Lessons From the Scriptures (Doubleday).
Here are my holiday suggestions:
For book lovers: a wonderful novel called The Septembers of Shiraz, by Daila Sofer, which is set in Iran just after the Shah is overthrown and the mullahs take over. It is about a wealthy Jewish family whose whole world changes — who have had comfortable, easy lives filled with beautiful clothes and good food, a luxurious weekend house and vacation trips to marvelous places. Very suddenly they become strangers in a strange land that used to be their own. The book takes on particular meaning in these times when everything has changed so much and we all feel a bit like strangers in a place we thought we knew so well.
A place to visit: A fabulous museum to visit in New York is the Rubin Museum of Art, home to a marvelous collection of Himalayan art. The building itself — on 17th Street, the former address of Barney’s downtown store — is beautiful, and the exhibitions are always remarkable. Currently there is an exhibition of the art of Bhutan, objects never before seen in the West. Monks from this tiny country chant prayers twice a day in one of the galleries. It also has a lovely café and gift shop where you can buy a Christmas gift someone you know would probably adore.
Gifts for small girls: on the wish list of one little girl I know is something that other little girls would like as well: A copy of Fancy Nancy, patterned tights from Land’s End, a princess tent (if you have a little girl you will know exactly what I mean), and a ticket to The Nutcracker Ballet.
— 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.
Valkyrie will put the 1944 plot to kill Hitler front and center. If you were like me, you first learned of the plot from William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which treats it contemptuously. Berlin Diaries, 1940-1945, by Marie Vassiltchikov, describes the world of the plotters from the inside.
The Age of Obama coincides with the Lincoln bicentennial. Myth gridlock! Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point, by Lewis E. Lehrman, looks at the Peoria speech of 1854 which, Lehrman argues, was the opening salvo of a years’ long Lincoln/Douglas debate, and outlined the major themes of Lincoln’s mature thought.
– Rick Brookhiser is a Senior Editor of NR.
MATTHEW J. FRANCK
As we enter the Age of Obama, I think back to having said in February that “if a better book is published by a political scientist in America in 2008” than Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, “I’d be very, very surprised.” Well, the year is nearly over, and I haven’t seen one. Read it and worry about what’s on the horizon.
If conservatives are entering a wilderness period, who better to inspire us to deepen our thinking than Winston Churchill? During his time of exile, Churchill wrote Marlborough: His Life and Times, a massive and magisterial work about his ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough — a book that Leo Strauss called “the greatest historical work written in [the twentieth] century.” The University of Chicago Press has it back in print, and Strauss’s judgment is hard to contradict. Churchill’s portrait of statesmanship is as instructive as anything by Aristotle or Machiavelli.
Need some pure escape that isn’t pure fluff? Do you miss the Aubrey/Maturin novels of the late Patrick O’Brian? The nearest things — in their own way, quite as good — are the Matthew Hervey novels of Allan Mallinson — stories of a British cavalry officer of the early 19th Century that are packed with detail about the imperial politics of the age, and feature heart-pounding military action and an interesting hero. Start with A Close Run Thing, a riveting account of the battle of Waterloo, and see if you don’t get hooked as I have been.
The Christmas season is a time to reflect on the faith, and I’ve discovered an interesting reprint series from Loyola Press of Catholic novels from the mid-20th Century. So far I’ve read A. J. Cronin’s The Keys of the Kingdom, and I’m in the middle of Morris West’s The Devil’s Advocate. Both are well-told tales about the priesthood, and remind us that our shepherds are men who must bear their own crosses as well as ours. Merry Christmas to all our priests and pastors!
– Matthew J. Franck is a Visiting Fellow in the James Madison Program at Princeton University, and professor and chairman of political science at Radford University.
1. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Making of American Consensus by Rick Perlstein. Perlstein’s latest book, Nixonland, is currently occupying a slot on just about every publication’s “Best Books of 2008” list and is certainly worth reading, but it’s his first book on Barry Goldwater and the political and cultural millieu that led to the rise of the conservative movement that seems to be of particular relevance these days. In fact, the book and the lessons therein were championed by the liberal netroots a few years ago when it looked like Democrats would be out of power indefinitely.
Politically, Perlstein’s about as liberal as they come. (I’m proud to say I’m friendly with the author and we can rarely talk politics without things immediately devolving into an argument.) However, though he’s personally pugilistic, he’s the unicorn of academic historians — in that he earnestly seeks to understand foreign ideological viewpoints and he knows how to write evocatively and compellingly. Long out of print, a paperback edition will be finally be published in February and is currently listed on Amazon. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift and can’t wait until February, try and find a used copy on abebooks.com or another used-book seller.
2. A Secret Life:The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country by Benjamin Weiser. The incredibly thrilling, true story of Ryszard Kuklinski, a top Polish general who worked as a spy feeding the secrets of the Communist leadership from behind the Iron Curtain to the CIA for over a decade. Strictly as a spy story, it’s a heck of a tale, but what really makes the book is the epistles between Kuklinski and his CIA handlers revealing his true motivations for risking his life: he believed passionately in America. If, as an American, you’re unmoved by Kuklinski’s willingness to risk everything for the ideals America represents . . . well, I reserve the right to question your patriotism.
#ad#3. Paul Newman died this year, an event which led to the appalling discovery that my wife had not seen Cool Hand Luke. I heartily recommend you prevent such gaps in taste by purchasing the Deluxe Edition DVD. Even better, few people know that the movie is based on a terrific book. Besides being a tragically overlooked writer, the author — Donn Pearce — has been a World War II veteran, merchant marine, safecracker, counterfeiter, and private investigator. His life story is something else. Not surprisingly, Pearce actually spent time on a Florida chain gang, which inspired Cool Hand Luke. In any event, it’s a crime that Pearce’s writing talents remain under-appreciated.
4. I try and avoid metrosexual accoutrements, but my wife has the temerity to insist on me being “presentable.” As winter nears, my lips tend to crack badly — so thank goodness my better half gave me with this John Allan’s Spearmint Lime Lip Balm. It’s not cheap, but it works great and I love the stuff. My skin also dries out a lot this time of year, so I also have my wife to thank for supplying me with Kiehl’s Facial Fuel, which is invigorating in a manly-enough way that I can forget for a moment that I’m, egad, moisturizing.
5. There are a few necessities in life where it’s impossible to get a real quality product without throwing down some money. Luggage seems to be one of things. I was in desperate need of a new briefcase/messenger bag and I’m delighted with the bag I purchased from Tumi — I’ve been repeatedly asked where I got it after showing up at various appointments. Unfortunately, the particular model I purchased seems to have been discontinued (though it’s still available in the leather version at some outlets). However, I looked at dozens of brands before purchasing and, almost as a rule, just about anything by Tumi appeared to to be better designed and more durable than similarly priced competitors.
— Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
The Hoover Institution owns and has released some Firing Line classics on DVD. I know the more frugal things would be to wait for boxed sets of complete seasons, but I do want some of what’s available for Christmas and so will no doubt be spreading the wealth by giving a little Reagan, Muggeridge, Goldwater, Clare Booth Luce, and others this Christmas.
Speaking of Buckley, when not negotiating with Jack Fowler for one of the last copies of The Unmaking of a Mayor — or bidding on eBay — I’ll be picking up copies of The Reagan I Knew, which is truly a joy to read.
Obama-issues aside, Christopher Buckley is clever, period. So his new one is on my list. Peggy Noonan says important things in Patriotic Grace. You probably haven’t agreed with her every column this election cycle, but she is a smart, vibrant artist with an ear on our times and a heart attuned to the fundamentals.
Kathleen Parker makes a case for Sav[ing] the Males few others published by the Washington Post ever would.
