It’s Not All Doom and Gloom: Holiday Book Buying for 2015

Politics, history, literature, sci-fi, fantasy, classics, and more

November 27, 2015

Sure, a glance at the headlines may indicate that the global order is in collapse—but life goes on, and with it, the pleasant duty to purchase holiday gifts. When it comes to buying something for the readers in your life, the Washington Free Beacon’s culture pages have you covered.

For loved ones who live, eat, and breathe politics, publishers have supplied more than adequate provisions in 2015. If you know someone who might like some forward-looking takes on the condition of the conservative movement, consider getting them Arthur Brooks’ new argument for a kind of compassionate conservatism, or this manifesto on "conservatarianism" by National Review’s Charles Cooke. They might also like to look at how former senator and now Judge James L. Buckley proposes to return power to the states, or, in a similarly reformist vein, at how Charles Murray wants to do battle against federal overreach.

For those interested in how our current politics have grown so fractured and sclerotic, they should check out both James Piereson’s examination of the subject, as well as Jay Cost’s look at corruption and the American system of government. For an up-close tale of corruption—at least of the moral variety—and a look at how politics actually functions, a fine option is Barton Swaim’s memoir of his time as Mark Sanford’s speechwriter. For a movingly reported look at crime and violence in America’s inner cities, Jill Leovy’s story of murderers and the men who hunt them in Los Angeles is worth a read. For a measured explanation of the social conservative arguments pertaining to marriage and religious freedom, Ryan T. Anderson’s book is ideal.

Moving overseas, you are covered on the threat assessment front: Ilan Berman’s look at Iran, former CIA Director Michael Morrell’s account of the war on terror, and the explanations of Obama’s disastrous foreign policy by Mark Moyar and Colin Dueck are all worth your time. For readers interested in the history of or current situation in Israel, you should get them this story of that nation’s struggle for independence, Dennis Ross’ history of its complicated relationship with the United States, these accounts of anti-Semitism and of the BDS movement, and this look at the phenomenon of anti-Israel Jews.

Dissidents from China, Russia, and North Korea have all published worthwhile memoirs this year. Speaking of China, two D.C. policy types teamed up to write a novel about what a war with that country would look like, very much in keeping with the spirit of the late Tom Clancy. Clancy, always the techno-enthusiast, would have loved Annie Jacobsen’s history of DARPA, the Pentagon’s real life version of the Bond movies’ Q-shop, and he would also have enjoyed Sean Naylor’s thoroughly reported look at the Joint Special Operations Command, the military’s secretive top-tier commandos.

Nowhere is the crisis generated by the challenges of Islam and multiculturalism in Western Europe nations better—or more wittily or, frankly, grossly—explored than in Michel Houellebecq’s dystopian novel set in the France of the near-future. Though it achieved less notoriety, Roger Scruton wrote a novel treating very similar themes, but set in England. For a look at the reality of right-wing terrorism in Scandinavia, you have Asne Seierstad’s harrowing account of the murders perpetrated by Anders Breivik.

But your book shopping needn’t be all doom and gloom! Nor, surely, are your loved ones exclusively interested affairs of state. How about booze? For the wine lovers out there, the latest edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine is a fantastic reference, and for those interested in the drink in a more general way, Susan Cheever contributed a very interesting account of the role alcohol has played in American history. Those with an interest in celebrity chefs might consider adding a volume about food to this list, namely the re-issue of the cookbook that helped make Marco Pierre White famous.

High culture might be in decay, hurried on by ills like critical theory and the pressure brought to bear on attention spans by technology: but publishers do keep turning out interesting works of and about literature. Worthy new editions of collected poems, including those by Wallace Stevens and Wislawa Szymborska, came out in 2015, along with new biographies of Edward Thomas, James Merrill, and Saul Bellow. New collections of essays and reviews by Clive James and Joseph Epstein hit the shelves, as did a memoir by James Wood and a newly edited selection of short stories by Edna O’Brien.

For those with an interest in the classics or in medieval literature, there was a new translation of the Iliad, a refreshing new interpretation of Herodotus, a new biography of Cicero, and a fine new edition of the Gawain poet. Lovers of words and of reference works about words will be pleased to know that our reviewer went gaga for the latest edition of the Chambers Dictionary. As for American education, students are lucky that teachers like Helaine Smith are out there.

As is the case every year, gallons of ink continued to be drained in the printing of history books about World War Two, many of them quite worthwhile. War diaries by Hugh Trevor-Roper were published, along with books about the French resistance and the battle of Stalingrad. The diaries of Stalin’s ambassador to London came out, as did a biography of Winston Churchill’s wife Clementine, the story of a German Catholic dissident, and a new biography of Goebbels.

For lovers of American history, there are new accounts of the founding era that focus on the Declaration of Independence and the institution of the presidency, a new look at Lincoln as a political thinker, the first volume of Niall Ferguson’s biography of Henry Kissinger, and a life of Richard John Neuhaus.

In the worlds of genre fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy, Stephen King had a new book (which our reviewer judged to be sub-par, but which is still listed here because, hey, it’s Stephen King) as did both Neal Stephenson and China Miéville. Lovers of detective stories should investigate this history of what our reviewer called "the Golden Age of Murder." Inspired by the controversy over the Hugo Awards, the Washington Free Beacon took a look at the work of Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, an essay that has plenty of suggestions to round out your loved one’s collections. Austin Grossman published an alternative vision of the career of Richard Nixon, and for those who are fascinated by the lives and significance of the Inklings, a fine new book about them has been written, too.

I confess that writing this little round-up has cheered me up. Here’s hoping that the same will be said of those close to you, should any of these volumes be found in their stockings.

Published under: Book reviews