Book gifts for your hardest-to-buy-for loved ones

Book gifts for your hardest-to-buy-for loved ones

We had a glorious gift recommendation episode two weeks ago, but I hope you haven’t put that wrapping paper away yet… because today we’re bringing you even MORE bookish gift-giving ideas!

This episode is specially geared toward the people many WSIRN listeners consider the hardest to buy for — your nonfiction readers, true crime lovers, political thriller fanatics, and doorstop history book deep-divers. Sometimes these are called “dad book,” sometimes they’re called “dude books,” and our inbox was definitely FULL of people desperate for recommendations for their dads, brothers, and grandfathers… but genre knows no gender, and around here the expert we trust for nonfiction, crime, and intrigue is none other than Traci Thomas from The Stacks podcast.

The Stacks is running an amazing book drive for Rocketship Delta Prep a low income school in northern California. They are hoping to get every single student a book of their own to take home for the holidays. Please check it out and help these young readers out.

We’re recommending a BOATLOAD of titles in this episode, so to help you navigate we’ve made the full letters and recommendation lists available below. You can also click here to read the full episode transcription (opens in a new tab).


Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links in this post are affiliate links. More details here. If you’d like to support your local indie, check out Indiebound.com.

My dad is near impossible to buy books for. He loves Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiasson and buys their books as soon as they’re released. I gave him Go Like Hell after hearing about it on WSIRN and he REALLY loved this one. He collects vinyl records (especially from the 60s-80s), loves cars, and one of his fave TV shows is the x-files.

– Liz

Recommended:
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, by Chuck Klosterman
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined), by Chuck Klosterman
But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking about the Present As If It Were the Past, by Chuck Klosterman
The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World, by A. J. Baime
The Peak of Racing: Pikes Peak Through the Racers’ Eyes, by Chris Lennon


I  would like to get a book for my friend Rebecca for Christmas but she has very different book tastes from me. She is a Buddhist minimalist who lives by the ocean with her two dogs and does yoga daily. Her favorite author is Henry David Thoreau. She has also liked The Year of Less and When Breath Becomes Air.

– Steph

Recommended:
Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action, by Seane Corn
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, by Nina Riggs
The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After, by Julie Yip-Williams
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō 
The Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs, by Étienne Davodeau


I would love to hear your recommendation for my husband. He loves to read biographies and history. His favorites lately have been the Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, and he’s still enjoying The Story of Britain: A History of the Great Ages, From The Romans to The Present. He doesn’t have a lot of time to read because he’s a student and he works full-time as an archives assistant… so it’s just a really busy time, but I would love to find a historical fiction pick for him that has that biographical historical element but with a story that really grabs him and draws him in because he doesn’t really seek out that genre. He really gravitates towards nonfiction, but I would love for him to have a fun reading experience like that over Christmas break. 

– Lindsay

Recommended:
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and the American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Eric Larson
The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini
Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters


I am looking for a gift recommendation for my husband. He usually reads a few books a year for work. He is a Chief Development Officer, so he focuses a lot of reading on team building and team leading, but I’d love to gift him something in a different genre. He’s a big fan of wrestling biographies and history, so he loves the behind the scenes looks. His top favorites are Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling and It’s True! It’s True!. He also enjoys murder mysteries. He read the whole Dexter series.

– Victoria

Recommended:
The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling, by David Shoemaker
• The Chew graphic novel series, by John Layman and Rob Guillory


My son is nearly 16yo, and currently reading The General. He enjoyed the Lorien Legacies & Nethergrim series (when younger), Salt Line, and likes Tom Clancy books although they are a bit technical for him still. Ship Breaker was also good. Basically adventure, especially if there are trains/ships/military involved. He’s a sailor, model train guy and likes history in school.

– Monica

Recommended:
City of Thieves, by David Benioff
We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, by M. T. Anderson
The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Chrichton


I’m looking for the perfect book for my husband of ten years. He’s been a lifelong reader. And I think it was one of his goals to turn me into the same. It took him six years, but he succeeded and now he’s trying to keep up with me. So my husband is an outdoorsman. He’s also a pastor so he’s always reading theology books while I’m immersed in a gripping novel, but I want to get him something that’s a real page-turner. He loves history, like Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, as well as behavioral psychology/sociology and biographies like the autobiography of Malcolm X.

– Stacy

Recommended:
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable
The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, by Peter Beinart


My husband likes legal thrillers, mysteries and biographies. He has read all of John Grisham (but thinks that his earlier work is stronger). He likes presidential biographies but has read many of them. Loved the six volume Churchill series, and liked The Blind Assassin by Atwood.