If you need to get away from the political and need a spiritual (re)awakening, I’ve been giving out copies of St. Frances de Sales lately like it’s going out of print. I trust the Introduction to the Devout Life will not be going out of print because of Fairness Doctrine mandates, given there are plenty of introductions to another kind of life out there.
There are people who have died who loved animals who I wish I could have given Mark Levin’s Rescuing Sprite to. You should while you can. If you know anyone who hasn’t read Liberal Fascism yet, that seems like the perfect gift this year … not to be pessimistic. But the situation surrounding Prop 8 in California has me in “Be Prepared” mode. Speaking of being prepared: Get Ramesh Ponnuru’s Party of Death for anyone who cares about human rights and the future of human dignity. As the Obama administration retreads, Kate O’Beirne will remind you why we’ve been there, done that, and are not better off in Women Who Make the World Worse.
Bill Bennett has a solution to the latest ISI we-don’t-know-anything-about-America report in his American Patriot’s Almanac: Daily Readings on America.
Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man would be a great history book anytime, but perfect for the moment.
If you’re looking to give a short, solid read to take someone’s mind off the mundane and put it onto important things, consider Amata Means Beloved, by Sister Mary Catharine Perry, O.P. It’s a quick murder mystery written by a cloistered nun (who also, as it happens, blogs!). And while you’re at it, you might consider going monastic this Christmas. It’s not just fruitcakes, but hand creme and mustard and wine and candles and coffee and thanks to Anchoress for the idea.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
JOHN J. MILLER
A perfect gift for conservatives who like to read thrillers: Empire of Lies, by Andrew Klavan. The book would be entertaining even if its worldview weren’t right-of-center; the fact that its worldview is right-of-center makes it especially appealing.
Prince Caspian is not my favorite volume in the seven-part Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. It’s not my second or third favorite, either. But it’s a pretty good movie and the DVD is just now coming out.
#ad#Nobody makes more interesting music than Iceland’s Sigur Rós. The latest album is called Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust. I have no idea what that means, so don’t bother asking. Just listen. The first half is better than the second half, but it’s all good.
Everybody around NR has a favorite WFB book. I’ve decided that mine is an obscure one: The Temptation of Wilfred Malachey, a sort of modern-day Gothic tale aimed at kids — but for grown-ups, too.
– John J. Miller is NR’s national political reporter.
David Pryce-Jones has written ten novels, I believe: and his latest is Safe Houses, which is about World War II, and Germany, and Britain, and life. It is very intelligent and very moving, and so beautifully written, it is almost unbelievable.
Also, I’m amazed, as I go through life, at how many people — people who know a lot about the Middle East — say, “I learned about the Arab world through The Closed Circle,” another Pryce-Jones book (this one nonfiction). In fact, some of these people are professional Middle East analysts.
Every book by Norman Podhoretz is a must, and splendidly written, but let me single out My Love Affair with America, which is one of the most beautiful books I know. Also, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism gives our current predicament as it is.
Theodore Dalrymple’s Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy is one of the best books I have ever read on any subject. Ramesh Ponnuru’s The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life is one of the best books I have ever read on any subject.
The same is true of Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard by Fan Shen. No one has ever heard of this book. But it is absolutely stunning. It deserves to last for 500 years, and may well. I regard the book as a masterpiece. Again, it is almost entirely unknown — but I know it, and I’m glad I do.
As a kind of P.S., let me suggest two recordings. Hilary Hahn, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, has recorded the Sibelius Violin Concerto (along with the Schoenberg Violin Concerto). (The Amazon link is here.) I believe this is one of the great concerto recordings ever made, of anything, by anybody.
Renée Fleming’s Homage: The Age of the Diva has a cheesy cover, and perhaps a cheesy concept. It is also one of the greatest aria albums in history. (Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky orchestra.)
You’ve heard a lot of superlatives in my little contribution, but, when it comes to recommendations, I can only ask the question that Admiral Rickover famously asked the young Jimmy Carter: Why not the best?
– Jay Nordlinger is a senior editor of National Review.
