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50 Super Smart Books For Everyone On Your List

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There's nothing quite as surefire as the gift of a good book, but weeding through the many titles on bookstore shelves and in online stores can be overwhelming. Fear not, holiday shopper—we've got your back. We've compiled a list of our favorite books in a mix of all time bests and recent standouts. There's something for every reader, and we wouldn't blame you if you ended up with a few in the cart for yourself too. 

1. FOR YOUR TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL SISTER:

STEP ASIDE, POPS: A HARK! A VAGRANT COLLECTION BY KATE BEATON

In the intro to this collection, Beaton writes: “When I get asked to describe my comics, the easiest thing to say is that it is historical or literary or pop-culture parodies.” That’s apt, but it fails to capture the silly, strange, smart, and joyful elements that emanate from Hark!. From taking jabs at William Bligh and Robespierre, to brilliantly parodying Wuthering Heights or the concept of “Strong Female Characters,” Beaton puts her clever and mirthful spin on an assortment of things you never imagined would send you into laughing fits.

Buy at Amazon.

2. FOR YOUR FRENEMY NEXT DOOR:

WAR PLAN RED: THE UNITED STATES’ SECRET PLAN TO INVADE CANADA AND CANADA’S SECRET PLAN TO INVADE THE UNITED STATES BY KEVIN LIPPERT

Every once in a while, leaders of the two countries that sit along the world’s longest open border have eyed the territory on the other side as prime for an invasion. Lippert’s fascinating and frequently funny book details the moments when the countries’ relationship became a little strained, including details of Canada’s 1921 plan for attacking the United States and a full reproduction of “War Plan Red,” the 1935 American scheme to storm Canada. The details of Canada’s 1921 espionage excursion through New England alone are worth a purchase—find out what state’s men were characterized as “fat and lazy but pleasant and congenial!”

Buy at Amazon.

3. FOR THE PROPRIETOR OF YOUR FAVORITE SPEAKEASY:

GENTLEMEN BOOTLEGGERS: THE TRUE STORY OF TEMPLETON RYE, PROHIBITION, AND A SMALL TOWN IN CAHOOTS BY BRYCE T. BAUER

Al Capone and his Chicago colleagues had nothing on the good people of Templeton, Iowa. When Prohibition sought to stamp out illicit drinking, bootlegger Joe Irlbeck and many of the town’s other 427 residents colluded to create a whiskey recipe so delicious and a network of hidden stills so ingenious that they cranked out thousands of gallons of regionally famous hooch each week while remaining on the right side of the law. Bauer’s riveting book is equally parts history lesson, crime caper, and portrait of small-town collaboration. Anyone who has tried their hand at homebrewing or snuck an extra bottle of duty free rum through customs will love this one.

Buy at Amazon.

4. FOR THE FAN OF BOTH TRUE CRIME AND HISTORY:

THE MAP THIEF: THE GRIPPING STORY OF AN ESTEEMED RARE-MAP DEALER WHO MADE MILLIONS STEALING PRICELESS MAPS BY MICHAEL BLANDING

Blanding’s page-turner begins with a Yale librarian finding an X-Acto blade on the floor of a rare book library. Soon, it emerges that map dealer E. Forbes Smiley, who was famous for locating incredibly rare historical maps for his clients, had an ace up his sleeve: He was stealing them from some of the world’s leading schools and libraries. Blanding deftly shows why antiquarian maps matter to historians and collectors, before exploring how Smiley pulled off his audaciously low-tech heists and the lingering mysteries of what else he might have pinched.

Buy at Amazon.

5. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO SWEARS 2016 IS THE YEAR THEY START RUNNING:

TWO HOURS: THE QUEST TO RUN THE IMPOSSIBLE MARATHON BY ED CAESAR

Even if 2016 really is that year your friend finally runs a marathon, they’ll probably need a bit more than two hours to finish. Caesar lovingly profiles champion Kenyan runner Geoffrey Mutai as he and his elite brethren attempt to shave the last few minutes they need to shed to scale “running’s Everest”—blazing through 26.2 miles in under two hours. Along the way, Caesar chronicles the history of distance running and gets into the science, history, culture, and training regimens that can help answer the question many first-time marathon spectators have: What makes Kenyans such good runners? Knowing the answer may not make you any faster, but it’s a fun, fascinating read.

