December 2008 | Nicholas Basbanes

Nick's Picks

I am working this week on the annual roundups I do for Literary Features Syndicate on books worthwhile for holiday giving, one batch for adults, the other for kids. Both of these will be up on my website ( or soon, but I thought, in the meantime, I might offer, in this space, some books that qualify for another little exercise I enjoy doing when time and the spirit permit, Nick's Picks. In this instance, I am citing works recently published that relate in one way or another to the book world. I'll be adding more to the list in due course, but these, in particular, struck me as especially relevant for mention here.

The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson (Oxford University Press, $34.95. 738 pages), a masterful intellectual biography by Kevin J. Hayes, professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma, that deals fundamentally with the books that helped shape the mind and thought of our greatest bibliophile president.

The Man Who Loved China (HarperCollins, $27.95, 316 pages), Simon Winchester's wonderful account of the life and times of Joseph Needham (1900-1995), the eccentric British scientist sometimes called the "Erasmus of the twentieth century" for his magisterial multi-volume work, Science and Civilization in China, published by Cambridge University Press.

Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life (Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95, 276 pages), by Timothy W. Ryback, an original consideration of the person who created the Third Reich based on an examination of the books that were recovered from his personal library, and which are now in the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C.

Reading Matters: Five Centuries of Discovering Books (Yale University Press, $30, 295 pages), a scholarly look at how people acquired books from the sixteenth century to the present, by Margaret Willes, publisher of the National Trust in England.

Among art books, two, on related themes, have been helpful to me in my continuing research on a cultural history of paper and papermaking; both include exceptional text, and both are richly illustrated.

Thumbnail image for Chinese Call.jpg Chinese Calligraphy (Yale University Press, $75, 520 pages), by Ouyang Zhongshi and Wen C. Fong, and translated from the Chinese and edited by Wang Youfen, the latest installment in the Culture & Civilization in China series launched ten years ago by Yale University Press and the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing, and covering the history, theory, and importance of a remarkable art form over the three millennia of its development.

The Splendor of Islamic Calligraphy (Thames & Hudson, $75, 240 pages), by Abdelkebin Khatibi and Mohammed Sijelmassi, a hugely influential work first published in 1996, and now back in print in this new edition.

Finally, four paperbacks from a new series recently introduced by Trinity University Press in San Antonio, Texas, under the general editorship of Edward Hirsch, called The Writer's World, each volume priced at $24.95:

Irish Writers on Writing, edited by Evan Boland; Mexican Writers on Writing, edited by Margaret Sayers Peden; Hebrew Writers on Writing, edited by Peter Cole; and Polish Writers on Writing, edited by Adam Zagajewski.

Feel free to enter your own "Picks" in the comments area below.