December 2001

Great gifts for guys, from macho to genteel

By A. Alvarez
Review by
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Well, OK I’ll admit that not all men make a habit out of reading books. But for every guy who enjoys a novel now and then, there are dozens more who just might like an enlightening browse, an interesting bit of nonfiction, a useful how-to guide or, of course, cool pictures of cool guy-type things. Furthermore, if you can lay a neat gift book on a guy, he will be flattered that you pegged him for the literary type (even if you know better). These recent releases will make solid gift selections for that special guy, whether he be a sports nut, the manly fix-it type or even the rare genteel thinker.

Slam dunk

Certainly one of the finest gift sports books of recent years has to be At the Buzzer! The Greatest Moments in NBA History. A hip, knowing text by sports journalist Bryan Burwell accompanies hundreds of dramatic color photographs that chart the exploits of basketball’s greats Chamberlain, Russell, Havlicek, West, Bird, Dr. J., Magic and Michael from the league’s formative years to the present day. Important playoff game performances, heroic single-game scoring feats, great match-ups and eventful isolated moments are all captured in words and pictures. In addition, the book is accompanied by two audio CDs that present excerpts from pertinent original radio and television broadcasts. Ex-basketball star and TV commentator Bill Walton handles the narration on the discs, which feature the voices of Marv Albert, Brent Musberger, Dick Enberg and a host of other national and local play-by-play announcers.

Good bet

Another terrific volume for those hard-to-shop-for men on your list is A. Alvarez’s Poker: Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats. Alvarez, a poet, novelist and frequent New Yorker contributor, is also an inveterate poker player. After tracing poker’s development from various early Persian and French variations, he describes its rise as a uniquely American game that took hold in New Orleans, made its way up the Mississippi on riverboats and eventually became a big part of Las Vegas gaming culture. Drawing on his years of experience, including his participation in the World Series of Poker, Alvarez also offers fascinating anecdotes revolving around game play and the singular characters that inhabit professional poker tables. The author explodes poker myths it’s not about luck, for example discusses poker’s colorful contributions to the English language and even includes lore about poker-playing U.S. presidents (Nixon was one). Evocative color and black-and-white photos capture shuffle, deal, play and players in both fact and fiction.

Tool time

Without question, Tools: A Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia is the volume for that handyman guy we all know and love. Rich photography captures the broad array of tools found in the busy home workshop, ranging from measuring and cutting tools to assembly and finishing tools. Good historical background is provided on tool development, and there are a few interesting archival reproductions showing craftsmen at work in bygone eras. But mostly, the comprehensive coverage handsaws, planes, chisels, lathes, power drills, pliers, vises stresses selecting the right tools for the right jobs and using them with efficiency and artfulness. Helpful appended material (including a micropedia, a glossary and a directory of sources) rounds out this attractive addition to any do-it-yourselfer’s bookshelf. Comedian Tim Allen would drool.

Fast lane

Not everyone idolized Dale Earnhardt, but the void left in NASCAR racing with his untimely demise at the Daytona 500 earlier this year can’t be underestimated. Sports Illustrated senior writer Leigh Montville does a super job of explaining the Earnhardt charisma and legacy in At the Altar of Speed: The Fast Life and Tragic Death of Dale Earnhardt. Where Earnhardt’s devoted and fanatical blue-collar following is concerned, Montville shows the appropriate reverence, quoting a representative sampling of those who idolized the Michael Jordan of his sport. We learn of Dale’s humble North Carolina origins, his rise to NASCAR greatness as "The Intimidator," his marital missteps and eventual success as husband and family man, and his emergence as racing’s most respected elder statesman. Montville also covers that tragic day in February with dramatic restraint. But perhaps most interesting is his profile of the car-racing culture, its rise as the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., and the way Earnhardt managed to maintain his common-man appeal while amassing lifetime earnings in excess of $40 million.

Car talk

Yeah, guys dig cars. They stand for status, speed and sex appeal, don’t they? They’re also awesome to look at, and Cars: A Celebration just might be the ultimate coffee-table gift book on the subject. It’s thick (almost 600 pages), and packed with nearly 2,000 color photos of 146 different cars their interiors, exteriors, engines and distinctive design elements. Coverage is international, including automobile makes such as Aston Martin, Ferrari, Daimler, Lambhorgini, Fiat, Renault, Volvo, Mercedes, Volkswagen and MG. But the view of U.S. cars through the years offers not only an automotive charge but also some definite American sociocultural nostalgia. Thunderbird, Mustang, Galaxie, Edsel, Falcon, Bel Air, Corvair, Corvette, Impala, Cougar, Riviera, GTO, Eldorado these and many more vintage U.S. car models are displayed in all their kitschy glory. The coverage here dates from about the late 1940s, and also includes such infamous pipedream failures as the DeLorean and the Tucker. Quentin Willson’s accompanying text is smartly written, informative about the cars’ appeal (or lack thereof) and includes occasional brief profiles of car designers and company executives. Gorgeous photography makes this a must purchase for that favorite car buff. (And considering the size of this lush volume, it’s actually a good value at $50.)

Say what?

Finally, any sensitive guy will admit his manners could use a refresher course. As a Gentleman Would Say: Responses to Life’s Important (and Sometimes Awkward) Situations is the latest entry in a series of Gentlemanners books designed to remind us of the most thoughtful and decent ways to cope with potentially tough social situations. Co-written by John Bridges and Bryan Curtis, the book posits dozens of scenarios at parties, dining out, at work, in love and friendship, making a toast and gives some possible responses, both the taboo, humorous types and the well-considered gentlemanly ones. A witty and useful book, appropriate for maybe more men than we would like to think about.


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