Buy at Amazon.

6. FOR YOUR FRIEND WITH A BUDDING INTEREST IN ODDITIES:

MR. WILSON’S CABINET OF WONDER: PRONGED ANTS, HORNED HUMANS, MICE ON TOAST, AND OTHER MARVELS OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY BY LAWRENCE WESCHLER

At Los Angeles’ Museum of Jurassic Technology, things aren’t always what they seem. It’s a collection of art, science, ethnographic, anthropological, and historical artifacts presented as much in the spirit of the “wonder cabinets” of the 16th century as in the spirit of a straightforward natural history museum. In this exploration of the place itself and the man who created it, Weschler illuminates the truth and wonder that can be found in the outlandish.

Buy at Amazon.

7. FOR YOUR LOVELORN ROOMMATE:

MODERN ROMANCE BY AZIZ ANSARI AND ERIC KLINENBERG

The perfect present for someone coming off a second or third binge of Master of None, this exploration of courtship in the modern era from comedian Aziz Ansari extends far beyond funny, though there’s plenty of that too. Ansari teamed up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg to tackle everything from online dating, to being monogamish, to “the generic ‘hey’ text,” to finding your soulmate. A comprehensive take on 21st century romance, and the perfect pairing of humorous anecdotes and actual social science.

Buy at Amazon.

8. FOR THE ENGLISH MAJOR WITH AN ANNOYING BREADTH OF KNOWLEDGE:

THE MILLIONAIRE AND THE BARD: HENRY FOLGER’S OBSESSIVE HUNT FOR SHAKESPEARE’S FIRST FOLIO BY ANDREA MAYS

Only 223 copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first collection of his complete theatrical works, are known to exist today. How did D.C.’s Folger Shakespeare Library end up with 82 of them? Thank this story’s titular millionaire, Henry Folger, who was born to nothing in Brooklyn and became one of the world’s great book buyers. A thrilling literary detective story about one of the most important books in history, and the obsession that saved it.

Buy at Amazon.

9. FOR YOUR FEMINIST MOTHER WHO COMPLAINS ABOUT ALL THESE SUPERHERO MOVIES:

THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN BY JILL LEPORE

The perfect entry point for someone who doesn’t yet know that the world of comic books is a fascinating place. Lepore—a professor of American history at Harvard University and a staffer at The New Yorker takes a fascinating look at the most popular female superhero of all time and illuminates much of the unknown history about how the character played a role in the women’s rights movement, as well as the life the man who created her, William Moulton Marston, who found inspiration in (among other things) his wife, his live-in mistress, Vargas girls, and birth control activist Margaret Sanger.

Buy at Amazon.

10. FOR YOUR LOVELY-BUT-LONELY NIECE:

JANE, THE FOX, & ME BY FANNY BRITT

This award-winning graphic novel is ostensibly for children, but thoughtful adults will find themselves in its pages, too. Jane, the Fox, & Me tells the story of Hélène, an outcast middle schooler who takes refuge in the pages of Jane Eyre. Hélène’s tale is spun quietly, through soft pencil strokes and splashes of color that mirror her struggles, comforts, and, eventually, her hope.

Buy at Amazon.

11. FOR YOUR ARTSY GENIUS COUSIN:

RADIOACTIVE: MARIE & PIERRE CURIE: A TALE OF LOVE AND FALLOUT BY LAUREN REDNISS

As reviewers have noted, Radioactive defies simple categorization. The 2010 book is a graphic novel; a biography of Marie and Pierre Curie; a history of radioactivity; a work of art; and a labor of wonder. The author’s fascination for her subject is obvious, and permeates each page with glowing energy. (Hot tip: Take this book into a dark room and see what happens.)

