Book #1: Generals Ten British Commanders who Shaped the World - by Mark Urban
Verdict: Light history, a good add for the military buff's collection
I found out this morning that this book hasn't been released yet in the US. But when it is, buy it. This was one of my bride's Christmas presents to me this year, and it's a great bit of a read. To squeeze ten different military biographies into a single (manageable) volume, each subject is given no more than a high level overview, but there's bound to be something in there that you didn't know before about two or three of them. What I respect about the author's choice of 10 is that a couple of them are in there because of how they screwed up - showing that he's fair in assessing what type of events 'shape the world.' Not to mention that this book that made me feel way cooler when people saw me reading it on the plane than my usual "Conan and the Giant Demon Spider King of Doom" air-travel reading fare.
Book #2: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Verdict: The ultimate bathroom reader.
Another Christmas gift, this from a friend here in the UK. Bill Bryson is a famous travel writer, what the hell is he doing writing a serious book covering most every area of modern scientific study around? A damn good job, that's what. He humanizes the science, making it fun to read. Whether it's the story of how the first discovery of phosphorous was due to one man's obsession with turning buckets of human urine into gold, or how the personal rivalries of early paleontologists read more like a bad soap opera (in the best, back-stabbing, wife-stealing, twin-impersonating way). And as an added bonus, there are a lot of jokes about the French. Bryson goes out of his way to tell you when to ignore the big numbers or exact figures, and relates all of the interesting bits of the journey of scientific discovery in fairly short, long-bathroom-break length chapters. The illustrated version in particular has some great images and captions to accompany the text. It's laugh out loud funny in parts, so much so, you'll forget you're actually learning something when you read it.