The Best Books to Give as Gifts

      You can never go wrong giving books as gifts. Book Critic and Author ("Between the Covers") Ellen Heltzel sopped by today with her picks for the best books to give right now:

      How about a Rorschach test for book lovers? These favorite picks for holiday gift giving are all based on particular personalities that reveal something about the personalities of those you might choose to receive them.

      "Then Again," by Diane Keaton -- Moms, sisters and best girlfriends might appreciate this touching memoir that contrasts actress Keaton's life with her mother's. As she shows, there's a direct line between Dorothy Hall and her thwarted aspirations to Diane Keaton and her successful career. In the course of her conventional life, Dorothy kept 87 journals that showed the remarkable person she was, pushing her daughter to draw outside the lines. As Keaton shows us, she's done just that.

      "Steve Jobs," by Walter Isaacson -- Where do we look to find the geniuses of our time? High-tech, of course. And within that world Steve Jobs became a phenomenon whose story appeals to both those driven both by creative impulses and those driven by career ambitions. Jobs combined the mathematical mind of a computer king with the artistic and even mystical yearnings that turned Apple into a cult brand. Isaacson, who had full access to the famously secretive Jobs, gets as close as anyone has to a fascinating and influential man of our times.

      "Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman," by Robert Massey -- Massey, the acknowledged dean of historians on all things Russian, has written a compelling story of the 18th-century empress who stands second only to Peter the Great as that country's visionary leader. Catherine vaulted from minor German nobility to Russian empress through a combination of luck and her own wiles (her mother's ambition and the stupidity of her husband helped, as well). This book about her accomplishments and the amazing splendor of the Russian court will appeal to both those who like history and women's stories.

      "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy" -- This is a treasure trove for political buffs and contemporary history aficionados, a package of book and CDs that capture Jacqueline Kennedy's interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. just four months after JFK was assassinated. The intimacy and candor in these conversations makes them worth the $60 price tag. When Jackie describes the "jealousy of generations" that made older Washington insiders resent her husband's ascendancy to the White House, you feel like you're eavesdropping on history.

      "Pilgrimage," by Annie Leibowitz -- As one of the best-known contemporary photographers, Annie Leibowitz is usually found creating portraits of others for Vanity Fair, creating original ad campaigns for the likes of Gap or American Express, or recording historical events. This book is more personal, pictures of places that captured her imagination and some explanation to go with. Emily Dickinson's home in Amherst, for instance, inspires her reflective side. A treat for photographers and art lovers.