Books, Toys, Experiences, and Some Hard-to-Get Booze
When my family asks me what I want for Christmas, I usually say, “Let me think about it.” Then I never get back to them.
I’ve finally thought about it, and I’ve come up with this list of what I really want, along with some things I think would make great gifts for history enthusiasts like me.
1. Maps of the Past
Show me a history lover who doesn’t love maps. This holiday season, deck the walls with a beautiful reproduction of one of Maps of the Past’s more than 6,000 historical maps dating back to the 16th century.
Choose from world maps, state maps, county maps, Revolutionary and Civil War maps, and panoramas – including this gorgeous panorama of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that I’m in love with. If you know anyone as obsessed with Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America as I am, then this is the ultimate gift for $35.99.
This site is by far the most affordable way to make your own map room.
2. Ancestry.com Gift Subscription
With an Ancestry.com gift subscription you’re giving someone a fantastic way to research their own family history. With census and military records, the shared family trees of millions of other users and so much more, it’s a treasure trove of genealogical research.
It’s also a great way to verify that your grandfather was telling the truth about his cousin Buster who killed a barber over 50 cents and got the electric chair for it. (True story.) Maybe that’s just my family – who knows what you’ll find out about yours!
3. Excellent Books
You can’t go wrong with any of these top-notch nonfiction books.
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
This is one of the greatest inspirations on the writing I do here, and I highly recommend it to budding history lovers. Know someone obsessed with Hamilton who’s ready for the next step? If they appreciate a little humor with their history, this book is perfect.
Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Goodwin’s new book looks at four presidents with a focus on what made them great leaders at pivotal moments. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the qualities of leadership our nation has been extremely lucky to have in the past.
Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War by Joanne Freeman
As the power structure of the slaveholding South was threatened, Southern members of Congress became increasingly verbally and physically abusive toward their Northern colleagues. This new book by historian Joanne Freeman looks at the turbulent buildup toward the Civil War.
4. Periodic Table of the Presidents
In the intersection between science nerds and history buffs, this Periodic Table of The Presidents poster fits perfectly.
It’s a fun, inventive way to visualize the presidents through time.
6. Politics & Poetry Bundle
For the lover of presidents and poetry, consider this bundle of books about John F. Kennedy and Robert Frost.
This brand new book focuses on the last public speech JFK ever gave, honoring the poet Robert Frost at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College.
The collection includes essays by Jon Meacham, Robert Redford, and Joe Kennedy III. It not only looks at Kennedy and Frost, but also at the impact the speech had on members of the audience throughout their lives.
Robert Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays (Library of America)
I can think of no better companion piece to JFK: The Last Speech than this Library of America collection of the works of Robert Frost. If you’re only familiar with a few of his poems, like The Road Not Taken or Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, I encourage you to dive into more of his work.
Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
Top this literary bundle off with this Pulitzer-Prize winning work written by JFK and ghost writer Ted Sorenson highlighting politicians (like my personal fave John Quincy Adams) who went against the grain and showed political courage.
You could also consider Kennedy’s other published work, A Nation of Immigrants.
7. George Washington Whiskey Gift Set
Your brain might know George Washington owned one of the largest whiskey distilleries in the country, but does your liver know? Now it can!
Mount Vernon sells whiskey made from George Washington’s original recipe. This handsome $30 boxed set includes a 50 ml mini bottle of George Washington’s Rye Whiskey® and a commemorative shot glass.
But there’s a catch…
Virginia law won’t let Mount Vernon ship whiskey or brandy, so you have to physically go to Mount Vernon to purchase this.
Trying to find a way around this would officially make you a bootlegger. That would make you as a gift-giver look pretty badass, but I refuse to be held responsible for leading you to a life of crime this holiday season.
8. A Historic Tour
Some of my favorite local and vacation experiences have been tours where experts made places come alive with their fascinating stories.
Whether it’s a premium tour of Mount Vernon, an architectural boat tour on the Chicago River, or a beer tasting and urban art tour of downtown Los Angeles, I adore tours and I’m betting the history lover on your list will too.
You can find a great list of historic tours at the PreservationDirectory,com.
Many don’t list gift certificates but will often work something out if you contact them. If not, you can get creative and print out your own certificate and offer to handle the booking when your recipient chooses their date and time.
9. One Day University Gift Certificates
One Day University works with some of the world’s most popular professors to develop their most engaging talks, sending them across the country to educate and entertain students of all ages.
With events at 45 cities and online, a gift certificate to One Day University is a great way to encourage the curious. For my birthday, my father-in-law took me to a One Day University lecture by Professor Louis Masur called “Hamilton vs. Jefferson: The Rivalry That Shaped America” and it was enthralling.
10. The Oxford English Dictionary
This gift isn’t for the faint of heart or pocketbook, but it is truly the holy grail for lovers of language and history. Comprised of twenty huge volumes, it contains not only the definitions of every word that has ever existed in the English language, but also the etymology of each word, citing examples of its earliest known use and changes throughout time.
It’s pure joy for word nerds to peruse.
I’ve written about my love of this set before – I stalked it on Amazon for years before it dropped in price far below what it’s listed at now, but I don’t know if it will ever go that low again.
If you want to save yourself some money (and your recipient a lot of shelf space), you could consider the compact version – it contains the exact same material but the pages are micrographically shrunk down so each page contains 9 of the original’s pages.
This two volume-set comes with its own magnifying glass.
11. Punny Shirts
Some special people love history, t-shirts, and puns. These gifts will fit them to a tee.
12. Used Bookstore Gift Certificates
Everyone loves Amazon gift cards, but there’s something special about going to a real bookstore. When that bookstore is a great used bookstore, it’s like Disneyland for history buffs.
My local used bookstore, The Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood, has an impressive presidential biography section. I found this 1895 childrens book The True Story of George Washington, and its inscription from “Xmas 1924” makes me feel connected to its history.
Whatever gifts you give this holiday season, I hope they bring your recipient as much joy as this gift from Mother and Daddy brought Jack.
Please share your own ideas for great gifts for history lovers in the comments!
And check out my updated gift suggestions for 2019 here.