Buy at Amazon.

12. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO’S A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY AND A LITTLE BIT ROCK ‘N ROLL:

PRODUCING COUNTRY: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE GREAT RECORDINGS BY MICHAEL JARRETT

What exactly does a music producer do? Michael Jarrett’s stunning oral history traverses the decades of country music to answer that question. These jacks-of-all-trades help pick the perfect songs for each artist, assemble an optimal band of session musicians, and shape raw talents into proven hit makers. Each entry in this comprehensive, fast-paced volume shares an insider’s story behind a classic album or track to illuminate how it was made. Even if you’re not a big country fan, the book deftly navigates the places where early country intersected with rock and pop in unexpected ways—look for cameos from unexpected artists like Buddy Holly, Ray Charles, and Al Green. And if you’re already a fan of Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, or Clint Black, you’ll learn a lot about how your favorite songs came to sound the way they do.

Buy at Amazon.

13. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO’S ALWAYS GETTING STRANDED AT THE AIRPORT:

ENDURANCE: SHACKLETON’S INCREDIBLE VOYAGE BY ALFRED LANSING

No matter how arduous your journey home for the holidays is, it’s sure to be a breeze compared to the Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition that launched in 1914. The attempt to sail to Antarctica and then cross the snowy continent was a complete fiasco. Their ship, Endurance, got caught in ice and sank, leaving the 28-man team to fight for survival and a shot at a far-from-certain rescue on unpredictable sheets of drifting ice. Alfred Lansing’s recently reissued nail-biting 1959 account of the crew’s incredible teamwork and ingenuity in these terrifying conditions transformed interviews with survivors and the crew members’ diary into a taut, engrossing adventure tale that reads like the frostier cousin of Robinson Crusoe.

Buy at Amazon.

14. FOR ALL THE LITTLE LEONARDO DA VINCIS IN YOUR LIFE:

GENIUS!: THE MOST ASTONISHING INVENTIONS OF ALL TIME BY DEBORAH KESPERT

Where would we be without the light bulb or the airplane? (Bored in our own dark houses, probably.) Get the backstories on 21 inventions that changed our world, from the ancient Archimedes screw to space-age rockets, in this brightly illustrated book that’s perfect for budding inventors and kids of all ages.

Buy at Amazon.

15. FOR YOUR FAMILY MEMBER WITH A HEAD FOR DATES:

A READER'S BOOK OF DAYS: TRUE TALES FROM THE LIVES AND WORKS OF WRITERS FOR EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR BY TOM NISSLEY

Enliven your morning cereal with a glimpse of the day in literary history, whether it’s real world events (Mary Shelley getting the idea for Frankenstein) or the dates of fictional scenarios written into beloved books (the prom in Stephen King’s Carrie). Also included: The dates when famous authors were born and died, and when they met, reviewed one another, started affairs, and more. Perfect for the next time you need to know when Herman Melville met Abraham Lincoln, or when Arthur Rimbaud got his leg amputated. (The author is a former Jeopardy champion, which should be no great surprise.)

Buy on Amazon.

15. FOR THE NEGATIVE NANCY WITH SOME SELF-AWARENESS:

BAD DAYS IN HISTORY: A GLEEFULLY GRIM CHRONICLE OF MISFORTUNE, MAYHEM, AND MISERY FOR EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR BY MICHAEL FARQUHAR

No matter what irritants your day may bring, consider this: Someone probably had it worse. There’s the time casino mogul Steve Wynn accidentally rammed his elbow into a Picasso he’d just sold for $139 million (in his defense, he’s legally blind), or the time 21 people were killed by molasses in Boston. Well-suited for reading during holiday travel, just to remind yourself you probably have it (relatively) easy.

Buy on Amazon.

