Books make good Christmas presents. But not all books fit the Christmas spirit, especially not among the books published this year. Many of the good new books I have read this year have been exposing bad things that needed to be exposed -- but not necessarily at Christmas time.
If you are looking for a book that is both readable and upbeat to give as a present, "They Made America" by Harold Evans is the first one that comes to mind. It is a nice, big coffee table book about American inventions from steamboats to computer operating systems.
It is not only about the inventions that were created but also about the people who created these inventions and the effects that the inventions have had on American life. "They Made America" might be an especially good book for young people who have been taught only politically correct history, focused predominantly on negative things in American history.
For a broader social history of the United States, you cannot do better than "The Americans," a very readable and insightful three-volume work by Daniel J. Boorstin. This is something that can be taken on trips, to read all year long, especially in the paperback edition.
A truly upbeat -- in fact, hilarious -- new book is "The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker," since 1925, which includes two compact disks containing all the cartoons ever published in the magazine.
There are a couple of thin little books that would also make good Christmas presents. One is Richard Brookhiser's "Founding Father," about George Washington. It makes the man human without trivializing him or taking anything away from his historic role.