If you're in a Christmas crunch or a Hanukkah hurry, think of giving books for the holidays. They're easy to wrap, they don't break if you drop them, and a good book will last a lifetime. Here are just a few books that I have enjoyed recently and in years past.
This year marked the 100th anniversary of the death of President Theodore Roosevelt. Historian David Pietrusza weighed in on the occasion with his latest book, TR's Last War. The book tells the riveting and readable story of Roosevelt's conflicts with President Woodrow Wilson as World War I loomed, and it also chronicles Teddy's triumphs and tragedies as he contended with political change, physical decline and personal grief after the loss of a son in the war. It’s a fitting companion volume to Pietrusza’s earlier books on the elections and politics of 1920, 1932, 1948 and 1960. Though sometimes billed as a conservative historian, the author's fast paced works can be enjoyed by readers from either side of the political aisle.
Under This Roof: The White House and the Presidency by Paul Brandus is a lively and enlightening look at historic events that have happened at the world's most famous home address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC. The story begins with John Adams, the first president to live in the White House. In 1800, he wrote words about the residence that Americans should still hope for today: "May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof." The book includes stories of events under that roof during the administrations of 21 chief executives, including Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, James Knox Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. I was honored to have an article about President Harding that I wrote for the Athens Banner-Herald in 2013 included in this book's footnotes.
Adams wanted "honest and wise men" in the White House, but the presidency of Donald Trump might have Adams crying in his grave. Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward is a chilling inside view of the administration of this nation's 45th president. The Washington Post's Woodward has twice received the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Watergate scandal and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Woodward is most famous as the co-author of the Nixon-era book All the President's Men. In Fear, he exposes all this president's mendacity.
It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis is a fictional tale of America under the iron fist of a fascist dictatorship. Written in 1935, the book has had a resurgence in sales since Trump's election. In the book, a homegrown Hitler ascends to power in the land of the free as millions of citizens insist that an authoritarian regime “can't happen here.” Millions more Americans support the dictator as long as he improves the economy and convinces them that he can end the Depression and make America great again. Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature, and his books like Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, Arrowsmith and It Can't Happen Here show why. He died in 1951, but if he were alive today, Lewis might still be saying, "I love America. I just don't like it."
Political books were big this year as the impeachment of Donald Trump and the upcoming 2020 election dominated the headlines, but this year also marked the 50th anniversary of a loftier event, the first landing on the moon by the men of Apollo 11 in 1969. That significant anniversary got much airplay and media ink this year, but how quickly we forget that there actually were nine missions to the moon from 1968–1972. Missions to the Moon by Rod Pyle is a must for every space buff's bookshelf. The book gives equal coverage to all the American lunar missions that began with the Christmastime orbiting of the moon by the crew of Apollo 8 in 1968. In all, there were three lunar orbital flights by Apollo 8, Apollo 10 and the ill-fated Apollo 13. Six successful lunar landings were made during the Apollo program, culminating with the three-day stay on the moon by the astronauts of Apollo 17 in 1972. Missions to the Moon tells the thrilling story of all of them with prose, photos and interactive apps.
These books and so many more make for great reading during the holidays or any time during an age when so many seem to prefer a screen over the printed page. Mark Twain was right when he wrote, "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."