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The Christmas shopping season has arrived and early reports are that the president’s tax cuts have worked and the economy and Christmas spending are growing as a result. This is great news for the country and for the president’s re-election prospects.

But it ought to be great news as well for book-lovers. Christmas is the best time of year to give and receive books. They are the perfect presents, and your choice of title conveys messages of affection clearer than any Hallmark card.

But there are hundreds of thousands of titles and, if you are stuck for suggestions, here are mine:

First, for the college or graduate student, or the young working adult on your list, I recommend without reservation my own book of 2003: “In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World.” Many of you have provided kind reviews of the book since its publication in April, most recently the bloggers Brothers Judd. I appreciate the kind words, and even more your decision to pass the book along wrapped in shiny paper.

For the evangelical Christian on your list, I suggest “Dare To Be True” by my friend Mark Roberts, one of the country’s rising theologians. If a few thousand people read and act on Roberts’ message, the world will be a significantly different place in 2004 than in 2003.

Political junkies of the center-right variety – and even those with an open mind on the left – will absolutely love Rich Lowrey’s “Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.” It is a definitive recounting of the many obvious failings of the disgraced but still ever-present former president, and a handy reference for the battles with Hillary that lay ahead.

I wrote last week for the Weekly Standard that “Legacy” ought to be read alongside William Manchester’s classic “Alone,” the second volume in Manchester’s study of Winston Churchill. The striking similarities between the ’30s and the ’90s are too obvious to ignore, and reading Lowry and Manchester together compel readers to conclusions about the deficiencies of leaders like Clinton and Stanley Baldwin.

For the fiction readers on your list, get them started on the “First Man in Rome” series by Colleen McCullough. If they like the first book, on the rise of Gaius Marius, they will read all six in the series and forever thank you for turning them onto this magnificent achievement in historical fiction. If they don’t like it, they will still appreciate that you thought them up to the task of such a read.

And speaking of Churchill, if you can find the four-volume “History of the English Speaking Peoples,” – don’t buy the one-volume abridgement – then give your best friend the best gift of the year. This may require a visit or two to a quality used-book store, but you cannot know where we are going in this new century until you know where we came from.

Finally, anything by C.S. Lewis gives the gift of great writing and great hope, so order early and with abandon. I am partial to “Screwtape,” but “The Great Divorce” is almost always a winner as well.

No matter which title you choose, a book is always preferable to a tie or socks or even chocolate. Shocking to some, I suppose, but truer words I haven’t written in ’03.

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