For readers who enjoy, as I do, giving books as Christmas presents to political junkie friends and relatives, here’s my 2015 gift book picks:
“Kissinger: 1923-1968, The Idealist” by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, $39.95).
Utilizing the former Secretary of State’s private papers, Harvard professor Ferguson has produced a magisterial biography of Kissinger’s early years.
The book explains how Kissinger’s youth in Nazi Germany and his World War II experiences as a G.I. in Europe, influenced his geo-political thinking.
Ferguson also describes “Super K’s” climb up the political greasy pole and why his call for “limited nuclear war” caught the attention of major political figures — John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon — who sought his advice.
I had trouble putting this book down and look forward to the second volume.
“Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” by John Meacham (Random House, $35.00).
Meacham, the author of credible biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, has produced a work that will be the standard biography of the 41st President for years to come.
While one may disagree with his presidential decisions, after reading this book one cannot doubt that Bush is a man of extraordinary character who served his country with distinction before entering the White House as Congressman, U.N. ambassador, C.I.A. director, chairman of the Republican Committee during the Watergate era and as vice president.
“Henry Clay: America’s Greatest Statesman” by Harlow Giles Unger (DaCapo Press, $25.99)
The author of 11 biographies of America’s founding fathers, the acclaimed biographer, Harlow Giles Unger, holds that the “Great Compromiser,” Henry Clay, negotiated a series of policies known as the “American System” that created “physical, commercial, financial and social links across the nation” that fostered economic unity and unprecedented property.
Clay, in the first half of the 19th Century, prevented dissolution of the young republic by reaching consensus with Northern and Southern foes.
The Congressional compromises Clay engineered, Lincoln said of his hero, thwarted civil war “by a power and influence which belonged to no other statesman of his age and times.”
“1932: The Rise of Hitler and FDR” by David Pietrusza (Lyons Press, $32.95)
In 1932, voters in two Depression-battered nations, chose leaders they hoped would rescue them from hunger and hopelessness.
In America, the choice was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who appealed to our better nature and reminded us that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
In Germany, the winner was Adolf Hitler, a loudmouth demagogue and racist who appealed to people’s darkest side.
Pietrusza’s riveting book is a tale of 2 nations attempting to inch toward safety — with lessons for today.
“Being Nixon: A Man Divided” by Evan Thomas (Random House, $35.00). This is a very fair and balanced biography of the nation’s 37th President.
Thomas explains how Nixon, a complicated figure not made for public life, managed to match FDR’s record of being on a national ticket for president or vice president five times by sheer-will power.
He also describes with great skill how Nixon, on the one hand, achieved détente with the Soviet Union and established relations with Red China, while, on the other hand, engaged in underhanded political tactics that led to his resignation in August 1974.
“Politics Across The Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject” by Philip Mark Plotch (Rutgers University Press, $34.95).
To get an inside view of New York politics at its worst, read this book.
Plotch tells the story of the decades-long struggle to replace the decrepit Tappan Zee Bridge.
He reveals how cowardly and incompetent state officials squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on plans that were rejected and missed out on billions of federal money.
Even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo began the construction of a new bridge, the project is still a mess.
Cuomo and the New York State Thruway authority have been afraid to tell the public how much the new structure will actually cost, and how much tolls will have to be increased to pay off bonded debt and federal loans.
Happy reading in 2016.