Bill Steigerwald

With Christmas bearing down on us, here are six interesting, smart and/or provocative books about geography, war, the New Deal, the environment, Andrew Jackson and Alexander Hamilton that would make good last-minute presents - and help out the print industry.

"The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny and Globalization's Rough Landscape" (Oxford University Press) -- geography prof Harm De Blij's 30th book -- proves two things: Geography is never boring in his hands and the world is, pace Tom Friedman, not even close to being flat, literally or figuratively. Nor are the globe's diverse peoples as similar, interconnected or mobile as is often claimed: Fewer than 3 percent of us live in countries other than the ones in which we were born. Bill Moyers says Blij and his many maps do for geography what Carl Sagan did for cosmology, while Jeffrey Sachs says it is "a fascinating and deeply knowledgeable" account of the crucial ways in which "place" continues to shape economies, politics, languages, cultures and national power.

"We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now" (Basic Books) reminds us that our anti-war streak is a lot wider, deeper and more all-American than today's flag-waving proponents of the Iraq war think. Edited by lefty Murray Polner and libertarian Thomas Woods Jr., this anthology includes forgotten or often neglected essays, speeches, articles and poems from the likes of John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Randolph Bourne, Robert Taft, Russell Kirk, Robert McNamara, Murray Rothbard, George McGovern, Pat Buchanan and professional peaceniks Howard Zinn and Country Joe & the Fish. Whether for religious or secular reasons, these conservative and liberal patriots protested wisely, eloquently and often bravely against the wars our leaders have accidentally or deliberately dragged us into, from the War of 1812 to Iraq and the war on terror.

"American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House" (Random House) is Jon Meacham's readable retelling of the familiar story of America's controversial seventh president and first populist chief executive. New York Times reviewer Andrew Cayton felt Meacham was too soft on the pro-slavery president's "darker qualities" -- which included a lust for political revenge, a dangerous habit of pandering to populist resentments and a near-genocidal mistreatment of American Indians. But overall, history professor Cayton calls "American Lion" "enormously entertaining, especially in the deft descriptions of Jackson's personality and domestic life in his White House." Historian Michael Beschloss praised it as a "spellbinding, brilliant and irresistible journey into the heart of Andrew Jackson and his unforgettable circle of friends and enemies."

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..