A reader writes:
For a Christmas gift exchange, I’m buying a present for someone I don’t know very well . When I asked someone who knew her much better what would work, I was told, books, and history – “not too academic, but not dumbed down”. She’s read a lot about the (American) Civil War, and history generally. So I would like to crowdsource my Christmas shopping to your readers. What recent books would you put in the category of not dumbed down, but not too academic, interesting to a curious informed reader?
Well, friends: what do you think? I assigned Drew Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008) to a senior seminar a few years ago, and it went over really well. I found the book fascinating and *I* could see the interventions she made in the historiography, but I don’t think they would distract a non-academic reader.
(Whether or not one would want to give a book about death for Christmas–well, that’s another question, isn’t it? Maybe I should brace myself for a follow-up Dear Historiann letter, in which a reader wonders why a Secret
Satan Santa gave her a book about death and what it might mean about their relationship.)
Another idea: I love the books of Joan DeJean, who’s a serious scholar but writes clever, accessible books about ancien régime France and the high life in the courts of the Bourbon kings. I remember buying her book The Essence of Style (2005) on a whim, and loving it. As in, it was un-put-downable I loved reading it so much. (And DeJean’s books might be a little more Christmas-season appropriate than titles about death.) Readers, do you have any ideas for my correspondent? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.
To any friends or family members who read this blog, I’ll just state outright that I haven’t done any Christmas shopping and I’m not at all stressed out about this. Children excepted, If I manage to give you something before Martin Luther King day, I’m going to call it good enough! I’ll admit that I’ve been almost completely in denial about the holidays because it’s in the 60s and 70s and sunny here, but also because I’m on sabbatical from a lot of things. Like cooking, and worrying about Christmas. Fa la la la, la la la la!
I should do this every year!
But there’s another reason I haven’t been worrying about Christmas this year, and that is that I’ve been working on giving myself–and my editor–the best Christmas present of all–a 100% complete book manuscript. Yes, I am selfish–but selfish feels really, really good. Selfish selfish selfish! (Remember that post? That was a good one!)