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25 Books to Give as Gifts This Holiday Season, as Chosen by the Mental Floss Staff

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Give the gift of a good read.
Give the gift of a good read. / Bloomsbury Academic/Amazon (‘Sewer’); Dutton/Amazon (‘Sinkable’); Del Rey/Amazon (‘His Majesty’s Dragon’)
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The Mental Floss staff is full of readers. We love to gush about our favorite titles, brag about the size of our TBR piles, and interview authors like Erik Larson about what we should read next (we even publish our own books, too!). So if you’re looking to buy something for a fellow bookworm this holiday season, we’re here to help. Below, you’ll find a list of gripping fiction, fascinating history titles, and more, all picked specifically by our own writers and editors.

1.The Rise and Reign of the Mammals // Steve Brusatte; $12

cover of 'the rise and reign of mammals'
Mariner Books/Amazon

Paleontologist Stephen Brusatte’s The Rise and Reign of the Mammals makes an excellent companion to his previous book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. While T. rex and Triceratops roamed the Earth, our primitive mammalian ancestors scurried underfoot. The end of the dinosaurs’ story was the beginning of a new chapter for this group. From prehistoric mice to Ice Age giants, Brusatte covers everything you could want to know about the history of mammals, and he does so with literary flair. —Michele Debczak, Senior Staff Writer

Buy it: Amazon

2. The Fervor // Alma Katsu; $17

'the fervor' cover
G.P. Putnam's Sons/Amazon

Like her previous works, Alma Katsu’s The Fervor gives true historical events a dark, speculative twist. Set in the U.S. during World War II, it follows a Japanese-American woman and her daughter as a mysterious epidemic spreads through their incarceration camp. Though the story is set 80 years in the past, Katsu was inspired by the fear mongering and anti-Asian racism that still plagues the country today. —M.D.

Buy it: Amazon

3. We Are Water Protectors // Carole Lindstrom (Author) and Michaela Goade (Illustrator); $13

cover of 'We Are Water Protectors'
Roaring Brook Press/Amazon

This gorgeously illustrated picture book features important lessons told in lyrical form. It’s based on the Indigenous-led push to protect water—one of Earth’s most vital resources. It’s a great introduction to environmental and social justice movements for both kids and adults alike. —Kerry Wolfe, Staff Editor

Buy it: Amazon

4. American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road // Nick Bolton; $25

'american kingpin' cover
Portfolio/Amazon

American Kingpin is the incredible true story of how Ross Ulbricht took advantage of the lawless landscape of the dark web circa 2011 to found his own black market, which trafficked in everything from drugs and weapons to murders-for-hire. It’s a cautionary tale about hubris tucked inside a cyberpunk page-turner. —Ellen Gutoskey, Staff Writer

Buy it: Amazon

5. Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory // Ben Macintyre; $10

cover of 'operation mincemeat'
Crown/Amazon

Ben Macintyre is really good at unearthing a dizzying amount of historical detail that seems like it belongs in a dry reference text and hewing it instead into a page-turner so thrilling it could easily be a movie. Operation Mincemeat—about a top-secret British WWII campaign that employed a decoy corpse to dupe Hitler into believing phony battle plans—actually was made into a movie in 2021, starring Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen (plus some other people who have never played Mr. Darcy). —E.G.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Family Lexicon // Natalia Ginzburg; $15

'family lexicon' cover
NYRB Classics/Amazon

Natalia Ginzburg’s 1963 Strega Prize–winning novel (sometimes translated as Family Sayings) is loosely based on her own life growing up as the daughter of famed Italian anatomist Giuseppe Levi. Her juxtaposition of the slightly farcical nature of family life against the brutalism of fascist Italy makes for a unique and oddly comical read that’s perfect for whoever in your life won’t stop screaming about how much they love Elena Ferrante. —E.G.

Buy it: Amazon

7. His Majesty’s Dragon // Naomi Novik; $15

cover of 'his majesty's dragon'
Del Rey/Amazon

His Majesty’s Dragon—the first book in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series—is ideal for fantasy fans who just can’t get enough content that centers on the special bond between rider and dragon. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a cursory interest in early 19th-century British military culture. The novel (and the series at large) serves as a highly entertaining and well-researched answer to one of life’s most pressing questions: What would the Napoleonic Wars have been like if dragons existed? —E.G.

