Stocking stuffers for the readers on your Christmas list…
A few dedicated readers of this post have mentioned that I have not listed any favorite books in a while, so here’s a few that would make great gifts for the readers on your “nice” list…
Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow) – I knew about as much about Alexander Hamilton as the average American before this summer, and that was that he was the first Secretary of the Treasury and was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. But before seeing the Chicago version of the hit Broadway musical (which if you have not seen, you really, REALLY should) about this little-known Founding Father, I “studied up” on him so that the theatrical production would make a little more sense (well worth the effort, by the way). After seeing the play, I felt compelled to read the book that inspired it – a monster of a biography by Ron Chernow. This, too, is worth the effort. It paints a portrait of one of the most fascinating and influential immigrants in American history. A brilliant, flawed, committed, courageous, and conflicted man whose efforts still impact us in ways more significant than almost any of the other revolutionary heroes. The cast of characters in Hamilton’s story is vast, and the petty jealousies – and downright animosity – between the founders is almost too incredible to comprehend. Let’s just say they were not always singing from the same hymnal when it came to designing the structure for the governance of our nation. And, by the way, each of them either owned or controlled their own media outlets, making today’s Fox News vs CNN coverage look like child’s play. If you don’t read one other book in 2018, read this one. It will make you appreciate just how difficult – and radical – the notion of a self-governing nation was in the late 18th century.
Nothing to Envy (Barbara Demick) – This book details a slice of everyday life in North Korea. Written before the Kim Jong-Un assumed control (and I do mean total control) over the government in 2011, it details the level of brainwashing that North Koreans are subjected to – and the stiff penalties for those that dare defy the regime. Given the current conflict between the U.S. and this isolated island of a nation, this book sheds interesting insights into why most North Koreans seem willing to defy the consequences and provoke a war with us and the rest of the world.
Trump and the Post-Truth World (Ken Wilbur) – Wilbur’s views could be the textbook for a college philosophy class. They’re deep, analytical, complex and at times confusing. I had to re-read more than a few sections to ensure I understood what he was trying to say – and there is still some doubt in my mind that I fully comprehend it. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting take on our descent into political tribalism, where even the most flawed member of “my” tribe is a better choice than a seemingly rational member of “your” tribe.
Richard Nixon: The Life (John Farrell) – Another “must read,” as far as I am concerned. Terrific tale of Nixon’s meteoric rise from freshman U.S. Representative in 1946 to vice president in 1952, to the verge of the presidency in 1960, to finally winning the office in 1968. While it deals with Watergate and Nixon’s increasing paranoia that contributed to it, it’s not a “Watergate book.” It is a thorough profile of a man who went from potentially being one of the greatest presidents in history to instead being one whose name will forever be associated with the disgrace he brought to the office, and the skepticism that pervades our view of many of our elected leaders.
Hue 1968 (Mark Bowden) – Another terrific book by Bowden (Black Hawk Down, Killing Pablo) detailing one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. His account of the battle through interviews with survivors on both sides depict the reasons that both sides fought and demonstrate the bravery and heroism displayed by ordinary men and women who were fighting for a cause they believed in. Yet, by the end of the book, I could not help asking myself the same question I always do when reading stories of the Vietnam War: “Why?”
The Cake and the Rain (Jimmy Webb) – Webb is one of the greatest songwriters you’ve never heard of, and his story is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, high and lows, celebrity elbow-rubbing, and incredible music-making. Lots of fun and a redemptive conclusion!
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good read…
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