What thought-provoking things can I give my Dad for Christmas?
December 4, 2011 5:45 PM   Subscribe

For Christmas, I want to give my Dad a collection of thought-provoking, idea-filled things to read or listen to - things that inspire discussion, reflection, imagination, and curiosity. His specific preferences and a few ideas I've had already are inside.

My Dad likes big ideas. He'll get grabbed by a theory (I think he talked about The Tipping Point and Panarchy for a year), a novel (he told everybody he knows to read A Gate at the Stair by Lorrie Moore), a cause or theory (he's currently HUGE on the science of resilience, and also water conservation), an artist (could be a musician, a painter, etc), or a philosopher (last I checked it was William James) and really dive in for a time. He loves debate, good discussions and challenging ideas.

For Christmas I want to get him a collection of things to read, look at or listen to that will be thought-provoking and full of great ideas. I will read the stuff I give him so we can discuss it during vacation.

Relevant info about my Dad: his profession is in the arts; he very much enjoys reading about science but is by no means a scientist himself (but I am, so I often talk to him about sciency stuff). He has a degree in a subtype of classical music, and while he's not closed minded about ALL other types of music (Mongolian music? Great!), I have yet to hear him admit that modern pop or rap is even music at all. He's a bit snooty about literature and so far claims that there is no science fiction or fantasy writing - NONE - that is literature in any way (but as you'll see, I'm not giving up). He will not read anything that is "self-help" in any way.

So far, I am planning to get him:
1. This collection of Ted Chiang stories. As I mentioned, he claims that there is no such thing as good science fiction, but I am attempting to change his mind. (Don't worry - we often attempt to convince each other of things. He won't mind.)
2. Several episodes of Radiolab ("Time", "Memory and Forgetting", "After Life", "Limits", "Words")
3. This book about willpower (probably).

Things in the right spirit that he's already seen/read/heard (just to give a better sense of what I'm looking for):
1. The Ken Burns series on America's national parks.
2. A book of Andy Goldsworthy's work.
3. A CD of Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road ensemble.

Any genre is good. History, politics, biology, ecology, cosmology, philosophy, visual art, music, novels, essays, biographies... anything that's got great ideas and lots to think about.
posted by Cygnet to Education (18 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Has he read Nudge yet?
posted by SMPA at 5:52 PM on December 4, 2011

The Rest Is Noise and/or Listen To This by Alex Ross.
posted by caek at 5:52 PM on December 4, 2011

Non-fiction: Why Most Things Fail by Paul Ormerod, The Worst Journey in the World by Cherry-Gerrard (National Geographic's #1 adventure book of all time, but so much more than just a ripping yarn), The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies by David Bordwell (fascinating analysis of modern popular film-making that is aware of cultural history, but doesn't stray into cultural theory)

Fiction: Warlock by Oakley Hall and/or the TV series Deadwood, both full of big ideas about labour relations, urbanization, etc.)
posted by caek at 6:06 PM on December 4, 2011

If the listening involves things other than music, it makes me think of CBC's Ideas. You could download some podcasts/shows (bonus: free!), or they have a compilation at the CBC store.
You may also want to take look into the Massey Lectures.
posted by platypus of the universe at 6:29 PM on December 4, 2011

How about a Mongolian throat singing CD? I recomend the group AnDa Union, but there are plenty of others out there. Very beautiful and awe-inspiring. Singing AND playing the flute at the same time? Holy wow!
posted by fuzzysoft at 6:36 PM on December 4, 2011

Send him to this or this! Or at least, comb the speaker bios for great writers.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on December 4, 2011

Dan Ariely - Predictably Irrational
posted by lakeroon at 8:13 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been hinting (ok, begging) for a subscription to The Sun for Christmas this year. Topics range from personal essays to poetry to politics to arts. It's all non-fiction, but very much up your dad's alley, IMO.
posted by Gilbert at 8:16 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe is ostensibly a sci-fi book, and it is, but it's also about father/son relationships. The Information is maybe the smartest book about living in modern times I've ever read and it's full of head spinning observations
posted by GilloD at 8:22 PM on December 4, 2011

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer by Duncan Watts

The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World by Tim Harford

An Intelligent Person's Guide to Ethics by Mary Warnock

An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin

Mortal Questions by Thomas Nagel (a great collection of essays including the classic "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?")

The Mysterious Flame by Colin McGinn

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

What Have You Changed Your Mind About?
posted by John Cohen at 9:47 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattariand Felix Guattari
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:54 PM on December 4, 2011

IMO there is nothing better you can give a person to convince him/her that science fiction can be valuable literature too, than one of the books of Stanislaw Lem, for example Fiasco.
posted by jarekr at 12:39 AM on December 5, 2011

They're selling an episode from the podcast A Partially Examined Life if philosophy and podcasts are your thing. You can also listen for free.
posted by _cave at 5:32 AM on December 5, 2011

Intelligence Squared podcasts are great.
posted by Shebear at 4:43 PM on December 5, 2011

Suggestions for books:

In the history arena, I just finished The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.

In the sociology arena (for lack of a more precise category), there is Revenge: A Story of Hope, by Laura Blumenfeld.

You mentioned that your dad liked The Tipping Point. The author of that book, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote two other books similar in style to The Tipping Point: Blink and Outliers. Maybe your dad has already read them, but if not, then I think either (or both) of these would be a good choice!
posted by hypotheticole at 8:27 AM on December 6, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everybody. I ended up ordering him The Rest Is Noise and The Warmth of Other Suns and a subscription to The Sun. But I think I want to read all this stuff myself!
posted by Cygnet at 12:38 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

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