Buy it: Amazon

8. England’s Other Countrymen: Black Tudor Society // Onyeka Nubia; $27

cover of 'England’s Other Countrymen: Black Tudor Society'
Zed Books/Amazon

When people think of the Tudor period, they tend to focus on King Henry VIII’s many wives (most notably Anne Boleyn) and his children, particularly Queen Elizabeth I. But these popular pieces of the past show a white-washed version of history. This book by Onyeka Nubia details the oft-overlooked history and influence of Black people in Tudor England. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in gaining a deeper, richer understanding of England and those who shaped it. —K.W.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Sinkable // Daniel Stone; $25

cover of 'sinkable'
Dutton/Amazon

Daniel Stone’s fascinating deep dive (pun intended) into our cultural obsession with the sinking of the Titanic is a must-read for shipwreck enthusiasts and James Cameron fans alike. The book is full of colorful characters—including Jack Grimm, who sank millions into his search for the wreck, and Douglas Woolley, who claims to own it—interviews with experts, mind-boggling facts (did you know that there 3 million shipwrecks in waters around the world?), and details on legendary shipwrecks we have yet to find. Basically, even if your giftee claims they know everything there is to know about the Titanic and other wrecks, Sinkable is guaranteed to teach them something new. —Erin McCarthy, Editor-in-Chief

Buy it: Amazon

10. The Twilight World // Werner Herzog; $22

'the twilight world' cover
Penguin Press/Amazon

The Twilight World opens with a perfectly Herzogian epigraph: “Most details are factually correct; some are not. What was important to the author was something other than accuracy, some essence he thought he glimpsed when he encountered the progtagonist of this story.” (You can almost hear his voice, can’t you?) That protagonist was Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who lived in—and defended—the forests of Lubang Island in the Philippines for nearly three decades before he was found and told World War II was over. Herzog met Onoda in the late 1990s when he was in Japan working on an opera, and the pair hit it off: Herzog told The New York Times of their meeting that “We had an instant rapport, and he understood that I was not a journalist with a catalog of questions, but a poet.” He used the conversations with Onoda as the basis of the novel (his first). Whether the person you’re buying for is a cinephile, a fan of Herzog’s in particular, or a history buff, they’ll enjoy addingThe Twilight World to their collection. —E.M.

Buy it: Amazon

11. Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures // National Museum of the American Indian; $13

cover of 'Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures'
Chicago Review Press - Fulcrum/Amazon

This collection of essays and photographs is essentially a museum exhibit in book form that beautifully highlights the connection between Native Americans and horses. The short-but-poignant book is perfect for the horse or history lover in your life. —K.W.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self // Andrea Wulf; $32

'magnificent rebels' cover
Knopf/Amazon

Historian Andrea Wulf has written several great books about the Romantic era, including The Invention of Nature, her acclaimed biography of Alexander von Humboldt. Magnificent Rebels looks at the intellectual ferment in the German city of Jena in the late 18th century, and specifically at a group of young philosophers who believed in individuality over homogeneity. Their unconventional ways of thinking produced new arts, philosophy, and politics, but ultimately, they couldn’t escape human nature. Wulf’s examination of this exciting time in history would appeal to anyone interested in the development of revolutionary ideas. —Kat Long, Science Editor

Buy it: Amazon

13. May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth: Letters of the Lost Franklin Arctic Expedition // Russel Potter et al. (editor); $35

'May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth: Letters of the Lost Franklin Arctic Expedition' cover
McGill-Queen's University Press/Amazon

Whether your giftee is obsessed with the greatest mystery in Arctic exploration or newly curious, this volume of never-before-published letters from the crew of the lost Franklin expedition will send a chill up their spine. In the late 1840s, the voyage came to a tragic end in the Canadian wilderness, but before that, over 100 crew members had set sail with plenty of provisions and high hopes for discovering the Northwest Passage. This collection presents the private thoughts of these men, including Captain Sir John Franklin and his officers. The final section offers poignant letters from the crew’s families to their missing loved ones. Perhaps it’s a niche gift idea, but May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth offers tantalizing new insight into this legendary expedition. —K.L.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation // Maud Newton; $16

cover of 'Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation'
Random House/Amazon

Really, what better book to give to a family member during the holidays than one that critiques the whole concept of familial inheritance? Maud Newton’s memoir is a fearless examination of her own ancestral origins and the industries that have been built around people’s investigations of their pasts: genealogy websites, DNA testing, the study of epigenetics, and more. Like Edward Ball’s award-winning Slaves in the Family, Ancestor Trouble also asks how living descendants can, or should, atone for the faults of their forbears. —K.L.

Buy it: Amazon

15. Like, Comment, Subscribe: Inside YouTube’s Chaotic Rise to World Domination // Mark Bergen; $28

cover of 'Like, Comment, Subscribe: Inside YouTube's Chaotic Rise to World Domination'
Viking/Amazon

In 2005, YouTube democratized entertainment. Instead of taking whatever content the established media giants gave audiences, users were free to make their own. Mark Bergen’s expansive history charts the cultural shift, the accompanying controversies, and the fortunes gained and lost as the DIY video empire grew. You’ll never look at an unboxing video quite the same way again. —Jake Rossen, Senior Staff Writer

Buy it: Amazon

16. Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries // Rick Emerson; $26

cover of 'Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries'
BenBella Books/Amazon

In the 1970s, two supposedly anonymous memoirs helped ignite national concerns over drug use and devil worship: Go Ask Alice and Jay’s Journal. Both were disturbing and both incited a moral panic. The problem? Neither one was true. It was the work of a con artist, a story expertly told in writer Rick Emerson’s account of ‘70s hysteria. —J.R.

