2007 Holiday Gift Guide: Smarty-Pants

There’s one in every family. A testament to academia, a diamond in the rough (especially in the days of ‘The Hills’!). We’ve gathered a few selections for the smarty-pants on your lists to keep their minds sharp and their cocktail party banter fresh (or, totally dated, as the case may be). Here are just a few of our picks for higher learning gifts this holiday season.

The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World
By Alan Greenspan
Penguin Press / $35 / Hardback

As chairman of the Federal Reserve Board for eighteen years, Greenspan has watched the world economy go through many shifts and turns. He was appointed by President Ronald Regan in 1987 (yes, Virginia, the very same year that Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson were in “3 Men and a Baby”) and held the post until his retirement last year. The guy’s got three degrees from NYU, and did the books for this country during some kooky times, so he’s certainly a smarty-pants in our book, and we’re looking for quite the education when we read his.


The Coast of Utopia: A Trilogy
By Tom Stoppard
Grove Press / $15 / Softcover

In case you missed the epic trilogy at Lincoln Center this year, here’s your chance to wise up and get with the program. In October, the published trilogy was economically trimmed down into a perfect-sized softcover for you to tote around on the subway (or wherever you do your toting) and have people shoot you looks of admiration and awe. Time Out New York called this trilogy Stoppard’s “crowning achievement.” The plays follow a group of friends coming of age in Tsarist Russia under Nicholas I. Certainly epic and sweeping, these plays make a great gift for the theatre lovers out there.

The Jazz Singer: 80th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
DVD / $40 / Warner Home Video

In case you have true cinefiles on your list, this is a great one. Talk about cinema history! “The Jazz Singer” is the first talkie. It came out in 1927, synching dialogue and music with picture – the first feature-length film to do so. Al Jolson plays the would-be entertainer here whose dreams conflicts with his rabbi father’s values. It’s from the play that was on Broadway in 1925, and quite groundbreaking in many regards. There are three discs in here, one of which is “The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk,” a full-length documentary feature, and the third has Vitaphone shorts from the 1920s – more than 3 ½ hours of them. Really, quite the gift.

The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality
By Andre Comte-Sponville
BOOK / Viking / $19.95 / Hardback
On shops on 31 December

Should we go without religion? It often leads to trouble, so maybe… In this book, which comes out just after Jesus blows out his candles, that is the question at hand. This author of this pocket-size volume takes a gander at Eastern ideas of spirituality and philosophy, based more on human beings that an omnipotent god screaming from the clouds with a megaphone and a mission. This should not be quoted until at least dessert when the liqueurs are out. The author is a recovering Catholic, and he’s got your counterpoints ready for debate.

The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance
By Fritjof Capra
Doubleday / $26 / Hardback

Relax! There are pictures! Well, maybe not pictures, really, but those cool drawing that serve as museum postcards and mousepad designs. This is the book that goes to show you, da Vinci (as you may recall from that ‘Code’ book) was fairly crafty using both sides of his brain. He created the first human flying machines and was a featured character in the Drew Barrymore flick, “Ever After.” But seriously, folks, it’s a beautifully published and heavily research volume. Capra scoured 6,000 pages of da Vinci’s existing notebooks as a primary source for this new look at the master. Take another peek at your list to see who was captain of the Math Team (another Drew Barrymore reference!).

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: The Complete Recordings
CD / Reprise/WMG

This five-CD set is for a whole other kind of dweeb than your typical smarty-pants. “The Lord of the Rings” franchise keeps cranking out the toys for hardcore fans, and Howard Shore’s complete (and Oscar®-winning) score is pretty terrific for lovers of the films and the books. On these discs, you’ll hear Annie Lennox performing the song, “Into the West” (so enchanting) and the score performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra, plus Renée Flemming. On disc two, be sure to take a listen to Billy Boyd singing “The Edge of Night.” Short, but beautiful. Sometimes, you just need a little more Middle Earth, ya know?

Planet Earth
DVD / Discovery Channel / Image Entertainment

As one of the most talked-about series’ of the year, here is an obvious and spot-on choice for a gift this holiday season. With mesmerizing photography and first-time looks at all the creatures of the world, great and small, this one will knock your socks off. Sigourney Weaver narrates the set, which moves very quickly for those of us with adult onset ADD. It’s one of the few great gifts that can cover nearly anyone on your list. That’s just one of the reasons we think it’s the best DVD of the season to wrap up and fork over to friends and family.

The War
CD / Legacy Recordings

Now if you’re really good, you’ll cough up the cash to get someone in the family the Ken Burns documentary on DVD (that is a nice box set). And if you know someone who was waaay into the mini-series, you can get him or her the soundtrack. More than a score with boo-hoo-hoo violins and such, this disc features new recordings by Norah Jones and Wynton Marsalis. There’s also music by Yo-Yo Ma, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and more. Pay tribute to the soldiers of yesteryear and get your jazz on, people.

War and Peace
By Leo Tolstoy
A new translation by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
Knopf / $37 / Hardback

Considering what a great publishing feat this book is, I can certainly understand why the PR folks were being so careful about whom they were sent out to. Weighing in at 1,273 pages (including a historical index), this new translation by Pevear & Volokhonsy is beauteous. The couple has translated works by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Gogol. In their introduction, they admit that this work is “the most famous and at the same time the most daunting of Russian novels.” So check your gift list for a real trooper who’s up to the task.