Have a history buff on your list? Tom Standage's A History of the World in Six Glasses ($15, Walker & Company) is an intriguing work that focuses more on Western culture than world history. But along the way, he provides terrific insights into how changes in mankind's thirst for certain beverages (i.e., beer, wine, whisky, tea, coffee and Coke) have brought about the creation and loss of vast fortunes -- and the rise and fall of empires.
For your office Secret Santa, consider Jay McInerney's A Hedonist in the Cellar ($14, Vintage), which reflects the novelist's twin passions for fine wine and good writing.
Culled from his Home and Garden wine columns, this collection doles out information on everything from obscure grape varietals (garganega, anyone?) to great personalities of the wine industry (like Chapoutier, Gaja and Kermit Lynch). And it's all done in a witty, winning voice that's a welcome addition to a wine-writing canon normally plagued by lackluster prose.
Aeneas MacDonald's Whisky ($19, Canongate USA) -- along with a bottle of the 12-year-old Macallan ($50) -- is the perfect gift to loosen up your Scrooge-like boss as he calculates year-end bonuses. A re-issue (first published in 1930), this was reportedly the first book about Scotland's national spirit written from the point of view of the passionate consumer. For today's reader, it provides lots of historical background and a wealth of opinionated musings.
Finally, Barbara Holland's The Joy of Drinking ($15, Bloomsbury USA) is a quick and captivating read filled with colorful anecdotes and idiosyncratic reflections that zips through centuries of drinking lore -- from Kill-Devil (Rum) to Prohibition to the current craze for elaborate "martinis." (It even includes instructions on how to build a still!) Give it to anyone planning a trip; they'll easily polish it off on their next flight to Napa.
Whatever you celebrate, have a great holiday. I hope you find what you want this year under your tree, your menorah, or, like a great glass of wine, under your nose.
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