We asked you, our scholarly readers, to let us know what books would make for great Christmas gifts. We had some suggestions of our own, too. Here's what to buy for the bookworm in your life—there's still time!
The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver. Most popular science writing lacks the rigor of its subject. It draws broad, unambigious conclusions out of narrow research and ignores the methodology in favor of the result. Nate Silver is a glorious exception. The Signal And The Noise has lucid, accessible prose that explains the underlying statistical concepts behind his successful predictions. He also dives into history, sports, information, economics, and counter-terrorism, all while keeping a genuinely humble and personal voice. It makes a perfect gift for anyone interested in the future.
Jewish Jocks, edited by Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy. David Remnick on Howard Cosell, George Packer on Mark Cuban, Sam Lipsyte on Robert Lipsyte. This is no leaflet! Jewish Jocks awesomely pairs up big-time sports figures with big-time writers. The book's obvious throughline is nearly everyone's connection to the Tribe, but above all, it's a fast-paced tour through sports history in a few dozen, really satisfying essays.
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. Fans of Jared Diamond or economics in general will enjoy this accessible volume about developing countries and their ability to synthesize cultural values with the political institutions necessary to promote growth. There's actually a lot here that connects with the world of sports; just like the most successful countries are the ones that first recognized the changing landscape of technology and commerce, it's the sports teams that negotiated forward-thinking contracts (be they with athletes, media partners, or otherwise) that are the most financially successful. But the overall focus here is not on what makes things go right, but how failed nations get it wrong. This book would be especially helpful for Gary Bettman.
The Big Roads, by Earl Swift. There's a lot about living in New York City, spending far too much of your time on the internet, that makes you want to gas up a Ford F-150 and drive the open roads. It's cheaper and freer than a train trip, and, compared to hitchhiking, you're less likely to wind up gashed with an AWOL spleen. It's romantic. But those roads, for whatever last bit of frontier spirit they enable, emerged after battles in Washington and in many of the nation's cities. (Fun fact—Eisenhower really didn't do anything in those political battles. The highways were not his baby.) In this surprisingly readable book, Swift tells the history of the nation's interstates, focusing on lots of colorful characters (Thomas "The Chief" MacDonald, Robert Moses) and all the rest (Howard Johnson's). You'll want to read it if you're just a bit too scared to jump in your car and drive. Then you'll drive.
Arcadia, by Lauren Groff. This book is on plenty of year-end lists, and deservedly so, but we figured we might as well give it credit on ours, too. Groff's plot is an intriguing one—the novel covers a collapsing commune in upstate New York, and follows its protagonist through four discrete sections, from childhood into late middle-age—but her novel stands out because of its powerful verbs and descriptions. This is just one little throwaway nothing descriptive sentence: "Veins branch across his nose, shadows gouge his face." This is another: "The woman with the cragged oak bark face throws off her hood and shakes herself and her age drops off of her like bandages." This is how to write.
This Love Is Not For Cowards, by Robert Andrew Powell. The author embedded himself with Los Indios, an upstart professional soccer team in Juarez, and chronicled the team's struggle to avoid relegation and remain in Mexico's Primera league. Of course, the cartel-driven violence that grips Juarez hangs over the entire story, which is wonderfully written.
The Game, by Ken Dryden. For the disgruntled hockey fan in your life: The greatest hockey book of all time. Ken Dryden isn't just unusually thoughtful for an athlete, he's unusually thoughtful, period, and this stream-of-consciousness narrative preserves the intimate considerations of a legendary athlete at the end of his career. It's an autobiography, a behind-the-scenes look at a dynasty, an examination of hockey, and a genealogy of Québécois identity all in one.
The Information, by James Gleick. It's about the cultural and scientific history of information and information theory. He gets into the nuts and bolts a bit, but it's a good read even if you skim those parts.
The Cut, by George Pelecanos. I am a big fan of detective and crime novels and Pelecanos writes some of my favorites. his first series about Nick Stefanos are fantastic and his new series with a new character go back to those roots a bit. Pelecanos was one of the head writers of The Wire as well, you will find enjoyment in this book if you enjoyed that drama.