National Review Online helps you shop for your loved ones, once again.
Need a vacation? These three books will take you away.
A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water: Patrick Leigh Fermor was an Anglo-Irishman and a heroic WWII vet (he kidnapped a German general on Crete and smuggled him onto a submarine bound for Egypt). In 1934, when he was an 18-year-old dropout living at loose ends in London, he decided to walk across Europe, from where the boat would leave him off in Holland to Constantinople. Years later he wrote his journey up. These two books take him as far as the border of Romania. The prose is very done, and you have to see through the persona of the charming young Englishman. Leigh Fermor is truly charming, however. Best sentence, as he is riding over the plain of Hungary on a borrowed horse: “There was not a single way in which life could be improved.”
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: Rebecca West, author and sometime mistress of H. G. Wells, took a trip to Yugoslavia in 1937. The immense book she wrote — originally published in two volumes — is very well written, very observant, and very biased. She is one of those Englishwomen, upper class or U-aspiring, who think every opinion they have is justified by their sincerity and insistence. And yet some of her thoughts are keen. As I write, I am on page 864 of 1,150; she has just made a ferocious attack on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.
ORSON SCOTT CARD
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford. The clearest treatment I’ve seen of truly brilliant military and political leadership. Weatherford makes clear how Genghis Khan transformed his own people into an adaptable, unified nation, and how he then used his soldiers carefully to impose a new order on the world. The lesson is not that we should emulate Genghis Khan and the Mongols; the lesson is that we should not pretend to be a world power if we do not have the will to act the part. This book is not just for history readers — it’s for students of contemporary affairs who will be fascinated by how applicable this history is to our times.
Evelina: or, the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, by Fanny Burney: This nearly forgotten novel was one of Jane Austen’s favorites, and it’s a delight to see how much the great novelist learned from her predecessor. Burney’s novel, told in letters (which usually makes for deadly reading!), is funny and ironic from beginning to end, and if her heroine allows people to mistreat her dreadfully because she’s too polite to protest, that’s clearly the novelist’s point. For the Jane Austen fan who is frustrated by the fact that Austen isn’t coming out with any new books this year.