Whether you're looking for something to read yourself or books to give as Christmas presents, the following three titles -- an assessment of one president's leadership style, a different take on classical economics and a first-person account of heroism -- can fit the bill.
"Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World" by Evan Thomas (Little, Brown and Co.) -- A former Time and Newsweek writer and editor who has written best-selling history and biography books portrays Dwight Eisenhower as what the publisher calls "a master of calculated duplicity" -- in the most positive sense. He argues that Ike's image among many when he entered the White House was that of "a doddering lightweight," but that such outward appearances were deliberate -- and advantageous in dealing with not just Soviet and Chinese threats, but with American generals who thought America could survive only by striking first. And it wasn't his approach to just politics: "As with his bridge and poker games he was eventually forced to stop playing after leaving too many fellow army officers insolvent, Ike could be patient and ruthless in the con, and generous and expedient in his partnerships," according to the publisher. Eisenhower thereby accomplished what the author says was his mission: keeping America out of major wars during his two-term presidency.
"The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV" by Paul A. Cantor (The University Press of Kentucky) -- With its title alluding to Adam Smith's shorthand for markets' ability to organize and regulate themselves, this book explores what the publisher calls "the tension between freedom and other core values, such as order and political stability" through the prism of such TV shows as "Star Trek" and "South Park" and such movies as "The Aviator." The author, a University of Virginia English professor, draws on classic proponents of freedom -- Smith, Locke, de Tocqueville -- as he grapples with the question of whether Americans can manage their own lives or must have political elites do so for them. By dipping into pop-culture portrayals of "both top- down and bottom-up models of order," the author makes it easier and more enjoyable for today's readers to relate to the ideas he discusses, including Marxist "culture industry" notions and absolute state control a la Hobbes. …