Good books are especially good to give as gifts to the proverbial "man who has everything" because he (or she) may not have heard of a new book that fits their interests.
Good new books are one of the few good things about this past year. Here are some books that could make fine gifts, obtainable painlessly without battling crowds at the mall-- or even in the bookstores, if you order on-line.
The most outstanding political book of 2008 has been "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg. It shoots to pieces the prevailing ideas of who is on "the left" and who is on "the right."
It can become especially relevant in the coming year, if the new administration goes further with the government interventions in the economy begun by the outgoing administration-- the kind of economic policies that were at the heart of fascism.
Fans of economist and columnist Walter Williams will welcome a new collection of his columns in a book titled "Liberty versus the Tyranny of Socialism." Spiced with imaginative examples of economic principles in everyday life, it is vintage Williams.
It's not all economics, either. Professor Williams' columns are also on education, law, politics and other subjects, all done in his own inimitable style.
Another economist and columnist, Robert J. Samuelson of Newsweek, also published a new book this year-- one focused on a topic that is likely to be of growing interest and growing concern in the years ahead. Its title is "The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath."
It is an account of how the American economy went from price stability in the 1950s to the beginning of inflation in the 1960s, reaching dangerous levels of inflation in the 1970s, with inflation then being brought under control with a lot of tough decisions and painful consequences in the 1980s.
This is the kind of book that may be more fully appreciated by an economist but it is written in plain English, with no graphs or jargon, so it should be interesting to a lot of people who are not economists.
"The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath" also has that most uncommon characteristic, common sense.
Not all the books recommended this year were published this year. "Greatness" by Steven F. Hayward is an unusual book published in 2005. In its 170 pages of text, it deftly compares Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan as leaders, revealing a truly remarkable range of similarities between these two men from radically different social backgrounds.
Written at a popular level in an engaging style, "Greatness" is also a book from which scholars can learn-- except for those who think they already know it all.
A very different book is a little book of whimsical cartoons titled "Furry Logic" by Jane Seabrook. It is good for a few moments of real pleasure and cheer during the holiday season, perhaps especially good for people recovering in hospitals or at home, but enjoyable by people of all ages and circumstances.
Books about the past can be relevant to the future, especially when the same kinds of policies reappear under new names. It is good to have an understanding of why these policies did not work when they were tried before, as a sneak preview of what to expect from such policies the second time around.
Since so many of the approaches that Barack Obama has advocated under the mantra of "change" are things already tried out during the 1930s by Franklin D. Roosevelt, a devastating and very readable book titled "FDR's Folly" by Jim Powell spells out just exactly what happened in the American economy when such policies were put into effect.
My own new book this year is "Economic Facts and Fallacies." While I cannot pretend to give an unbiased evaluation of it, I can point out that it received a prize at an international gathering in Zurich and has already been translated in Spain.
Since fallacies flourish during election years, you may already have heard quite a few of these fallacies this year. "Economic Facts and Fallacies" can help prepare you for what is likely to happen when those fallacies are turned into policies in the new administration next year.