Considering the Perfect Book Gift
Just because a person graduates from college doesn’t mean he should stop learning. In fact, colleges typically aim to show students the beauty and intrinsic worth inherent in lifelong learning. Even if the student you’re buying gifts for graduates with a vocation-specific college degree, such as pre-med or auto engineering, he will likely appreciate a book that’s far from his field. The escapism of a great book is always in demand, even when a student is on a career path of his choice. Buy a gift that furthers the commitment to lifelong learning he likely developed in school. Anything less just wouldn’t be appropriate.
A People’s History of the United States
All Americans should read Howard Zinn’s immortal "A People’s History of the United States." It is exactly what it claims to be: a history of the United States of America. However, it shows the side of history as told from the point-of-view of the people within it, instead of the point-of-view of the leaders in charge. Only history majors delve deeply into history while in college; if your graduate didn’t major in history, it’s very likely that the only history they ever learned of their country was what the leaders thought and saw. Giving a recent grad "A People’s History of the United States" will open his eyes to a part of history that most non-history majors never see.
Richard Feynman’s "QED" is a book on physics—Quantum Electro-Dynamics, to be exact—and is generally only read by physics majors. However, Feynman is so effective and available as a teacher and writer that "QED" is accessible to any recent graduate who is a little bit curious about the world he finds around him. You can’t go wrong with "QED"; if your graduate attempts a read and fails, he won’t feel bad in the least, since it’s quantum physics after all. If, on the other hand, he finds himself understanding Feynman’s excellent prose, then you can be assured he will feel far more confident about himself in future reading endeavors.
T.S. Eliot is generally well known as a famous poet, and with good reason. Often some of his shorter works will be read even by students who aren’t majoring in English literature or poetry at all. Very few graduates will get by while avoiding Eliot’s "The Hollow Men" or "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." However, "The Wasteland" is a much more difficult piece. Too many of its elements require fore-knowledge of other works, so few non-English majors ever encounter "The Wasteland" because of this. That’s why it’s one of the best books to give a college graduate; she likely won’t even be able to appreciate it until after she’s gone through college, so the reading of the poem will only just now be able to affect her fully.
Gödel, Escher, Bach
Douglas Hofstadter’s most well-known work is "Gödel, Escher, Bach." In it, he takes items from various parts of scholarship and weaves together a story so creative that it seems almost fiction. Instead, Professor Hofstadter’s argument is that it is, indeed, nonfiction after all. Different people react quite differently to "Gödel, Escher, Bach," but almost everyone who reads it has a strong opinion. It’s an ideal read for a recent graduate; it brings together so many different strands of what students typically learn in college.
Base Your Choice on the Grad’s Interests
Perhaps most important to the recent grad, however, is a steady supply of books that are about whatever it is he’s interested in. If he likes science fiction, try giving him a classic he’s never read, like Hal Clement’s "Mission of Gravity." If he likes romance, give him a historically accurate romance like Diana Gabaldon’s "Outlander." If he’s into unrestrained capitalism, try Ayn Rand’s "Atlas Shrugged." If the college grad is into hardcore socialism, try Noam Chomsky’s "Chomsky on Anarchism." No matter what the college graduate likes, the best things you can give him are books that help push his ideas further along. After all, that’s what college is all about.