Just after Thanksgiving, some National Review authors and friends offered their Christmas gift-giving recommendations here. Now, a second round, for those still looking for good book ideas.
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 Secret World 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 Arthur Brooks’s The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future. 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 (reviewed here). 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, the Church, 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 The New 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.
In my off-hours, I tend to want to get away from the world of politics. Folks on the NR cruise may have spied me reading Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures, by former FBI agent Robert Wittman. Stealing or recovering high-priced art and relics makes up a lot of Hollywood’s classic adventure movies — the Indiana Jones and National Treasure series, or The Thomas Crown Affair — so it’s fascinating to learn how great works of art get stolen in the real world, and how the forces of law and order get them back. Art theft and looting of historical treasures is more ubiquitous than one might think; the thieves are generally dumber, rougher, and greedier than they are in movies; and many thieves find that turning stolen artwork into cash is a lot harder than they thought. Wittman takes us through about a dozen cases of undercover work, recovering a variety of treasures, modern and ancient: golden armor from ancient Peru, a Rembrandt self-portrait, a rare blood-stained battle flag from an African-American regiment in the Civil War, and an original copy of the Bill of Rights. A good, quick read, and a heck of a lot of fun.
Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas the other night reminded me of how much I miss the work of Charles Schulz, and how today’s comics pages are generally bereft of his style. Perhaps the strip that comes closest is Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac, which this year debuted an appropriately gargantuan collection, Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: A Keepsake Garland of Classics.
Thompson’s style may not be everyone’s taste; perhaps the setting — a home and day-care center in a Washington suburb — resonates a little too closely to my current circumstances. The following strip is effectively a documentary of life at my house:
If you’ve seen my videos on NRO, you’ve seen the work of the Creative Labs Vado HD 720p Pocket Video Camcorder, which I thought I bought at an astonishingly low price, and now find is priced for even less for holiday shopping. Just plug it into your computer to download your videos. Great for recording SEIU employee violence at your next Tea Party.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.
MOLLIE ZIEGLER HEMINGWAY
For the kids: As the parents of small children, my husband and I spend a lot of time reading to them. One of their favorites is also one of ours: An Awesome Book of Thanks! Dallas Clayton’s illustrations and prose playfully teach children about gratitude for things large and small. High levels of gratitude explain more about psychological well-being than 30 of the most commonly studied personality traits. Even our adult friends love this book.
For the adults: The New Haven Review’s new book-publishing side gives us a tongue-in-cheek guide to seducing women by Rudolph Delson and a sci-fi essay by Gregory Feeley. But I’m most excited by Blue for Oceans, a book of poetry about family and growing older by Charles Douthat. If he writes as well as his son Ross, it promises to be great. All three are available here.
For the curious: If you’re a lifelong Lutheran looking for a refresher or simply curious about what Lutherans believe, Lutheranism 101 is the best guide out there. It’s very easy to read, with short articles, humorous lists, and illustrations. And yet it’s also a solid presentation of Lutheran beliefs and heritage.
— Mollie Ziegler Hemingway writes for GetReligion.org.
A practical gift for fathers is this Cooking for Dads cookbook and DVD set. It’s put together by a dad, for dads. The recipes are simple and easy enough for even the most kitchen-challenged male to figure out and give mom a night off. I planned on getting it for my husband, Sean, before he was elected to Congress in November. Now that he’s a congressman, I think we’ll all be grateful if he just shows up for dinner and helps with dishes!
If you are looking for a good children’s book — especially for a family that is expecting — I recommend Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman. It’s pro-life and beautiful.
And for a more familiar children’s-book idea: Buy your favorite preteen or teen the Nancy Drew series. I actually began reading this wholesome classic to my kids when they were eight years old. They learn what it’s like to solve mysteries without cell phones. They’re exposed to other quaint concepts like honesty, being polite to adults, and dating. Dating, in the Nancy Drew world, mercifully involves fraternity formals with Ned that end with a polite kiss goodnight as opposed to a drunken hookup!
