Gift cards make adequate gifts when you just can’t think of what to get someone. But most of us feel defeated when we’re forced to resort to the gift card. We reproach ourselves with the thought that if only we’d been more creative we’d have been able to get something a bit more personal — which would be, well, just about anything.
The short list of gift possibilities I offer here contains items general enough to appeal to entire categories of recipient, from businessmen, entrepreneurs and economists to scientists, comic lovers, Catholics, and movie buffs — and, indeed, to the general reader and viewer.
They Made America, by Harold Evans. An attractive, oversized book, They Made America tells the often gripping stories of some of America’s great innovators and entrepreneurs. Note the provocative title: this isn’t the old morality play you got in school about the proletariat building America. As this book shows, all the brawn in the world cannot substitute for the scientific discoveries and entrepreneurial genius that multiply labor’s raw potential scores of times over and direct it to useful, productive ends. Read the late Jude Wanniski’s review here.
Economics for Real People, by Gene Callahan. In spite of its many endorsements by important economists, Economics for Real People remains, in my opinion, one of the most underrated books of the past five years. Curious about Austrian economics, or anxious to introduce it to a skeptical friend who can’t understand why you find the "dismal science" so compelling? Gene Callahan has written a one-volume introduction to the subject that is at once thorough and absolutely delightful to read. The writing seems so effortless that you hardly pause to consider how difficult Callahan’s task was.
The good news is that if you read this book you’ll understand how the world works better than just about anyone you know. The bad news is that you’ll spend the rest of your life in agony at being surrounded by a seemingly endless parade of fallacies and stupidities that someone who took the time to read this book could refute in ten seconds.
No Excuses, by Kyle Maynard. Want a story of old-fashioned grit and determination? Kyle Maynard is a congenital amputee who was born with his arms ending at his elbows and his legs at his knees. He went on to become an award-winning wrestler — after losing his first 35 matches in a row.
Lots of athletes are devoted readers, but if you have one who isn’t, this is the book for him. Needless to say, it’s also an inspirational read for just about anyone.
How Capitalism Saved America, by Thomas J. DiLorenzo. Winner of the Smith Prize of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, from the Pilgrims to the Present hardly requires elaboration beyond its title. Perfect for the students on your list, as well as for the businessman who could stand to be reminded, contrary to what he hears every day, that he is not, in fact, the scourge of civilization.
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. In case you haven’t heard, the entire print run of Calvin and Hobbes (which was always one of my favorites) is now available in a giant and handsome three-volume set. Retailing at $150, this would probably have to be a gift either to or from someone close to you. Amazon sells it at a substantial discount ($105).
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, by Tom Bethell. Tom Bethell, author of The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, has produced the third installment in the Politically Incorrect Guide series. An enjoyable and fascinating read, Bethell’s book is a much more serious piece of work than its playful title might lead you to believe.
In addition to puncturing countless myths, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science devotes much attention to the corrupting role that government funding has had on science. One example among many, says Bethell, is cancer research. The U.S. government officially declared war on cancer in 1971 and, in classic Soviet fashion, announced that the war was to be won by 1976. Yet for all our vaunted progress, cancer mortality rates have not improved; even correcting for the aging of the American population, the percentage of Americans dying from cancer is the same as it was in 1970 — and in 1950. (What victories we’ve had are largely attributable to early detection and treatment.) Bethell makes a compelling case that the reason for our lack of progress against cancer, far from a problem of insufficient government funding, is more likely the product of government funding itself. You’ll never look at government/science pork the same again.
Get a free chapter of Bethell’s book here. I plan to buy multiple copies of this one to give as gifts.
I’m recommending two books for Catholics in particular. The first is Michael P. Foley’s Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Fridays? The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything. The book’s title is misleading; this is not a book about why Catholics observe this or that practice. It is, rather, a very enjoyable and often surprising overview of a great many aspects of life — including music and theater, sports and games, dining and etiquette, insect and animal names, and countless others — that are inspired by Catholicism. A perfect gift for the devout and the lukewarm alike, and another book I’ll be buying in modest bulk this Christmas.
The second is Rabbi David G. Dalin’s book The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis. Rabbi Dalin has written an inspiring and courageous defense of the wartime pontiff. See my review here.
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. Yes, everyone in the world will be giving these books this Christmas, but so what? Who says the masses are always wrong? I loved these books. Let this be the year that you introduce them to the younger people on your list.
The Wizard of Oz. This 3-DVD set would make a great gift for just about anyone. It’s so filled with extra features that you just have to click on the link and see for yourself.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season One. This classic program’s first season is now available in an attractive and inexpensive DVD edition. It’s less than half the price of the boxed sets of each of the Twilight Zone seasons (though, naturally, I couldn’t resist picking those up anyway) and it will bring your recipient at least as much enjoyment.
Warner Classics Mega Collection. Feeling especially generous, and know a serious movie buff? Then the Warner Classics Mega Collection is sure to please — a couple hundred classic movies, now on DVD. And the best part? You can get it at Amazon for a mere $1,449.98!
All right, so that one’s a little pricey. But I hope the rest of these suggestions will prove helpful for givers and receivers alike.
Professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [send him mail] holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Columbia. He is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. His books include How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (get a free chapter here), The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy, and the New York Times (and LRC) bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Visit his Website.