My annual list of books to recommend as Christmas presents is led by the clearest front-runner in years: "1776" by David McCullough.
There was a time when the very mention of 1776 struck a responsive chord in Americans, as the year in which their country's independent existence began. Today, history is so neglected in our schools and colleges that even many graduates of Ivy League institutions would have to have the significance of that year explained to them.
David McCullough's "1776" is the book to give to them -- and to others. This book brings vividly to life the people and the desperate conditions in which Americans began the fight for independence -- losing most of the battles, many of them disastrously -- and yet persevered on, even when all seemed lost.
General George Washington wrote at the time: "The reflection upon my situation and that of this army produces many an uneasy hour when all around me are wrapped in sleep. Few people know the predicament we are in."
As for the ordinary American soldiers, beaten in battle, hungry and ravaged by disease, McCullough offers this picture of their retreat: "Heavy rains had left the narrow road sloppy with mud, and the men were in tatters, many without shoes, their feet wrapped in rags." Yet these were the men whose sacrifices created America.
What comes through clearest in McCullough's book is the character and strength of George Washington, which was all that held things together when the new country and its new army both seemed to be falling apart.
A fuller account of Washington's life and character in war and peace can be found in another outstanding book that would make a great Christmas present: "Founding Father" by Richard Brookhiser.
With the world preoccupied today with the terrorism coming out of the Islamic Middle East and spreading around the world, we need to understand what has led up to this fanatical destruction and self-destruction.
Some believe that it is something that we have done, or that Israel has done, which has provoked such lethal hatreds. But the roots of all this go back long before the modern state of Israel was founded and before American involvement in the Middle East.
"What Went Wrong?" is the title of a brilliant and readable capsule history of the evolution of Islamic civilization in the Middle East by the preeminent scholar on that subject, Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton. This little book is an education in itself on a subject where education is very much needed.
Among the best books on the welfare state and its consequences -- intended and unintended, here and overseas -- are "Life at the Bottom" by Theodore Dalrymple, "Do-Gooders" by Mona Charen, and "FDR's Folly" by Jim Powell.
Dalrymple's book is an insightful and devastating eyewitness account of the white underclass in Britain, which is remarkably similar to the black underclass in America. Clearly it is not race but the welfare state behind the counterproductive and self-destructive attitudes and lifestyles of both groups.
Mona Charen's book is an incisive critique of the American liberals' welfare state and Powell's book traces the roots of that welfare state to the politically clever but socially disastrous policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.
My own book this year, "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" is apparently one which many liberal and conservative publications alike have found too hot to handle. There have not been even ten reviews of it in print -- and yet it has been as high as 11th in sales on amazon.com.
Thank heaven for talk radio, C-SPAN and the Fox News Channel.
My thesis in the title essay of this book is that the reasons for black-white income and other differences have been grossly misunderstood and, as a result, many things advocated to deal with those differences have largely made matters worse.
Other essays in this book argue that antisemitism has likewise been grossly misunderstood, as has the history of slavery, and of Germans, as part of a twisted view of history in general.
Merry Christmas -- if we are still allowed to say that.