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The Vine: December 19, 2008

Submitted by on December 19, 2008 – 12:12 PM23 Comments

Hi Sars,

I’m hoping you and your readers will be able help me and my colleagues out. A treasured co-worker is leaving us to return home after working here in America for the last three years. We’re getting him some personal in-joke gifts, but we also want to give a main gift that fits with his interests and reminds him of his time working in the United States.

Our budget is in the $100-200 range. He’s an economist/lawyer by trade but loves modern American history — civil rights, post-WWII Presidents, that sort of thing. I know he’s listened to podcasts of speeches by past Presidents while commuting. He also loves political scandals. Needless to say, he’s a bit of a geek, so if there’s a great history book or set of DVDs, even if they are a bit dense, he’ll love it. I was trying to find a book or a series books or multiple books which I could maybe buy nice hardback editions of, but any ideas that are not books would be very welcome.

And yes, we will be checking with his wife to make sure he doesn’t already have what we plan to get him.

Not Quite Santa

Dear Not Quite,

Off the top of my head, I’d go with the oral history of RFK, which I believe is — well, not “written,” but collated, I guess, by the same peeps who did Edie.It’s not in print as far as I know but maybe it’s possible to find a copy; let me look…

Ah, here it is: American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy.I don’t know how he feels about oral histories, but I love them; they offer a dimension that straight bios sometimes don’t, or can’t.If you can find a hardcover copy in good condition, it’s a good gift for content and for form (a vintage book is its own gift packaging).

Check and see what’s on offer — or see what my readers have to say.Readers?




  • Leslie says:

    A DVD box set by Ken Burns – – The Civil War, Lewis and Clark, etc.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    You said “oral”. Hee.

    Yes, I’m six, and it’s been a bad day. Actually, it’s been a REALLY Bad Day. It’s nice that NS Santa and his co-workers are sending their friend off with something so thoughtful, and I would personally like to give them Extra Bonus Points for checking with his wife – too many people with specific interests wind up with duplicate copies of stuff gifted by people with the best of intentions. However, that said, the duplicates make nice gifts if you wind up with a protégé with the same interests. offers a number of DVDs on American history, including the workings of the government and WWI, WWII and the Korean War. I don’t think it’s a mark against the DVDs that they’re meant to be educational, and has a nice assortment of presidents … There’s a States/Presidents gift set, Frost’s interviews with Nixon, the Curse of the Kennedys, etc.

  • Rinaldo says:

    DVDs could be problematic, depending on where the recipient is from, because there are different video standards and region encoding that could make the disks impossible for him to play at home.

    I do like Sarah’s idea of one or more really substantial oral histories.

  • Heatherkay says:

    This is off in a little bit of a tangent, but I can’t think of anything more American, especially if he’s interested in modern American history, than a nice copy of _Working_ by Studs Terkel. Really — anything by Studs Terkel would be good. I know he also did oral histories of the Great Depression and WWII.

  • Karen says:

    I don’t know if this would fit with his interests, but I would suggest any of the Mental_floss family of books. (Especially ‘History of the World’ or ‘Forbidden Knowledge.’) They have a way of imparting really interesting information in a brief and enjoyable manner that makes you remember.

  • meltina says:

    I’m not a New Yorker, but if we’re looking at media and books, I’d reccomend the New York documentary series by Ric Burns. I loved it when it aired, it was very throughly researched and spans 400 years of history of the most iconic U.S. city. I’m giving you a tiny url link to the PBS Shop page.

  • k says:

    I adored Robert Caro’s Path To Power – about Lyndon Johnson early years before the Senate. I know the reviews were mixed on the second volume and I haven’t even read reviews of the third, but Path to Power is awesome awesome stuff. LBJ’s early years basically take you from the settlement of Texas to the end of WWII. So tons of breadth. Although not pricey enough?

  • attica says:

    A whole assortment of American history, journalism and lit can be found in beautiful clothbound editions at

  • Josh says:

    You mentioned an interest in history and political speeches, so might I suggest a new volume that collects the 100 greatest American speeches of the 20th century with historical information and footnotes:


  • Phaedra392 says:

    He might already have it, but the DVD of the PBS series “Eyes on the Prize” would be an excellent choice. It’s a wonderful history of the civil-rights movement.

  • tikimen says:

    Seconding the “anything by Studs” recommendation. I think his brand of social history shows more about America than an in-depth study of any leader would.

  • b says:

    I just finished reading “Journals 1952-2000” by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and it is a wonderful look at modern American politics from someone who was there. It is quite long, and filled with many personal observations on America, its politics, and Presidents from 1952-2000. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. worked in several White House administrations, and consulted for many others. As someone who is somewhat obsessed with American politics, this was a very interesting read. I think your friend would really love it.

