The holidays are upon us, and what better time could there be for the hard-working staff at The Monkey Cage to share some of our favorite political science-themed gifts? Whether you’re shopping for that pollster who has everything or want to spread the joy that only political science can bring to a new generation of budding academics, here are our suggestions for gifts that are sure to please…well, almost everyone.
Given that Thomas Mallon’s last book of fictionalized history was about Watergate, it’s asking a lot of “Finale,” a novel built around the Reykjavik summit between Reagan and Gorbachev, to have quite the same drama. And maybe it doesn’t, even with Richard Nixon figuring prominently in both books. But Mallon’s treatment of the events from 1986-87 is nevertheless engrossing. As he did with Pat Nixon, Mallon makes Nancy Reagan a nuanced, serious character. And in his tour of the late Reagan administration, the sidetrips are often worthwhile — into the subculture of conservative gay men in the age of AIDS, into the loose band of right-wing civilians helping to make sure those dollars got to the Nicaraguan Contras, into the life of Pamela Harriman, into the mind of Christopher Hitchens.
As for Reagan himself, who flummoxed even his would-be biographers, his unknowability is perhaps the abiding theme of Mallon’s portrayal. Mallon writes a conversation between Nixon and Jeanne Kirkpatrick in which she says it best: “Reagan is smoke.”
For the budding International Relations theorist, nothing beats Diplomacy! It’s like Risk only without dice, offering a chance to replay WWI where your success depends on knowing when to make — and when to break — alliances.
And for the millennial out there who still doesn’t quite get the Cold War, I recommend the first three seasons of “The Americans.” What could be better for binging over the holidays than sleeper agents, Keri Russell, and KGB vs. FBI intrigue?
Help send a child to summer camp at Frost Valley YMCA! All money raised goes directly to “camperships” that send kids with financial need to a wonderful sleep-away camp in the Catskill Mountains in New York. Any amount helps.
Cookbooks related to the recipient’s area of interest are always a great choice! My husband focuses on Oman, so I got him this new cookbook, “The Food of Oman.” There’s also last year’s favorite, “Persiana,” a cookbook focused on the broader Middle East.
Kim Yi Dionne
In true political scientist fashion, Dionne rejected the premise of the question and suggested that you instead read this Black Friday shopping list. Then – in typical academic fashion – Dionne asked that her submission be edited after the deadline. She thinks anyone who has any interest in Africa will love this ironic t-shirt from her second favorite blog (second after Monkey Cage, of course).
Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain, “Weapons of Mass Diplomacy” — Want to know how diplomacy and speech writing actually work? This wonderful and funny graphic novel, set in France’s foreign ministry during the run-up to a thinly disguised version of the Iraq war, will give you an excellent roadmap.
Francis Spufford, “Red Plenty” — A novel, written from multiple viewpoints, about how the Soviet Union tried to recreate the benefits of markets without really having them, and failed horribly. A beautifully written and despairingly witty account of how abstract notions from social science and mathematics play out in real people’s lives.
Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly” — The album of the year offered not just gloriously eclectic music and brilliant rhymes but a thoughtful reflection on core questions of political theory, identity and power. No political scientist should go without K. Dot’s 2015 classic.
For the budding quantitative analyst in your life, the dinosaur-themed statistics T-shirts from NausicaaDistribution can’t be beat. (I’m particularly partial to the Chisquareatops.) Many of the designs are also available in children’s and infant sizes. These “significantly not normal” cross-stitch patterns are pretty fantastic as well.
Shopping for a confused college freshman who needs some guidance in choosing the BEST major? This “Keep Calm and Major in Political Science” journal should do the trick.
Todd Moss’s Judd Ryker novels are wildly entertaining romps through the world of a mythical political scientist who ends up with real power in a massive government bureaucracy…sort of. “The Golden Hour” was my favorite beach read of 2015, and I’m looking forward to enjoying “Minute Zero” over the holiday break.
Charlie Savage, “Power Wars” — Savage details how President Obama has continued and in many ways has expanded upon President Bush’s much criticized “global war on terror,” including NSA surveillance, indefinite detention, and drone strikes. Savage argues that while Obama, himself a lawyer, has filled his administration with prominent lawyers this has resulted in stronger legal justifications but not necessarily in greater respect for civil liberties. Savage’s book is filled with intricate details based on many interviews with people inside the administration. It’s that rare political book that should interest both your liberal and conservative uncles.