Holiday book picks!

Posted: Dec 11, 2002 12:00 AM

Some years, it is hard to find enough good new books to recommend to buy as presents, so I have had to recommend old favorites like The Federalist Papers or recommend gift subscriptions to magazines like The Economist. This year, however, there have been so many outstanding books published that the problem will be to get them all into one column.

For those who have long suspected political bias in the media, two more books this year have presented convincing evidence of that bias. One, titled "Bias" by Bernard Goldberg, centers on his personal experiences with CBS in general and Dan Rather in particular.

A more thorough, more witty, and more caustic book titled "Slander" by Ann Coulter has been a devastating best-seller. A few samples: For liberals "the good life consists of being able to sneer at other people as inferior." Among these liberals have been "bimbo starlets and uneducated slobs, attacking the intelligence of the man who won the Cold War." She also says: "The media may have a crush on liberal Republicans, but don't expect them to respect you in the morning." Ms. Coulter takes no prisoners.

Perhaps the book from this year that will be longest remembered in the years ahead is "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by best-selling author Steven Pinker, who is also a professor of neurosciences at MIT. It is a huge book on a huge subject.

When David Hume wrote a treatise on human nature two centuries ago, he did not have to argue that there was such a thing as human nature because everyone took that for granted. But in the intervening time, and especially in our own times, much of the intelligentsia has argued that the human mind begins as a blank slate -- which is to say, that there is no such thing as human nature.

That assumption is crucial to all sorts of attempts to mold and control others. But Pinker pulls the rug out from under this assumption, in a way that is often both profound and amusing. "The Blank Slate" is a tour de force. Where else can you find an analysis of the brain along with a discussion of the philosophy of Hobbes and the cartoons of Calvin and Hobbes?

If your family includes a college student, "Letters to a Young Conservative" by Dinesh D'Souza would be a thought-provoking gift, whether or not that student is in fact conservative. In a very readable and engaging style, this book cuts through the political correctness found on most college campuses and provides a breath of fresh air in the form of facts and insights that are unlikely to be found in a classroom. It is an enlightening book, not only for young conservatives, but for people of any age and any politics.

For those who want to understand the Supreme Court of the United States and the hot issues it has dealt with in recent times, there is no better introduction than "First Among Equals" by Kenneth Starr. It is a model of clear writing and honest presentation of the issues involved.

In his book "Power Plays," shrewd political consultant and JWR columnist Dick Morris has analyzed how political leaders -- past and present, American and foreign -- have succeeded or failed in trying to pursue their goals and carry out their policies. While most are success stories (Lincoln, Churchill, de Gaulle, Reagan), there are also some notable failures (Woodrow Wilson, Thomas E. Dewey, Barry Goldwater, Al Gore) that teach valuable political lessons as well.

"Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson" by Kenneth R. Timmerman is a book that you are unlikely to see even mentioned in the media, unless you happen to watch "The O'Reilly Factor." But it is a cold dose of reality about one of the sleazy sacred cows of our times.

Whatever your politics, David Horowitz's book "How to Beat the Democrats" provides penetrating insights into the current political scene. Its first chapter -- on the reckless and cynical sacrifice of American security by the Clinton administration -- says more than most whole books. Horowitz also understands that the ideology of the left is about self-aggrandizement, not helping others.

My own book this year is a collection of these columns, titled "Controversial Essays." I like it but that could be a biased opinion.