One Day of Book-Giving Left Before Christmas!

collage of book cover art

One Day of Book-Giving Left Before Christmas
| published December 24, 2014 |

By Thursday Review editors


Are you sitting in front of your computer when you should be out doing that last-minute shopping? Stuck searching for the right book for the print-lover—and non-fiction readers—on your holiday gift-giving list? Here is a list of ten of the books we suggest, in no particular order, that will surely please that book-hound friend or family member—especially those with a love of biography and history.

  • Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis:  The Untold Story cover art Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story; Barbara Leaming

    Author and historian Leaming paints a complex and moving portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis through the epic chapters of her life. Author of biographies of Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, she tackles the subject of Jackie with skill and honesty, but primarily through the lens of PSTD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which altered the trajectory of her life—in the car alongside JFK when an assassin’s bullet cut his life short and tore at the fabric of her family. Leaming’s book seeks also to explain how Jackie sought to put her life back in order and regain some sense of control and security, all the time while maintaining her veneer of grace and resolve.

  • Wooden:  A Coach's Life Wooden: A Coach’s Life; Seth Davis.

    John Wooden was the legendary coach of UCLA basketball in the golden age of that sport’s great rise, and the celebrated coach took the time to a record string of ten NCAA championship games in a dozen years, making his winning streak one of the most remarkable in all of sports. The handsome book includes interviews, anecdotes and context from all the famous players who ever crossed the court on Wooden’s teams, from Bill Walton to Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, from Walt Hazzard to Sidney Wicks (nemesis to Jacksonville University's Artis Gilmore). Smooth reading by author and sports writer Seth Davis, and a tough subject to crack open because of Wooden’s dry, even dull, Midwestern ethics.

  • The Explorers: A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success; Martin Dugard.

    Dugard approaches the question of what makes the most audacious of discoverers successful, meaning what personality traits do these people share that enables them to achieve what is considered impossible to most others. Starting with the 1856 exploration to seek the source of the Nile River, Dugard calibrates such great enterprises against those common traits: curiosity, perseverance, independence, etc, for which he has created separate chapters. The book therefore can be said to be about much more than simple mountain climbing, deep seas explorations, or forays into the unknown and wild parts of the world. Simon & Schuster.

  • Killing Patton Killing Patton; Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.

    O’Reilly, the Fox News commentator and interviewer, has proved his literary mettle with such books as Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy. Now, he and author Martin Dugard tackle the lingering mystery of the death of General George S. Patton, World War II hero who died under mysterious circumstances after the end of the war. Patton, controversial throughout his entire military career, had made more than his share of powerful enemies by the time the Allies had defeated Nazi Germany. But was his death a carefully planned assassination? Great mix of mystery and history. Henry Holt & Company.

  • Hope:  Entertainer of the Century book cover Hope: Entertainer of the Century; Richard Zoglin.

    Bob Hope lived to the ripe old age of 100, and may very well have been the most famous entertainer of the 20th Century, at ease equally in vaudeville as on the radio, in motion pictures as in television, on the stage or in an auditorium, or entertaining U.S. troops through multiple wars and battles. Many historians consider him the inventor of stand-up comedy, and his television specials were among some of the highest-rated in TV history. Zoglin gives us all of this and more—including a look at his sometimes flawed relationship with other entertainers and his friends, his affairs, and his dogged love of public charities and philanthropic Hollywood engagement.

  • 41: A Portrait of My Father cover art 41: A Portrait of my Father; George W. Bush

    Released amid much fanfare and even a bit of snarky disbelief, George W. Bush’s affectionate look at the presidency of his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, is a surprisingly deep and thoughtful analysis of both family and politics. The book tells the story of George H.W. Bush as an unlikely man to ever become President in the first place; the book also explains how the 41st President persevered through political loss, became chief protégé to Ronald Reagan, and eventually became close friends with Bill Clinton, the Democrat who defeated him in 1992. Not for readers already predisposed to a dislike of either politics, or the Bush family; but an honest and heartfelt look at a political family who dynastic succession may very well last at least as long as that of the Clintons.

  • On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller cover art On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller; Richard Norton Smith

    Nelson Rockefeller was a maverick within the Republican Party, even for his day—a liberal on many key issues, a centrist on still others, but nevertheless distrusted politically by some progressives and liberals, and loathed by some conservatives. Author Richard Norton Smith gives readers a sweeping, deep look into this politician’s life, his upbringing from one of the richest families in America, to his rise to the governorship of New York State. Rockefeller, complex, morally imperfect, but with an insatiable optimism and an unstoppable desire to serve the public, was never able to capture the presidency despite his power and money, and in spite of a clear desire to reach the White House. A scholarly look at the man for whom the “Rockefeller Wing” of the GOP was named.

  • The Churchill Factor:  How One Man Made History cover art The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History; Boris Johnson

    London Mayor Boris Johnson gives us a commendable, sweeping look at of the most pivotal leaders of the 20th Century, with endless observations about how Churchill operated in private, in public, and in his thinking. Johnson is a superb, entertaining and lively writer, and despite the weightiness and wide historical arc of the subject matter, he avoids making this book into a sleep-inducing academic tome. Johnson’s biography reads smoothly and quickly—a fast read, one might say—even for those readers impatient with politics and history. The Telegraph says of this book, “a characteristically breathless romp through the life and times of our greatest wartime leader,” and, “it reads at times like a mixture of Monty Python and the Horrible Histories.” Published by Riverhead Books. (Thursday Review will review this book early in 2015).

  • J.R.R. Tolkein: A Life Inspired J.R.R. Tolkien: A Life Inspired; Wyatt North

    The author explains that although Tolkien, the writer of some of the greatest epic fantasies of our time, eschewed personal attention and often downplayed his personal importance to literature—even to the point of avoiding interviews and insights—we cannot ever fully understand his myth-building and story-telling without some deeper look into who he was as a creative genius. North gives the reader a fast and lively read (the book is only 108 pages in length), and one that nevertheless helps to illuminate more about the novelist. Tolkien’s books sold into the many millions and have entertained generations, and now, motion picture adaptations bring his stories to millions more—leading them, we can hope, back to those classic books. North has forged a handy, thorough look into the man who created the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit out of the complex land of his own limitless imagination. (Thursday Review will review this book early in 2015).

  • John Wayne: The Life and Legend John Wayne: The Life and Legend; Scott Eyman

    America invented John Wayne, almost as much as John Wayne’s classic portrayals invented America. His name is so synonymous with the American western motion picture that it is nearly impossible to escape his influence—whether one is a writer, director, actor, cinematographer. Eyman’s massive, 672-page biography is an eye-opener. The elite narrative on John Wayne was always narrow: that he was a one-dimensional actor of only limited skill. In fact, Wayne was a highly gifted actor of not only skill but emotional and comedic nuance, but because of his stubborn reluctance to move from within his comfort zone—along with much typecasting—left him struggling over a lifetime to being taken seriously. Wayne also became a symbol of an more unambiguous place and time in America—when there were demonstrably bad people kept in check by the heroically good (even when those good guys were all-too-flawed). Eyman draws on hundreds of interviews, including first-hand talks with Wayne, as a well as letters, memos, diaries, and motion picture archives. Simon & Schuster.


Related Thursday Review articles:

The Five Best Christmas (Comedy) Movies of All-Time; Lori Garrett; Thursday Review; December 23, 2014.