The 12 books of Christmas 

Retail stores are decking the halls, restaurants are booking parties, and neighbours are balanced precariously on ladders, adorning their homes with strings of lights. With the holiday season right around the corner, it’s time for savvy shoppers to start compiling that all-important shopping list, and instead of resorting to the boring old scarf or gift certificate for your hard-to-buy-for brother or dad, why not offer up a literary gift: a book. We’ve compiled a list of 12 good reads for 12 different people on your shopping list, making two suggestions each week: husbands, wives, crazy uncles and aunts, teenage boys and girls, tiny tots, the boss, your American (pro-Obama) friend, the foodie, the family nature nut and local political junkie. Happy reading!

 

For the crazy uncle

Quicksilver: Book One of the Baroque Cycle

By Neal Stephenson

HarperCollins Publishers

944 pgs., $39.95

This book was picked up by accident while cruising the racks at the Whistler Public Library. Initially it was the shiny, silver cover that attracted me, as well as its girth — 900 pages from cover to cover. Perfect fall reading.

It didn’t take long to be absorbed by this book, which ranges from the mid-1600s to the early 1700s and the first book is focused on the activities and political intrigues surrounding the Royal Society of Natural Philosophers — a group that includes Isaac Newton, Gottfried Liebniz, Robert Hooke and others who pretty much invented physics, calculus, astronomy, optics, biology, chemistry, medicine, engineering and other high sciences, and who also dabbled in the corrupt but fashionable arts of alchemy and theatre from time to time to pay the bills.

This book combines snippets of history with a fictional narrative by MIT founder Daniel Waterhouse that is funny and compelling, amazingly detailed, and hints at a larger political plot unfolding that will one day split the society. In fact, all through the book you get the sense that these natural philosophers would rather be left alone, but their need for patrons and funding means they are continually drawn into international political intrigues as the British, Dutch, French and other nations battle for supremacy, while internal battles are waged for the crown.

There is the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London, the Dutch East India Trading Company, the schism between papists and Protestants, piracy, slavery, revolution, sabotage — it’s a book that’s thick with the times on which it’s based.

The second book, which concerns the life and times of vagabond Jack Shaftoe and Eliza — the woman he rescues from a Turkish harem at the siege of Vienna — is less compelling than the first, but it’s still a good read and you can sense that Stephenson is building towards something spectacular in his Baroque Cycle .

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