National Review Online helps you shop for your loved ones, once again.
Need a vacation? These three books will take you away.
A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water: Patrick Leigh Fermor was an Anglo-Irishman and a heroic WWII vet (he kidnapped a German general on Crete and smuggled him onto a submarine bound for Egypt). In 1934, when he was an 18-year-old dropout living at loose ends in London, he decided to walk across Europe, from where the boat would leave him off in Holland to Constantinople. Years later he wrote his journey up. These two books take him as far as the border of Romania. The prose is very done, and you have to see through the persona of the charming young Englishman. Leigh Fermor is truly charming, however. Best sentence, as he is riding over the plain of Hungary on a borrowed horse: “There was not a single way in which life could be improved.”
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: Rebecca West, author and sometime mistress of H. G. Wells, took a trip to Yugoslavia in 1937. The immense book she wrote — originally published in two volumes — is very well written, very observant, and very biased. She is one of those Englishwomen, upper class or U-aspiring, who think every opinion they have is justified by their sincerity and insistence. And yet some of her thoughts are keen. As I write, I am on page 864 of 1,150; she has just made a ferocious attack on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford. The clearest treatment I’ve seen of truly brilliant military and political leadership. Weatherford makes clear how Genghis Khan transformed his own people into an adaptable, unified nation, and how he then used his soldiers carefully to impose a new order on the world. The lesson is not that we should emulate Genghis Khan and the Mongols; the lesson is that we should not pretend to be a world power if we do not have the will to act the part. This book is not just for history readers — it’s for students of contemporary affairs who will be fascinated by how applicable this history is to our times.
Evelina: or, the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, by Fanny Burney: This nearly forgotten novel was one of Jane Austen’s favorites, and it’s a delight to see how much the great novelist learned from her predecessor. Burney’s novel, told in letters (which usually makes for deadly reading!), is funny and ironic from beginning to end, and if her heroine allows people to mistreat her dreadfully because she’s too polite to protest, that’s clearly the novelist’s point. For the Jane Austen fan who is frustrated by the fact that Austen isn’t coming out with any new books this year.
— Orson Scott Card is a novelist and critic.
It’s a pleasure to report that some of the best books for the general reader in 2011 were written by friends. Anyone with a child remotely near the campus years will laugh and wince over Andrew Ferguson’s learned yet wonderfully entertaining Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College. Those looking for an inspirational and compulsively readable tale will enjoy Andreas Widmer’s The Pope and the CEO, a Swiss Guard’s memoir about what John Paul II taught a future business boss about leadership. Readers just plain interested in money — which is to say, readers — will profit from Adrian Wooldridge’s beautifully written debunking, Masters of Management: How the Business Gurus and Their Ideas Have Changed the World — for Better and for Worse. And for anyone wanting to get or give real laughs, America’s funniest satirist, P. J. O’Rourke, proves incomparably in his brand-new Holidays in Heck that family vacations can be harder on the nerves than battle zones. All of these books sparkle with insights and light touches, meaning they’re the perfect antidotes for dreary economic and political times.
— Mary Eberstadt is author of The Loser Letters.
Three books that came with me on the NR cruise:
The second-heaviest book I brought on the cruise was Arguably, the new collection of essays and columns by Christopher Hitchens. I find he alternates between pieces that are brilliant and pieces that are infuriating, sometimes deep and philosophical and sometimes light or bawdy. Arguably is one of the easiest 750-page books you’ll encounter, as it includes lengthy accounts from Iraq and short pieces for Slate and Vanity Fair. Only two pieces mention President Obama, but one comparison stings and nearly justifies the entire book: “Take ‘Yes We Can,’ for example. It’s the sort of thing parents might chant encouragingly to a child slow on the potty-training uptake.”
In July, John J. Miller talked to Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. Her studies of how people spend their time reveal a populace that is less overworked and stressed than it believes. Her research shows that many Americans simply don’t budget their time effectively and fail to prioritize what they say matters most to them. She raises the accurate (and easily overlooked) point that the world’s happiest and most productive people have the same amount of time in a week as those who are most stressed, overwhelmed, and miserable: the same 168 hours. The difference is in how they use that time. Her advice may seem intuitive — determine what’s most important, focus on things that only you can do, and outsource, minimize, or ignore the rest — but it’s a useful reminder that we are often capable of much more than we are currently doing, and the single biggest and most powerful change we can make in our lives is changing our own thinking.
For sheer audaciousness in the advice genre, you can’t beat Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek (an approach I’ve missed for NRO by many, many, many hours) and now author of the hefty health compendium The Four Hour Body. (This was the heaviest book I brought on the cruise; the author himself notes his tome could be used to club a baby seal.) Ferriss talks to a wide variety of athletes, trainers, doctors, researchers, and everyone else about health and fitness, and has put together a fascinating collection of advice for all kinds of goals: how to burn fat faster, how to build muscle, how to run faster, how to swim faster, how to heal faster from injuries. (Warning: There is a chapter on, let’s call it, “bedroom calisthenics.”) Ferriss’s approach is all about determining and applying the “minimum effective dose” — i.e., how to get the full effect of a behavior change such as dieting or exercise with the minimal effort, ensuring as little time or energy is wasted. So far I’m down eleven pounds but I’m also seeing surprising strength gains — leg-pressing 460 pounds, doing 220 pounds on the cable pulldown, arm-curling 125 pounds, etc. Who knows, maybe someday even I could have biceps like Michelle Obama’s.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot blog on National Review Online .
