If you wanted to distill a modern college education down to a single book, The Knowledge Book would likely be it. These 400 pages offer overviews on everything from philosophy and culture to rundowns on all the major religions, systems of government and technological developments, as well as the basics of science and mathematics and historical delineation of humankind’s artistic movements over the centuries. Put a ribbon and bow on it and it’s like a B.A. in a box, or buy it for yourself to brush up on all the stuff you forgot or wanted to avoid to protect your GPA. It’s a great coffee table book for those commercial breaks if you’re feeling brain rot coming on from your overindulgence in evening TV vegging out. Meanwhile, if you or your intended gift recipient failed science class or avoided it altogether, National Geographic’s Concise History of Science and Invention will fill in all those knowledge gaps with its wide-ranging look at human ingenuity from pre-history to the present.
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All of us are annoyed by the people who reuse sandwich baggies and tin foil, but are secretly guilty that we don’t do the same. All of us are bothered when dinner plans revolve around the lone vegan in the group, but admit (only to ourselves) they have a point. Colin Beavan decides to take these practices to the next level. His aim is leave no carbon foot print, to have no trash, no toxins, etc. To essentially put his money where his mouth is; as an environmentalist. And he makes his family do the same, in New York City, no less. A smart gift idea for any tree-hugging cousin you might have, or the neighbor who offers to take your recycling out for you.
This is perfect, just perfect, for that person in your life who’s read Oliver Sacks or for that someone who loves the Annals in Science articles in the New Yorker—and is especially attracted to those articles on neurology. This is for the amateur anatomist who went to Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds when it was in town and strolled through the exhibit in quiet reverence.
When it comes right down to it, what we are, and who we are, can be distilled down to that very delicate, highly complex, amazing mass of gray matter, which weighs in at an average of three and one-fourth pounds. The brain’s anatomy, its physical and perceptual growth, what happens to it as it learns, when it suffers illness or injury, what constitutes personality, how we perceive the world—all is presented within historical timelines (e.g., brain surgeries, past and present; brain development, from fetus to senior citizen). Our sense of self, our sense of others, our sense of things outside of ourselves and others, our comprehension of objects and ideas, our ability to be athletes and artists are all rendered in a digestible yet brain-engaging format for the perpetually curious layperson with an interest in anatomy, psychology, and identity.
In addition to the gorgeous graphics in these comprehensive 256 pages, (and occasional pop culture examples, not without humor), the book comes with a DVD-ROM with some cool graphics and summarizing features to complement the text. That might appeal to those who haven’t yet made it to a Body Worlds exhibit. The rest of us will be completely absorbed between the pages of this book. Don’t interrupt the reader—for all its problem solving and fantasy-generating might, the brain can’t process two similar tasks (e.g., processing speech and processing text) at the same time.
Often discussion about the Clinton administration focus on his balancing of the budget and the economic boom of the 1990s, or on the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment proceedings. It kinda depends which side of the aisle you sit on. However, the work of Richard Sale in this book takes a different look at the foreign policy of Clinton’s eight years in office; an almost non-partisan look. Through covert-ops, diplomacy, (and some might say) sneakiness, the young President placed America in the changing world of foreign affairs. Any history buff, Clinton fan, or know-it-all will enjoy receiving this book. Full of interviews from CIA agents, Joint Chiefs, Special Forces, the NSA and administration insiders, Clinton’s Secret Wars manages to be insightful, educational and riveting all at the same time.
A few years back I happily received The Complete New Yorker CD-Rom set for Christmas. Your pop culture critic/rock & pop music fan/novice historian/teacher/writer/avid magazine reader probably has it, too, and will be salivating for the Rolling Stone: Cover to Cover CD-Rom gift set for similar reasons. More than “just” a music magazine (Rolling Stone‘s investigative reporting alone is reason enough to subscribe), this high-quality slice of expressions in pop culture and essays on cultural and electoral politics, all set to the soundtrack of the fads and fears of America over the past 40 decades, is a treasure that will be coveted by the lucky recipient. You already know that. Praises sung to Rolling Stone can be sung by heart. But ‘til now you haven’t heard this sweet little note: although the easy-to-use multiple browsing options, the ability to magnify, bookmark and other functions of the CD-Rom reading process are very much like those in the aforementioned The Complete New Yorker, thus far – and I’m still looking, although I keep getting drawn into the articles, so it’s taking a while – I’ve yet to come across a folded-over, crookedly photocopied, too faint to read, partially cut-off page in Rolling Stone: Cover to Cover. I cannot say the same (ahem) for The Complete New Yorker. Plus, Rolling Stone: Cover to Cover includes a substantial, full-color book highlighting cultural touchstones in the history of America and the magazine during this time span. Give this, and you will be loved. You’ll also be ignored for hours on end, but be assured, you will be loved.