Going under cover for a perfect gift

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My friend the historian got “Iron Curtain,” by Anne Applebaum, a riveting account of the takeover of Eastern Europe by the USSR following World War II. Those years comprise a historical watershed, and I don’t recall another book that focuses, with such clarity, on that time.

My dad, who remembers the 1940s better than he remembers this morning’s oatmeal, got “Istanbul Passage,” by Joseph Kanon, a terrific thinking person’s spy thriller about efforts to facilitate the escape of European Jews through Turkey during World War II.

A cousin is completing a residency program in oncology. I sent her “The Emperor of All Maladies,” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an epic history of cancer and its treatment. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2011.

A real pal and big-time reader got “Building Stories,” by Chris Ware, a completely original collection of 14 interrelated books, pamphlets, leaflets, etc., that come in a box and tell the stories of the people who live in one apartment building.

I went to college with someone who grew up in Detroit. He got “Detroit City is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis.” Written by Rolling Stone reporter Mark Benalli, the book tells the tale of two cities, one that was a thriving center of the auto industry, the other, flat broke, savaged by the recession but possibly feeling signs of new life.

My husband claims that he can’t “get into” any book besides the thrill-a-minute, high-tension best-sellers by Patterson, DeMille, Cross and Baldacci. I like a challenge, so I bought him “A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion,” by Ron Hansen, a true story of passion, adultery and murder. How could he not love it?

I don’t like to say there’s a book all of us should read, but here goes: Please read “The Yellow Birds,” by Kevin Powers. Many have said it is the Iraq War equivalent of “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Having lived through this time, debated the war, cried over the dead and mourned the suffering inflicted on this generation of warriors, we need to read the story.

“People Who Eat Darkness: the True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo,” a book by Lloyd Parry, is a compelling read that, along the way, opens up the culture of Japan in a way few other books have.
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