A sampling from our annual December issue list of Holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers. (Click here to subscribe.)p> strong> Douglas Brinkley br> MUCH OF MY 2004 was spent reading — and scanning over — hundreds of recently published nonfiction books. As a judge for the National Book Award, I was in the difficult position of whittling 200 entries down to five. One book which I found especially superb was Washington’s Crossing , an historiographically balanced account of a pivotal turning point in the Revolutionary War. (It’s also a shrewd analysis of the enduring mythology surrounding George Washington as a guerrilla warfare general). With deft precision, Fischer interweaves the history of Emmanuel Leutz’s popular painting with the strategic realities of Washington’s military maneuvers. He masters both Washington’s panoramic operational view of the battlefield and the soldiers’ perspective on the ground. Imbued with rigorous research, Washington’s Crossing is a harrowing, one-of-a-kind portrayal of Washington, his men, their enemies, and the legacy of the monumental military campaign of 1776 and 1777. /strong> /p>
One book which wasn’t submitted for National Book Award consideration was Bob Dylan’s brilliant Chronicles. What a pity. The mercurial Dylan’s storytelling about growing in Minnesota’s North Country and coming-of-age in Greenwich Village’s Folk Clubs is flawless. Not a word out of place. Because Newsweek excerpted Chronicles, even putting Dylan on their cover, the memoir rocketed up the New York Times bestseller list — as well it should have. Reading Dylan made me want to listen to old Dave Von Ronk, Woody Guthrie, and Neville Brothers albums.
Besides these two non-secular books, try a religious offering. As a Midwest-bred Catholic, I was raised to celebrate the Virgin Mother (Mary) over the Christmas season. She is, after all, the start of the Bethlehem drama. Yet, most readers don’t know much about the historical Mary. So buy Lesley Hazelton’s fine Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother. Hazelton allows the reader to see Mary as poor villager, sage woman, and medicinal healer. And she was also an extraordinary teacher/activist.