2015 Gift Books for the Guys in Your Life
Taken from Neal Ferguson’s reviews for bookinwithsunny.com
Bill Bryson’s One Summer, America, 1927 – Anchor Books
In his sprightly but imminently insightful style, Bryson brings together a number of vivid stories that had their climaxes in the summer of 1927. How can a guy not be interested in a book that combines Babe Ruth with Charles Lindbergh, President Coolidge, and Sacco and Vanzetti? Each of story tells us something sharply drawn about the nature of American society on the eve of the Great Depression.
Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton – Penguin Press
Alexander Hamilton made Aaron Burr famous when Burr mortally wounded him in a duel in 1804—the most famous duel in American history. Chernow’s purpose in writing this scintillating biography of Hamilton is not to reexamine the duel. Rather he argues for the view that Hamilton was one of the half-dozen most important architects of the American government. Surprisingly, it is a page turner.
Lizzie Collingham’s Taste of War, World War II and the Battle for Food – Penguin Group
There are many ways to slice and dice World War II. Collingham’s focus on the production and distribution of food is both novel and fascinating. However, I should hasten to add that this book is a five or six course meal not a small plate or tapas. While concentrating on the major participants in World War II, she also discusses WW II food topics associated with Kenya, New Guinea, Bengal, Manchuria, and Korea to name but a few.
Roderick Frazier Nash with Preface by Char Miller, Wilderness and the American Mind – 5th edition Yale University Press
We now wax lyrical about the Mt. Rose Wilderness, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, this wilderness or that national park, more than 400 in all. Making those real wilderness areas possible first required a vast perceptual shift that divested wilderness of its connotations of evil, fear, and threat. “Forty years in the wilderness” had to lose its dark associations. In addition the “American mind” had to move beyond thinking about our continent in utilitarian terms only—lumber, livestock, crops, and mining. This is the Ur-version of that story, reissued this year for its 50th anniversary.
David Jaher’s e Witch of Lime Street – Crown Publishers
Communicating with dead spirits was one of the most popular indoor sports of the 1920’s. Scientific American offered a cash prize of $2500 to any medium who could prove their abilities. They had to display their talents under controlled circumstances as defined by an august committee, one of whose members was the Great Harry Houdini. No one reached within a magic wand’s distance of credibility until Margery Crandon volunteered to suffer the ordeal by committee. Jaher tells the story and explains the context with humor and verve.
Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk – Grove Press
The sight of a hawk is thrilling when seen sailing effortlessly on a thermal, wings spread, focusing on the ground below, searching for a potential meal. Then, a bullet dive, an explosion of dust and fur, the hawk wings away with the critter clutched securely in its talons. Awesome. Although Macdonald’s beautifully written memoir is about more than hawking and falconry; a Goshawk named Mabel, a beautiful, large raptor, dominates the story. This is nature writing at its best.
David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers – Simon & Schuster
Nearly everyone knows that the Wright brothers achieved the first powered flight in North Carolina, and some may even know that it was sometime in 1903. My guess is that few of us understand why these brothers from Dayton, Ohio chose Kitty Hawk as the place to launch their gossamer dream, the amount of inventiveness, persistence, and single-purpose existence that was required, or how they used the same qualities to achieve fame and business success. It’s a “wow” of story told by McCullough in his effortless prose.
Ben Mcintyre’s A Spy Among Friends – Crown
Everyone likes a thrilling spy story. This is one of the best, and its better because it’s true. John Le Care drew from this real-life espionage caper as inspiration for some of his early stories. The spy and counter-spy in the story came from the quintessential British Old Boys Club. Betrayal is even more painful when it involves best friends,
Ray Monk’s Robert Oppenheimer – Anchor
Your special guy may or may not be familiar with Oppenheimer as “father of the Atomic Bomb.” Even if he is, there is much more to this biography, especially about Oppie’s contributions to pure science as a result of his time at Harvard, Cambridge, Göttingen, Cal Tech and U.C. Berkeley in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. Monk writes in a clear, analytical, and compelling style that adroitly traces Oppie’s complicated, startling life-story.
Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the SOMETIMES United States – Penguin Group
I’d venture a guess that few adults remember their 11th grade American history class as being particularly humorous. After all, escaping European religious persecution, taming a succession of wild frontiers, giving George III the heave-ho, building a new nation on a hill, acknowledging the greatness of the Founding Fathers and Abigail Adams, and . . . are all VERY SERIOUS events. Prepare yourself for a refreshing bit of history about the Marquis de Lafayette and the American Revolution. – Neal Ferguson