Christensen: Give a Christmas gift that will transport loved ones to another place

rchristensen@newsobserver.comDecember 21, 2013 

For all of you who are still looking for presents for your loved one – and who have not been brainwashed by TV commercials into buying diamond-studded jewelry or luxury automobiles – I always recommend books.

Perhaps not the most exciting present. But they won’t leave you in debt, can provide hours of entertainment and can transport you to other worlds.

I have a few suggestions. They are not everyone’s cup of tea. They are nonfiction books published this year that I have read and enjoyed and would recommend. They are heavy on history and biography. They tend to be books that appeal more to guys.

• “This Town” by Mark Leibovich. This is a hilarious takedown of Washington’s self-absorbed political/media culture. I don’t care what your politics are. Leibovich’s snark-filled book will leave you howling as he punctures self-important media types, lobbyists, politicians, PR specialists and staffers. This book will remind you why Washington is held in such low regard.

• “The Guns At Last Light, The War in Western Europe, 1944-45,” by Rick Atkinson, an East Carolina grad, calls World War II our Iliad and Odyssey – the great narrative of our time. In the third part of his trilogy of the U.S. war in the west – the first two were on the Africa and Italy campaigns – Atkinson takes us from the D-Day invasion to Germany’s surrender. Even if you think you know everything about the war in Europe, Atkinson, a gifted reporter and writer, provides enough fresh perspectives and details to make the story seem new.

• “Collision 2012: Obama vs Romney and the Future of Elections in America,” by Dan Balz. The veteran Washington Post reporter takes us through the last presidential campaign – the marathon GOP primary and the Obama-Romney showdown. Among other things, it provides new details, including Romney’s reluctant candidacy.

• “The Unwinding – An Inner History of The New America,” by George Packer. The journalist chronicles the decline of American life from 1978 through 2012 through the lives of a number of individuals. Among the leading figures in the book is Dean Price, the owner of a Garner biodiesel fuel company. The book underscores why there is broad discontent in the country.

• “Josephus Daniels – His Life and Times.” Lee A. Craig, an N.C. State University economics professor, has written an excellent biography of one of North Carolina’s most important figures – the publisher of The News and Observer, the Secretary of the Navy, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and a powerful political figure.

• “The Last Lion – Winston Spencer Churchill – Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965,” by William Manchester and Paul Reid. Reid, a North Carolina writer, helped the late William Manchester finish the last volume of the masterful trilogy about one of the great figures of the age. There will never be another Churchill – flaws and all.

• “Roosevelt’s Centurions – FDR and the Commanders He Led To Victory in World War II,” by Joseph Persico. This is a gripping tale of the war as seen from FDR’s White House and from the top military command posts. Among the book’s rewards are sharply drawn short biographies of the major American military leaders of World War II.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or

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