– Tricia

Recommended:
Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson
• Author Daniel Silva (try The New Girl)


My daughter is a big reader! She has an interest in public health and science, but also reads about social justice. I think she would be up for trying fiction or non fiction, but nothing too sappy or romance-y.  She really likes essays by Rebecca Solnit, and she has recommended The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness to me. She re-reads Ella Enchanted at least annually, and reads everything in between.

– Laura

Recommended:
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to Present, by Harriet A. Washington
Thick: And Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, by Rebecca Traister
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, by Brittney Cooper
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk M. D.
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson

I’d love a book gift recommendation for my husband, who is not a big reader. His favorite book is To Kill A Mockingbird and he liked Becoming by Michelle Obama. He still loves Marvel Comics, has read several graphic novels but isn’t only interested in that. He is a video game artist and has an hour train commute, so I have recently gotten him into audiobooks (which he still considers cheating).

– Erin

Recommended:
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations, by Mira Jacob
I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly
• The movie adaptation of I Kill Giants


My dad loves political thrillers and historical narrative nonfiction. A year or two ago, I gave him Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI for his birthday, and he STILL talks about what a great book it was! I’d love to give him another book he can’t stop talking about for Christmas this year!

– Jamie

Recommended:
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer
A Thousand Lives: The Untold story of Jonestown by Julia Scheeres


I’m all about doing the Icelandic Jolabokaflod or Book Flood for Christmas Eve this year (every bookworm’s dream right?). It’s hard to surprise my husband with books because we read so differently until more recently. I surprised him with The River by Peter Heller and he loved it (so did I). He enjoys science fiction, but reads a lot of non-fiction from Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Bryson. Long books are not a problem for him. Help me surprise my husband with something to cozy up with on Christmas Eve! 

– Nicole

Recommended:
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
Mountains Beyond Mountains: Healing the World: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, by Tracy Kidder
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson
The Current, by Tim Johnston


I’m hoping you can help me choose a gift for my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Amanda. She works in historical restoration and is extremely handy — she works on her car and motorcycles herself. Literally she’s the coolest. We both love to read, so I really want to prime her for our kick butt sisters-in-law friendship! 
She really enjoyed Einstein: His Life and Universe, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We’ve talked about how hard classics are for us both to get into. She’s not a huge fan of books about war/military.

– Cate

Recommended:
The Reckonings, by Lacy M. Johnson
The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, by Lauren Markham


I am looking for recommendations for my dad for Christmas. Growing up, I was always an avid reader. My dad loves to be outdoors (we live in a small Northern Ontario town) and whenever he took me ice fishing, canoeing or out to cut wood I always had a book with me. My dad, on the other hand, was late to discover reading. At first I think he was reading to make me happy, but now, 30 years later, he is a regular reader! 
A few books I know he has liked are The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett, The Book of Negroes, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.
He hates going to the library by himself, and relies on my mom to find him a book or for my husband or I to pass something on to him. The lunchroom at the lumber mill where he works also has a book shelf, so he has discovered a few authors this way.
I think a series or an author with many similar books is best for him, as he tends to find something he likes and stick with it. A historical element is also important. He recently read a non-fiction about the Vietnam War and he loved it. The whole family learned many facts during that month!

– Megan

Recommended:
Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, by Mark Bowden
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, by Heather Ann Thompson
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe
• Author Richard Russo (try Straight Man)
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
Going After Cacciato, by Tim O’Brien


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20 comments | Comment

20 comments

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  1. Angela says:

    Okay I love you Anne and Tracy but cannot believe neither of you recommended Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt to Amanda. Thrilling historical nonfiction murder mystery set in Savannah, GA!!

  2. Sarah M Schneider says:

    I love this soo much. In my family I have a harder time shopping for my sister and mother than the men in my life, though.

    I’m gonna use your recommendation of Medical Apartheid for Laura’s daughter for my sister (a nurse who tends to read historical non-fiction, realistic historical fiction, and some memoirs).

    I’m wondering if anyone has suggestions for my mother, though? She and my sister often share books, although I think she reads more fiction in general. She has been trying to read more books about the stories of women in science and history. She enjoyed The Immortal Life of Hennrietta Lacks, and liked the stories in Hidden Figures (but didn’t love the writing) and Radium Girls. She also recently enjoyed reading Educated by Tara Westover.

    • Manda K. says:

      Maybe your mom would like the memoir West with the Night by Beryl Markham, a pioneer in aviation. Also, I thought of the novel Varina by Charles Frazier. It’s a fictionalized account of the life of Jefferson Davis’s wife, but it is based on actual events.

