23 December 2008

Holiday Gift Guide, Part 4: For The Deep Thinker

Truth be told: If I had had these books during my holiday travel odyssey, I probably would have avoided them. There are times to read books that puzzle and challenge you, and then there are brain-melting airport delays. (I finally made it home, though, and not a moment too soon because it's already snowing again.) But I love giving books I've read specifically so I can talk about them with the people I love. So if we get snowed in, at least we'll have lots to talk about:
The long: Rick Perlstein, NIXONLAND. Sitting down with a mammoth history isn't for everyone, but if your giftee likes reading about the '60s, presidents, America or pop culture, she or he will find it in this book. Nixon is the central matter at hand, from his bitter collegiate disappointments (Franklin or Orthogonian?) to his presidency and the scandal that brought him down, but NIXONLAND covers far more ground than that. I reviewed this back in May and I'm already looking forward to reading it again. 

The short: Sarah Vowell, THE WORDY SHIPMATES. We talked about this for book club in December and our conversation meandered through topics like the Rapture, unemployment, contemporary Native American policy and elementary school. And while Vowell herself would discourage this line of thinking, it's probably the funniest book about the Puritans you'll ever read. (She expresses over and over her disappointment that in modern times we consider the Puritans boring -- but prior works on the topic haven't done much to lift that fog.)

The in-between: Malcolm Gladwell, OUTLIERS. I don't think this book (the New Yorker writer's third) completely works because it doesn't have that core argument to cling to that Blink or The Tipping Point had. Nevertheless, I have talked more about this book than any other I have read this year, and it only came out in November. People who haven't read it want to know what the fuss is about; people who have want to debate the so-whats, the practical implications behind Gladwell's theories (beyond the ones he himself provides). 

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