— Rachel Campos-Duffy, mother of six, is the author of Stay Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood and blogs at AOL’s ParentDish.
This year I want to offer three “firsts” which, if taken as gift-giving suggestions, will turn into hundreds of hours of pleasure for the recipient.
First, get Sharpe’s Tiger, the first in Bernard Cornwell’s 22-volume Sharpe series, a march through the Napoleonic Wars with a member of Wellington’s army. Cornwell is prolific and his other series are much loved as well, but Sharpe’s saga is great history mixed with great yarn spinning. Consult Wikipedia for the order in which the books should be read. The 22 books will seem like four when you look up at the end of the road in St. Helena.
Next, get Vince Flynn’s brand-new American Assassin. Though this novel is the most recent to hit stores, it is set at the beginning of Mitch Rapp’s career, and the first book of eleven in the Rapp series, which will continue to sell hundreds of thousands of copies for years to come.
Finally, the first entry in Daniel Silva’s series of ten Gabriel Allon novels is The Kill Artist. It will hook you on this unique combination of thriller, political commentary, and art history.
If you read two Sharpe novels, followed by a Rapp novel, followed by an Allon novel, you will be entertained for ages. If you give all three to a reading friend with instructions on how to proceed, they will be thanking you for years to come.
— Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show.
The highlight of the year, for me, was the beatification of John Henry Newman by Pope Benedict XVI in September. In commemoration of this momentous event, Ignatius Press published Blessed John Henry Newman: Theologian and Spiritual Guide for Our Times, by Keith Beaumont, and The Heart of Newman, a selection of Newman’s writings. The first serves as the perfect introduction to Newman’s life and work; the second is an excellent synthesis of some of his finest writing.
Looking for the King, by David Downing, and Death of a Liturgist by Lorraine V. Murray were the two most enjoyable new works of fiction that I’ve read in the past year. The former is a masterfully told mystery story, which weaves in and out of the world of Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inklings. It’s a must-read for all lovers of The Lord of the Rings and Narnia, and for all lovers of well-written and well-woven thrillers. The latter is a simply delightful satire, in the form of a murder mystery, on the nonsensical world of liturgical modernism.
— JosephPearce is the author of Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays.
Richard Linklater’s Me & Orson Welles, just out on home video, is a witty, ingenious, perfectly cast, brilliantly designed, and astonishingly well-informed backstage rom-com about the Mercury Theatre’s legendary 1937 Broadway production of Julius Caesar. It didn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserved when it was released, so catch up with it now and prepare to be both charmed and enthralled. I don’t know when I’ve seen a better movie about what it feels like to put on a play.
Selena Hastings’s The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham(Random House) doesn’t contain all that much fresh dirt about the author of Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale, but Hastings is a very good writer who had unrestricted access to previously unknown primary-source material, and the result is a smart biography that portrays its not-very-nice subject with a welcome combination of candor and sympathy.
In 1952, the First Drama Quartette — Charles Boyer, Cedric Hardwicke, Agnes Moorehead, and Charles Laughton — performed the “Don Juan in Hell” scene from George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman with stupendous verve and elegance on Broadway and on tour. This celebrated performance was recorded in its entirety by Columbia Masterworks. Never previously reissued in any format, it’s now available as an mp3-only download for the unbelievable price of $1.98 (that’s from Amazon — iTunes charges twenty bucks). That’s what I call a deal.
— Terry Teachout is the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. His latest book, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, is now out in paperback from Mariner Books.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, is more than an excellent biography. It is the gripping story of the power of a man completely sold out to God and to an ideal. Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed faith was to be publicly demonstrated, not hidden from view in private religiosity. He gave his life saving Jews and attempted to save even more by engaging in a conspiracy to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer the man and Bonhoeffer the book will inspire and motivate people for generations to come.
— Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.