  3. Veronica says:

    For Linsay and her husband – try the Saxon Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. My husband is a big history buff and reads mostly non fiction, but loved this historical fiction series.

  4. Margaret says:

    I love this type of episode but want to chime in that I read City of Thieves after Georgia Hunter recommended it and it was full of sexual content and extremely crude language (not to mention rape and cannibalism). Interesting premise and gripping writing, but I would absolutely not give it to my fifteen-year-old son!!

  5. Susie says:

    I recommend the memoir, Anchor and Flares, by Kate Braestrup, to Stacy with the pastor/outdoorsman husband. Kate’s policeman husband was killed in the line of duty, but before that, he had talked of wanting to become a pastor. So after his death, SHE became a pastor and joined the Maine Warden service. Her writing is wonderful.

  6. Holli Petersen says:

    I’m listening to this podcast right now and I had to stop it and write to Stephanie with these two awesome ideas I have for her friend Rebecca.

    The Monks of New Skete are an Orthodox Christian Monastery who raise and train dogs. They have a whole series of books about how to train and develop bonds with animals. But, I would recommend their coffee table book: I & Dog. It’s filled with beautiful thoughts and photos of dogs and it’s very slim and non-assuming for its genre.

    Also, PLEASE give her How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery. It’s a non-fiction memoir of a world-renowned animal photographer and author who tells the story of her life through the animals she’s encountered along the way. It’s BEAUTIFUL, small and filled with gorgeous drawings.

    I promise these will be hits!

  7. Laura says:

    I just had to come to the comments section to say THANK YOU to Anne for taking my request. I am so excited to give my daughter these great books!

  8. Suzanne says:

    Traci is totally right- nonfiction is fun! Especially Eric Larson, although I think Dead Wake is his best, rather than In the Garden of Beasts. If you’re a historical fiction fan looking to venture into new genres, his books would be an excellent gateway to nonfiction for you, since they read like novels.

    For Tricia, whose husband likes legal thrillers, you might introduce him to James Grippando’s Jack Swyteck series. The writing doesn’t start out the best, but gets better as the series progresses. (I’m told they should be read in order.)

    Traci recommended Furious Hours for Erin’s husband and it’s a fascinating book that I recommend also. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for the part focusing on Harper Lee. That is the weakest part of the book and didn’t really paint her in the best light. I actually came away not liking her very much.

  9. Suzanne says:

    A couple more I’d recommend for Laura’s daughter are What the Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha about the Flint water crisis. I also enjoyed Black Death at the Golden Gate by David K. Randall.

  10. Shanna says:

    I wanted to recommend a book to Tracy that has stuck with me the last couple of years. I’m not a big fan of true crime, but I love a good narrative nonfiction and this really blended the two. It also had a surprisingly larger scope at the end than the initial crime would have you believe. Midnight in Peking: How the murder of a Young English Woman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French

  11. Abigail M says:

    I’m almost repeating a comment I made in the previous gift giving podcast, but Megan’s dad might enjoy some of Nelson DeMille’s books. Word of Honor is set in the present day but is about a U.S. Army officer who was in the battle of Hue and, of course, the long ranging ramifications of his actions there. The Charm School could be the precursor to The Americans, set in the Soviet Union and from the perspective of U.S. embassy personnel in Moscow. I think those two are his best written books; perhaps not coincidentally both are third person, both featuring a now middle aged Vietnam War veteran. His John Corey books, starting with Plum Island, are also very good. They are first person and the protagonist is a wise-cracking NYC police detective. They are snappier but less nuanced than the aforementioned two. My dad enjoyed all of them too!

  12. JoAnne says:

    For Steph’s friend Rebecca who loved When Breath Becomes Air, a fun fact since you recommended Nina Riggs’s book: before she died she told her husband to contact Paul Kalanithi’s widow since she would understand what he was going through. Well, they got in touch and ended up falling in love with each other. There’s an article all about it at the Washington Post if anyone is interested.

  13. April says:

    I also bought Go Like Hell for my dad the Christmas of 2017 and now each year I wish I had another great title he will love that he’s never heard of. My Dad is very conservative and buys most his books from the Christian Bookstore but he’s a car guy. In the early 60’s he worked in the pit crew for his brother Keith Black on drag boats. Dad went on to own his own automotive repair shop and Uncle Keith is in the Motorsports Hall of Fame. I think I’ll never again find such a perfect Dad book. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Black_(engineer)&ved=2ahUKEwjwy4Stxq7mAhVEcq0KHVEODbgQFjAAegQIBBAB&usg=AOvVaw1FYEHL9FBJVywK9PQmERI5

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