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.
Then there is "What's So Great About America" by Dinesh D'Souza, who brings a foreigner's fresh appreciation of American society and its benefits that too many Americans take for granted.
For those people you think would appreciate a good book, even if it is not upbeat, there are a number of outstanding choices.
One is "Abuse of Power" by Steven Greenhut, a very eye-opening little book which exposes the misuse of the power of eminent domain by local politicians across the country to demolish working-class neighborhoods, in order to turn the land over to developers who will build shopping malls, casinos and other things that will pay more taxes than the homeowners were paying.
Those people who are constantly denouncing "greed" almost never apply that term to what the government does, no matter how unconscionable it may be, as the routine misuse of eminent domain has become, with its Robin-Hood-in-reverse redistribution of wealth.
"Intellectual Morons" by Daniel J. Flynn was one of this year's best books. It shows how the intelligentsia have for years fallen for unbelievably stupid -- and often tragic -- notions on everything from the environment to Communist dictators.
Michelle Malkin's courageous and carefully reasoned and documented book "In Defense of Internment" was a long-overdue re-examination of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It was one of the few books on that painful subject which was not just an attempt to trash the U.S. government or American society.
Another gem is "What Went Wrong?" by eminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis. It traces the decline of Islamic civilization from its leading position in the world a few centuries ago to its present position, lagging far behind the West -- and looking for scapegoats to blame.
Among my own recent books, "Affirmative Action Around the World" cannot be called upbeat, and in fact the experiences of other countries -- some of which have had group preferences and quotas longer than the United States -- can serve as a grim warning.
My other book this year was the revised edition of "Basic Economics" -- which is neither upbeat nor downbeat, but tries to dispel some of the confusion surrounding the operation of the economy, domestically and internationally.
Giving books as presents can make Christmas shopping less stressful and more enjoyable, in keeping with the holiday spirit.