What book to get him?
December 7, 2008 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Christmas gift: what non-fiction political or economic book should I get for my liberal intellectual brother?

He's into reading about politics, economics, and social sciences, and usually has his nose in some book or other. I don't know much about what he's into, but he tends to prefer stuff on the intellectual/academic side of things (as opposed to, say, Keith Olbermann, if he has a book out.) The name Amartya Sen was mentioned before. If it helps, he campaigned for Obama. I briefly considered getting The Post-American World since Obama was reading that on the campaign trail, but Zakaria seems a bit questionable... I considered getting him something on the current economic crisis (Paul Krugman?) but figured it might be a downer of a Christmas present. He also might like an interesting book on the Chicago school of economics. Sorry if this is too detailed or not detailed enough! Any suggestions for that perfect book? Or should I just play it safe and get him Wall-E?
posted by naju to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
These are more war on terror/civil liberties/Iraq/Bush is awful oriented, but here goes:

Imperial Life in the Emerald City, about the first year of the US occupation of Iraq. Excellent book.

The Dark Side, about the war on terror.

Angler: The Cheney Vice-Presidency by Barton Gellman. Excellent book--more historical than theoretical, but if he's a liberal with any interest in the Constitution or the last eight years, a must-read. I heard Gellman discuss it a little while back; it's got a bunch of insights.

The Assault on Reason by Al Gore.
posted by j1950 at 5:36 PM on December 7, 2008

Best answer: "What's the Matter with Kansas," by Thomas Frank
"The Shock Doctrine," by Naomi Klein
"Notes on the State of Virginia," by Thomas Jefferson
"Legacy of Conquest," by Patricia Nelson Limerick
posted by emhutchinson at 5:37 PM on December 7, 2008

Development as Freedom, by Nobel laureate in Economics Amartya Sen. This is a great book, adapted from a series of lectures he gave at the IMF (or was it the World Bank?) on how economic development increases personal agency, and how that agency can serve as sort of a primordial soup for the evolution of civil society, human rights, and all kinds of great stuff.
posted by The White Hat at 5:37 PM on December 7, 2008

I enjoyed Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian though it got repetitive towards the end and it holds special interest for me as I'm Indian, which it might not for non-Indians.
How about Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh (of Freakonomics fame)?
Ooooh, and what about Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. I think it might be right up his alley.
posted by peacheater at 5:44 PM on December 7, 2008

Seconding Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. It's a brilliant book and a gripping, accessible read.
posted by isogloss at 5:45 PM on December 7, 2008

It may be a tiny tiny bit out of date, but I really enjoyed Bowling Alone.
posted by piedmont at 5:45 PM on December 7, 2008

Free Trade Reimagined by Roberto Mangabeira Unger, one of Obama's Harvard professors.
posted by jayder at 6:08 PM on December 7, 2008

Seconding "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "What's the Matter with Kansas".

A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.

On the lighter side, I Am America (And So Can You!), by Steven Colbert.
posted by Flunkie at 6:12 PM on December 7, 2008

I haven't read it, but The Forever War by Dexter Filkins sounds great.
posted by lukemeister at 6:17 PM on December 7, 2008

Do you know if he's already read Freakonomics?
"Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a 2005 non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner that has been described as melding pop culture with economics."
posted by wrnealis at 6:38 PM on December 7, 2008

Best answer: Economic Gangsters "An entertaining walk on the dark side of global economic development."
posted by otherwordlyglow at 6:40 PM on December 7, 2008


When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change, Mohamed El-Erian
A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson (aka. "the failsave gift")
Andrew Carnegie, David Nasaw
Backstory: Inside the Business of News, Ken Auletta
posted by krautland at 6:40 PM on December 7, 2008

Best answer: I have not read this, but he might enjoy Michael Lewis's new anthology Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, which is a collection of articles about four modern financial crises starting with the stock market crash in 1987 through the current subprime mess.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:48 PM on December 7, 2008

but he tends to prefer stuff on the intellectual/academic side of things

That rules out Naomi Klein. Amartya Sen is definitely respectable and probably a pretty fair thinker.

If he's younger you should buy him both Rawls and Nozick. Perhaps they're way too normative?

William Vollmann is both difficult and fantastic, and while not overtly political he will probably buttress some of your brother's assumptions while causing him to rethink others.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:38 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

3rding "What's the Matter with Kansas", but make sure you buy the paperback version with the updated Afterward by the author as it covers the results of the 2004 election, as the book was originally published prior to same.

Also, "The Wrecking Crew" by the same author.

Alternatively, get him a one-year subscription to the Wall Street Journal. Just put a note with the gift card that tells him he can skip over the editorial pages every day. That's what I do. Seriously. The WSJ has, hands-down, absolutely the best daily reporting you can get on business, corporate america and their excesses. They cover corporate fraud, consumer impact, and the other nasty bits of American business better than anyone else. Plus, their Friday and Saturday "personal journal" sections are quite interesting. Hey, I can't remember the last time I voted for a Rethug, and I've subscribed/read the WSJ almost every day for 5+ years now. (I do buy the NYT every Wednesday for the food section, 'cause that's what's REALLY important in life).
posted by webhund at 8:17 PM on December 7, 2008

Thirding The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. Even if you completely disagree with her politics, at the very least it's a compact history of some major current events and players of the last 50 years or so.
posted by zardoz at 10:54 PM on December 7, 2008

Andrew Jackson, An American Lion in the White House by Jon Meacham
posted by lois1950 at 12:09 AM on December 8, 2008

Oops: An American Lion, Andrew Jackson in the White House!
posted by lois1950 at 12:11 AM on December 8, 2008

Why not ask him what subject areas he's missed but wants to read about? You'd have more leeway choosing the book without fear of buying one he has read.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:34 AM on December 8, 2008

Yeah the difficult thing here is finding something that he would actually like that he hasn't read yet. If he usually has his nose in a book then he's probably already read what he really wants to. So buy him something that he wouldn't ever get himself but he'll enjoy having around, like the Onion Atlas (geopolitical jests and japes!) or SkyMaul (making fun of airplane shopping = gold!), or something along those lines.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:58 AM on December 8, 2008

Best answer: The two books I'm tempted to go buy because they're always checked out at the libraries in my city:

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery

FYI: I am a liberal intellectual brother.
posted by trueluk at 7:04 AM on December 8, 2008

Regarding The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson is an imperialist (seriously) ... not that I mean to apply a litmus test. I also remember reading a review that said the book was hastily thrown together.
posted by lukemeister at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2008

I only just started it, but Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter has gotten lots of interesting notice over the last year and seems right up your brother's alley.
posted by dfan at 5:07 PM on December 8, 2008

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