Buy it: Amazon

17. 84, Charing Cross Road // Helene Hanff; $26

cover of '84, Charing Cross Road'
Penguin Books/Amazon

In the 1950s and 1960s, New York City-based television writer Helene Hanff engaged in correspondence with the employees of Marks and Co., a tidy London bookshop. With a sharp wit, Helene teases and spars with her pen pals across the pond, even softening up stodgy employee Frank. A breezy 100 pages or so, the book is a love letter to friendship—an epistolary tribute to finding connections in the unlikeliest places. —J.R.

Buy it: Amazon

18. The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian // Phil Szostak; $20

cover of 'The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian'
Harry N. Abrams/Amazon

Opinions vary on the post-Disney acquisition of Star Wars, but there’s one indisputable fact: The production design for George Lucas’s galaxy is always a treat. This hardcover takes a closer look at the visual ingenuity that went into the first season of The Mandalorian, including the evolution of Grogu, a.k.a. Baby Yoda. —J.R.

Buy it: Amazon

19. Bird Brother: A Falconer's Journey and the Healing Power of Wildlife // Rodney Stotts; $25

cover of 'Bird Brother: A Falconer's Journey and the Healing Power of Wildlife'
Island Press/Amazon

This book is about so much more than birds. Rodney Stotts—one of the few Black master falconers in the country—recalls how his passion for birds of prey transformed his life. It’s an ode to both human strength and resilience and the powerful bond between people and animals. —K.W.

Buy it: Amazon

20. Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer // Rax King; $14

cover of 'Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer'
Vintage/Amazon

If you’ve ever skipped out on plans to bingewatch America’s Next Top Model reruns or you happen to take particular delight in pouring over the 250 menu items up for grabs over at The Cheesecake Factory, then this charming debut collection from writer Rax King could be right up your alley (or make a great gift for anyone in your life who fits the bill). King traces her coming-of-age in the mid-aughts against a backdrop of Meatloaf medleys and Josie and the Pussycats rewatches, maintaining throughout that the so-called “worst“ things our culture has to offer might not be so bad after all, if you’re open to it. Equal parts funny and poignant, Tacky helps prove once and for all that low-brow doesn’t necessarily have to be in poor taste, and for pop culture-loving Millennials in particular, it’s a fun little throwback to the years where Jersey Shore-style spray tans were très chic and Creed’s Scott Stapp could (arguably) be considered a real dreamboat. —Shayna Murphy, Affiliates Editor

Buy it: Amazon

21. Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America // Mayukh Sen; $16

cover of 'Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America'
W. W. Norton & Company/Amazon

This book by James Beard Award–winning writer Mayukh Sen shines a light on seven overlooked women who shaped how Americans eat. It’s a gorgeously written, thoroughly researched feast of information that’ll captivate anyone with even the slightest interest in culture, food, and history. —K.W.

Buy it: Amazon

22. The Curious Movie Buff: A Miscellany of Fantastic Films from the Past 50 Years // Jennifer Wood and the Team at Mental Floss; $28

cover of 'The Curious Movie Buff: A Miscellany of Fantastic Films from the Past 50 Years'
Weldon Owen/Amazon

This latest book from the Mental Floss team—out November 1—contains everything anyone could want to know about various films from the last 50 years. From blockbuster hits to cult classics, it’s chock full of fun facts and behind-the-scenes secrets that are sure to delight your favorite movie buff. —K.W.

Buy it: Amazon

23. Kaleidoscope: A Novel // Cecily Wong; $20

cover of 'Kaleidoscope'
Dutton/Amazon

Cecily Wong’s Kaleidoscope is the kind of book you pick up, then don’t put down until you’ve finished. It’s a raw, and at times gutting, exploration of sisterhood and family secrets. The writing, much like a kaleidoscope, pulls together fragments of the story to create a piece that is colorful and vibrant. It’s also a great gift for the armchair explorer in your life—the descriptions are so vivid, readers will feel as though they’re traipsing the world with the main character. —K.W.

Buy it: Amazon

24. Sewer // Jessica Leigh Hester; $15

cover of 'sewer'
Bloomsbury Academic/Amazon

Get ready to dive into the wondrous underworld of waste. This Object Lessons book by Jessica Leigh Hester—out November 3—explores the long, fascinating history of our sewer systems. It’s perfect for the fatberg fan in your life. —K.W.

Buy it: Amazon

25. Afternoon Tea: Delicious Recipes for Scones, Savories & Sweets // Lorna Ables Reeves (editor); $48

cover of 'Afternoon Tea: Delicious Recipes for Scones, Savories & Sweets'
Hoffman Media/Amazon

This book is a treat for someone who, like millions of others, binged Bridgerton and now dreams about indulging their fanciest fantasies. The collection of recipes, edited by Lorna Ables Reeves, helps home cooks pull off the perfect afternoon tea. It has recipes for everything an esteemed guest could hope to enjoy, from savory finger sandwiches to classic cream scones to delicate little desserts, as well as tips for how to serve and present a Pinterest-worthy meal. —K.W.

Buy it: Amazon

This story originally ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2022.

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