1. America (The Book) - Jon Stewart
Content: Jon Stewart and his Comedy Channel team send up education (the book is a parody of a civics textbook), government, the courts, politics, and the media.
Gist: Obnoxious elements-bad language and pictures with the heads of Supreme Court justices stuck on naked bodies-kill this book for all except Daily Show fans and others who relish sophomoric jokes and swipes at American institutions. The humor comes mostly from the left but is not always directed at the right.
2. When Will Jesus bring . . . - George Carlin
Content: Third volume of stand-up comic George Carlin's wisdom.
Gist: Mr. Carlin's comic sensibility is on a par with the cartoon bumper sticker that shows Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes urinating in public. Mr. Carlin's primary target is God, and he also goes after social conventions, especially regarding language, that help human beings get along. Those who think a foul mouth and irreverence are hilarious will enjoy this book.
3. His Excellency . . . Washington - Joseph J. Ellis
Content: A well-written, conventional biography of the leader who was "first in the hearts of his countrymen."
Gist: Mr. Ellis skillfully elucidates Washington's good judgment, persevering leadership, and concern for his own reputation. He thoughtfully narrates the plantation owner's worries about slavery but leaves out his religious concerns and does not explain whether it was social convention or something more that led W to refer to "Providence" so often.
4. How to Talk to a Liberal . . . - Ann Coulter
Content: A collection of Ms. Coulter's columns, including unedited versions that were deemed too shrill to find a home anywhere but her website. Most interesting is her analysis of Sex and the City.
Gist: The flame-thrower of the right emphasizes funny and often outrageous rhetoric and doesn't mind infuriating the political left. She's not hoping to win Miss Congeniality or find common ground with liberals, and, unlike Mr. Stewart and Mr. Carlin, she stays clear of obscenity and profanity.
5. Learning to Sing - Clay Aiken
Content: Despite the title, this slender volume isn't a singing primer but the autobiography of a 25-year-old whose claim to fame is having come in second on TV's American Idol.
Gist: Mr. Aiken seems like an admirable young man who is devoted to his mother, faithful to God, living cleanly, and desiring to do good. The encouraging aphorisms and tidbits of wisdom to live by may be useful, but they do not add up to a compelling autobiography.
In the spotlight
As James Webb recounts in his colorful history, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America (Broadway Books, 2004), the Scots' dislike of the British and their suspicion of centralized government grew out of centuries of war and oppression at the hands of the British, and betrayal by their own lairds. The history repeated itself in Ulster, Ireland, where the Scots-Irish cemented their reputation as fierce fighters, and in America, where they became the driving force behind the split with England. Mr. Webb's narrative isn't about an ethnic Scots-Irish people but about a culture that absorbed all kinds of people as its ethos became the heart of American identity: religious, egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, individualistic, patriotic.