Consider a donation to Wait No More or Harvest of Hope on behalf of the more than 100,000 foster children waiting for adoption. For families, what better way to help children appreciate the blessing of family and consider the needs of others? For adults, how about directing the gift-giving spirit of your office, church, or other groups toward these children in need?
To learn more or to contribute directly to help foster children find a family they can call their own, check out these two terrific ministries:
Wait No More: Launched in 2008 by Focus on the Family to alert more Americans to the urgency of the need for adoption, Wait No More hosts events that gather government leaders, churches, private adoption agencies, and prospective adoptive parents to provide information and opportunities to begin the adoption process on site. To date, 7,100 have attended Wait No More events, with 1,791 families initiating adoption of foster children. In Colorado, where the group is headquartered, the number of foster children waiting for adoption dropped from about 800 to 350, thanks to the efforts of Wait No More in conjunction with other ministries and agencies.
Harvest of Hope: Rev. Deforest “Buster” Soaries and his Somerset, N.J., congregation began their foster-care work when they learned of a “boarder baby” crisis — newborns abandoned in hospitals — in their county and elsewhere in the state. The Harvest of Hope Program was created to find families for these infants. Since then, Harvest of Hope has recruited more than 375 foster families. Some 145 families have adopted 232 children. The ministry’s efforts have expanded, with Harvest of Hope now leading a statewide network of churches from which foster parents are recruited and supported as they take in children.
— Jennifer Marshall is director of domestic-policy studies at the Heritage Foundation and author of Now and Not Yet.
The Oxford Atlas of the World is big and beautiful — and so up to date that the maps in its just-released 18th edition include the new nation of South Sudan, which became independent in July. American mapheads will want to check out The Essential Geography of the United States, a wall map by Dave Imus that is one part reference work and one part work of art.
— John J. Miller is NR’s national correspondent. His historical novel The First Assassin has just been released in a new edition.
My recommendations are several older books, which, though they are not political books, are well worth a look by at least some readers, and one new book that is on politics.
First and foremost, since I’m a dog lover, one of my all-time favorite books is Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, by Ted Kerasote. If you, or anyone you know, own a dog, or have ever owned a dog, I pretty much insist you buy this book. A combination of a personal memoir about life with a special dog and fascinating scientific research into animals, this book will touch and enlighten.
My pick in fiction is another book that was published several years ago, the lovely novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. This book is a moving tale of World War II and the relationship of Americans with Japanese in the United States, as well as the relationship between the Chinese and Japanese. This book not only provides a beautiful storyline of individuals caught up in these difficult relationships, it also provides a glimpse into America’s dark past of internment camps.
Finally, a political book perhaps more appropriate for this forum: No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, by Condoleezza Rice. Rice is an incredible person who always offers great candor and fascinating insight. However you felt about the George W. Bush administration, the insights provided here make this an excellent read as we work to elect another Republican president.
— Jana Novak, who spent more than a decade working in politics, is a freelance writer with two books — and several renovations, repairs, and natural calamities — under her belt.
I would recommend In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G. K. Chesterton, recently published by Ignatius Press. It’s not merely eminently sane, but is also a wonderful display of GKC’s pyrotechnic brilliance as an essayist, that most neglected of literary forms. I’d also advocate The Alchemist, by Sean O’Leary, a CD of musical adaptations of the poetry of the great Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins.
— Joseph Pearce is the author of Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays.
ALAN E. SEARS
The Forgotten Man, by Amity Shlaes: For anyone who actually still believes the Great Depression was an accident, that the growth of government helped end it, and that FDR really was a fiscal Santa Claus. Riveting as any novel. For a special bonus, one learns about not just the court-packing plan, but how a justice actually told a member of the administration how to argue to win its defense of the then-greatest expansion of government spending and social intervention ever.
Render Unto Caesar, by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: For anyone who believes the government is neutral in anyway, on any front in the battle for religious liberty; that religious liberty will survive without a vigorous defense; and that pastors and church leaders should not be on the front lines of this engagement. Clear, concise, compelling. Though he writes from a Catholic perspective, his arguments well serve anyone concerned about liberty from the perspective of Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian worldview.
— Alan E. Sears is president of the Alliance Defense Fund.
Debra Bricker Balken, John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury: The catalogue of the Portland Museum’s superlatively memorable exhibition of Marin’s late paintings and watercolors is itself a first-class effort, a penetrating study of a major painter whose work is no longer widely known save to assiduous students of American modernism. Might a Marin revival be in the offing? It’s starting to look like a real possibility, and this gorgeous, smartly written book will show you what you’ve been missing. Jens Malte Fischer, Gustav Mahler: This is, incredibly enough, the first full-scale single-volume primary-source English-language biography of the composer of Das Lied von der Erde, and it’s a winner. Don’t be fazed by its 700-page length — the style is straightforward, the structure clear and sensible, and Fischer never gets bogged down in superfluous detail. John Gielgud, Ages of Man: The first home-video release of the 1966 broadcast version of the great English actor’s one-man Shakespeare show, which aired on CBS on two consecutive Sunday afternoons (the network suits didn’t think anybody would sit still long enough to watch the whole show in one go) and has been in limbo ever since. Contemporary Shakespeare style has changed almost beyond recognition since Gielgud’s day, but his elegant delivery and exquisitely modulated voice remain as seductive — and intelligent — as ever.
— Terry Teachout is the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal and the critic-at-large of Commentary. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, opened in September in Orlando, Fla.