  • Rachel says:


    Good point. Be careful with DVDs if the recipient’s home isn’t in North America. It’s easy to hack DVD players to play other regions (I’ve hacked my DVD player so it can play European DVDs – you can easily find instructions online), but the recipient might not have a cooperative DVD player. It would be safer to stick to books, CDs, or multi-region DVDs.

  • fastiller says:

    I second Heatherkay’s recommendation/comment that anything Terkel wrote would be a great idea. And sad though it is, because he recently passed away, there should be no difficulty finding his works.

  • Jo says:

    I’d also recommend Studs Terkel. Keeping in mind the obvious political bias, I’d also suggest “A People’s History of the United States of America.” Zinn’s not exactly objective, but the book offers a perspective you don’t see in regular textbooks. If he’s interested in civil rights, he might like Zinn. I’ve never seen that book in hardback, but you could probably find it on Amazon. There’s an edition called “Voices of the 20th Century” that, as the title suggests, is specifically the chapters of “A People’s History” about the 20th Century, but I loved the original.

    I also love anything and everything to do with the Kennedy assassination or Watergate. I found a copy of the Warren Commission report at a used book sale earlier this year and was in heaven.

    Or, if you’re trying to give him something that will remind him of his time here in America, how about Obama’s books? “Dreams from my Father” is beautifully written.

  • Bev says:

    Please check out The Teaching Company at

    The make tapes/CDs/books and i think MP3 files
    for history, but for other interesting subjects. My husband has bought maybe 40 of their courses, and listens to them on his commute. They pick good lecturers, and delve deeply into subjects without being dense. I couldn’t recommend them more highly. Aside from picking a topic you friend enjoys, the Teaching Company seems so American in its breadth, scholarship, and being for profit – not part of the formal education system.

  • Not Quite Santa says:

    Thanks guys! I was aware of the DVD issue, but he has a multiregion players so it’s not a problem. We haven’t bought the gifts yet, so all suggestions are in the mix.

    Problem is, now I want all these things for myself – I think i’ll definitely be checking out the Schlesinger diaries. Thanks again everyone.

  • MCB says:

    As a fellow history geek, I enthusiastically recommend David Halberstam’s books. _The Best and the Brightest_ is a fantastic account of how the US ended up in the Vietnam War. (Bonus: it contains a profoundly ironic forward by a certain former presidential candidate.) I also loved _The Fifties_, which is more like a collection of stories about the 1950s, but it covers all the important stuff — Truman and Eisenhower, Marilyn Monroe, the first Holiday Inn, civil rights, and the article that led Betty Friedan to write “The Feminine Mystique.” It sounds like your friend would prefer _The Best and the Brightest_ based on his interests, but they’re both great books!

  • Rosie says:

    It sounds like your friend is into nonfiction, but if he does like historical fiction, I wholeheartedly recommend The Alienist by Caleb Carr. It takes place in turn-of-the-century (19th – 20th) New York City and has real historical characters mixed in with some truly unique fictional ones, tackling the introduction of new crimesolving techniques like fingerprinting and psychological profiling. Good stuff.

  • Shannon says:

    I would also recommend The Teapot Dome Scandal by Laton McCartney. (Amazon link:

    I am such a nerd that my boyfriend got me this book for Valentine’s Day after seeing the author on the Daily Show. It is really engrossing. I have been fascinated with the Watergate scandal since I went to college in DC, and this is a great reminder that corruption existed before Nixon. It’s also incredibly timely given the “Corruptovich” scandal in Illinois this month.

    I look back on this and wonder if I should have “nerd” tattooed on my forehead. Or maybe it’s already there and I just didn’t realize it.

    Also, I second Rosie’s suggestion of the Alienist or anything by Caleb Carr.

  • Amber says:

    They have recently put out a compilation of 24 hours of Nixon interviews, done not long after he was impeached and left office. That might be something interesting.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    I’m going to raise a hand here for “think twice” about Terkel’s “Working”. I’m not saying NOT to get it, and I’m not saying it isn’t good – but I sat through a performance (an amateur performance, at that) of the theatrical release, and bawled my way through the whole thing. Other people may be affected differently, of course. But I’d classify it with getting a copy of “Nickel and Dimed” as a memento of America. It’s not false; but it’s not all there is, either. Not Quite Santa might want to balance those options with something a little more upbeat for his friend.

    I have no idea what that might be, however.

  • Rachel says:

    Why not the New Yorker DVDs/CDs? Much more fun.

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