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Christmas Reading

Gift ideas from the Free Beacon

Kate Upton holds book / Splash News
• November 28, 2014 5:00 am

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It’s Black Friday. Perhaps you are reading this at five in the morning on your smart phone, standing in line for a deal on a Dyson vacuum cleaner or a new TV. (I may be in line with you: I’ve got my eye on a new fridge.) As the holiday shopping season begins, here are some recommendations for winter reading, and gift ideas for the book lovers in your life.

For those who want to read about politics, a number of books this year treat the broad subject of liberalism and the American left. The New Republic may no longer be a magazine, according to its current owner Chris Hughes (apparently it is now a "digital media company"), but whatever it is has been around for a century as of this year, and its editors have collected some of the publication's most interesting contributions in a new anthology. Skip the more recent stuff and check out contributions from the period when TNR was, in the words of our reviewer, "the intellectual soul of modern liberalism." Contributors from that period include John Dewey, Reinhold Neibuhr, and later Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

For those who can’t stomach liberalism from the source, but would like to read well written and thoughtful critiques of the left, Fred Siegel’s The Revolt Against the Masses and William Voegeli’s The Pity Party will both fit the bill—as will Joel Kotkin’s new book about the establishment of a 21st century master class funded by Silicon Valley and Hollywood, and dedicated to the imposition of its cultural preferences upon the rest of the country.

Those interested in threats to the republic which lie farther afield will like two books reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon this year about Russia: a comprehensive review of the nation’s kleptocratic regime by Karen Dawisha (a book that was dropped by its British publisher because of pressure from Putin’s government) and a more specific look at the strange and dangerous underworld of Russian cyber crime by journalist Brian Krebs.

For those who are interested in the military, and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the single most gripping books of the year was Ann Scott Tyson’s American Spartan, in which she chronicles the unusual and remarkable career of Jim Gant, a U.S. Army special forces officer who largely defeated the Taliban in parts of eastern Afghanistan before being arrested and forced out of the military.

Another book about extraordinary heroism in Afghanistan—this time about Marines—is Bing West’s latest work of war reporting, in which he focuses on the fighting in Sangin, one of the most brutal districts in the country. Marines are also the focus of Richard H. Schulz Jr.’s interesting history of the defeat of the Iraqi insurgency in Anbar province in the last decade, which achieved a peace that lasted until shortly after the American withdrawal.

For those interested in Afghanistan but want more historical perspective, Con Coughlin’s account of the young Winston Churchill’s adventures on the Northwest Frontier will not disappoint. The action takes place, strictly speaking, in what is now Pakistan, but Churchill, who was on leave from the British Army and working as a foreign correspondent, faced a culture and a set of problems remarkably unchanged in 2014.

Continuing with books for history buffs, James McPherson’s new biography of Jefferson Davis and Richard Brookhiser’s account of Abraham Lincoln’s relationship to the American founders give refreshing and readable views of the Civil War era from both sides of the Potomac.

Closer to the present day, Hillel Halkin’s new life of Vladimir Jabotinsky sheds light on the foundations of the state of Israel, and Bedross Der Matossian’s book about the Ottoman revolution tells the alarming story of a historical event strikingly similar to 2011’s "Arab spring."

If the intersection of history and literature is of interest, and you are not averse to a little poetry, Max Egremont’s lovely book about the British poets of the First World War tells the tales of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and others, and provides a useful selection of their verse. A poet much indebted to Owen in particular—Philip Larkin—was himself the subject of a new biography this year, by James Booth, who has written a book that seeks to restore Larkin’s reputation but can’t help being a little bit racy.

If the thought of reading poetry is just too horrifying, but you like a good novel once in a while, Ian McEwan’s latest, The Children Act, about a scandalous encounter between a British high court judge and a minor who falls under her legal purview, may be worth a read.

If you studied the classics and philosophy in your youth, misspent or otherwise, and seek to recapture the experience, try both Peter Ahrensdorf’s spirited defense of the legacy of Homer and Arthur Melzer’s exploration of the lost art of esoteric writing and reading.

And if this is all a bit too much, and you just need a drink: There’s a book for that, too! For the most refreshing read of the holidays, there’s no beating Victorino Matus’s history of vodka in America. Recommendation: relax, pour yourself a glass, and settle in with this great read.

Published under: Book reviews