MICHAEL AND CATHERINE PAKALUK
Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience, by Father Thomas Williams. Discerning judges are recommending this as the best book on conscience since the prison letters of St. Thomas More. Give this book to anyone who thinks that conscience is a strong feeling, or an inner voice, or rules taught by your parents, or an absolute trump on considerations of morality. In other words, give this book to just about everyone — it might just be a matter of conscience to keep one for yourself as well.
John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons. Skip the familiar Apologia and give instead this collection which has come to be regarded as one of the masterpieces of Christian spirituality. Newman’s sermons, delivered at St. Mary’s on High Street in Oxford, over a period of ten years. Consider that these are Newman’s “plain sermons,” designed for the common man, and weep over how far homiletics has declined. At the same time, let Newman — who, during the period was growing closer to conversion to Catholicism — reveal what it is to read the scriptures with the mind of the Church fathers. Excellent preparation for the expected Beatification of Newman in spring of 2009.
Give a subscription to the Wall Street Journal for your friends who have homeschooled children, sixth grade and up. (We assume they are already subscribing to National Review!) From experience we know that our own children who developed a habit of reading the Journal from an early age entered adulthood ready to be citizens with a broad understanding of the nation, markets, culture, and world affairs. For some families it even becomes something of a rite of passage to adulthood when a child finds it natural to say, “Did you read in today’s Journal . . . ”
Stock shares to give away — One wouldn’t recommend GM, but what about Apple ($90), Walmart ($54), or Campbell’s Soup ($32)? This sort of gift shares the wealth in the way one should, while imparting the good cheer of confidence in American enterprise. Consider especially a gift along these lines to someone who is disengaged — since nothing so wonderfully concentrates the economic mind as having skin in the game.
Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns. Burns’s masterpiece was criticized at its release as mixing a political agenda centered on concerns over racism with a straightforward history of jazz. But time reveals that his treatment was the right one for the subject, making the series an excellent introduction not only to works that come from the American soul — such as the music of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington — but also to the still-healing wound inflicted upon our country by the madness of segregation. Look for the frequently profound commentary by Wynton Marsalis who teaches us how to understand the human condition through understanding music.
– Michael Pakaluk is professor of philosophy at the Institute for Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Va. Catherine Pakaluk is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Harvard University.
JOHN J. PITNEY JR.
David Mendell’s Obama: From Promise to Power is the single best source of background information on our new president. (David Freddoso’s The Case Against Barack Obama is a solid polemic, not a comprehensive biography.) Covering the 2004 Senate campaign for the Chicago Tribune, Mendell got a good look at Obama before he became The One. In writing the book, Mendell drew mostly on his own firsthand reporting, and other writers have cribbed heavily from him. The book is generally sympathetic to its subject, but is not a hagiography, either. It takes note of his faults, as well as the sharp elbows that he has thrown in his rise to the top. In particular, it paints a clear picture of his considerable ego. Just before his famous keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention, Mendell recalls, he told Obama that he was impressing many influential people. “‘I’m LeBron, baby,’ he replied, referring to LeBron James, the phenomenally talented teenager who at the time was shooting the lights out in the National Basketball Association. ‘I can play on this level. I got some game.’” Such self-confidence can be an asset or liability, depending on circumstances — as we shall see in the years ahead.
Robert D. Novak’s The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting in Washington is a sobering look at the ways in which reporters interact with politicians. Forget the intrepid Robert Redford meeting the conflicted Hal Holbrook in a parking garage. In the real world, as Novak’s many vivid stories make clear, both sides get something from their dealings. Reporters get the scoops that advance their careers. Sources get to promote themselves and tear down their enemies. Novak is remarkably candid about the ways in which he sometimes traded favorable treatment in return for newsworthy information. But there is more to the book than a gritty look at gritty dealings. Novak also gives a moving account of his late-life conversion to Roman Catholicism — which one hopes is giving him comfort as he battles serious illness.
— John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.