16. FOR THE TYPE A TASK MASTER WHO KNOWS THE IMPORTANCE OF PRIORITIZING:

LISTS OF NOTE: AN ECLECTIC COLLECTION DESERVING OF A WIDER AUDIENCE BY SHAUN USHER

Lists are often a reflection of what their makers consider important. But while some are banal (buy oranges and milk, finish taxes), others offer a glimpse of an entire world, and frequently a private one (consider George Washington’s list of slaves, or Albert Einstein's list of conditions for his estranged wife). Cheerier—but similarly revealing—entries include Houdini’s set and prop list and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s turkey recipes. A follow-up to the popular Letters of Note and a companion to the Lists of Note blog.

Buy on Amazon.

17. FOR YOUR NEPHEW WHO PRIDES HIMSELF IN HIS NONCHALANT ATTITUDE TOWARD SPIDERS:

WICKED BUGS: THE LOUSE THAT CONQUERED NAPOLEON'S ARMY & OTHER DIABOLICAL INSECTS BY AMY STEWART

There are annoying bugs, like fruit flies and mosquitoes, and then there are wicked bugs—like the Asian Giant Hornet, known locally as the yak-killer, whose sting can be fatal and leaves behind pheromones that draw more insects to the wound. (One expert described its sting as being like a “hot nail through my leg.”) Then there’s the Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, an aphid-like creature that nearly destroyed the French wine industry in the 19th century, and critters such as the charmingly named Deathstalker scorpion—which put one Air Force medic on life support. A beautifully illustrated book, ideal for those who love a blend of science and history, plus a walk on the creepier, crawlier side of life.

Buy on Amazon.

18. FOR THE PRECOCIOUS ADOLESCENT WHO’S OLD ENOUGH FOR SOMETHING A LITTLE STRANGE:

WEIRD-O-PEDIA: THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF SURPRISING, STRANGE, AND INCREDIBLY BIZARRE FACTS ABOUT (SUPPOSEDLY) ORDINARY THINGS BY ALEX PALMER

Bananas can’t reproduce, a Ukrainian scientist once invented a musical condom, you replace half your friends about every seven years, and the unhappiest city in the country is Portland, Oregon (or so said one 2009 survey—which may have been swayed by considering the number of cloudy days in each city). These are other fascinating facts fill the pages of Weird-o-pedia, a veritable browser’s delight of useless, but entirely pub-worthy, knowledge.

Buy on Amazon.

19. FOR THE NATURE LOVER AND/OR ROMANTIC:

THE OLDEST LIVING THINGS IN THE WORLD BY RACHEL SUSSMAN

Step away from the computer and let your mind expand with Rachel Sussman’s homage to the world’s most ancient organisms. Sussman spent over a decade traveling the world to find and photograph organisms alive for 2000 years or more, from 5500-year-old moss in Antarctica to 3000 to 5000 years old stromatolites from Australia. The stunning result also includes an account of her travels, and a call to action for preserving these precious, still-growing remnants of our distant past.

Buy on Amazon.

20. FOR THE GASTRONOME WITH A WELL STOCKED PANTRY AND BOOKSHELF:

FICTITIOUS DISHES BY DINAH FRIED

Food, literature, and photography charmingly collide in this recreation of famous meals and snacks in literature, whether it’s the madeleines from In Search of Lost Time or the tea party of Alice in Wonderland. The food photos are paired with the texts that inspired their creation, plus additional savory facts about both the repasts and the reading.

Buy on Amazon.

21. FOR YOUR COUSIN WHO’S ALREADY REALLY INTO HER PRODUCTIVITY-FOCUSED NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION:

DAILY RITUALS: HOW ARTISTS WORK BY MASON CURREY

Allay any fears you may have about your own creative process with this beautifully presented peek into how history’s most brilliant and creative minds conducted their days. James Joyce got up every morning at 10 and lay in bed for an hour; Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up in the kitchen, fondling his “male configurations”; Jean-Paul Sartre chewed vast quantities of Corydrane tablets (a mixture of amphetamine and aspirin); Igor Stravinsky stood on his head whenever he felt creatively blocked. There are accounts of more heroic efforts, too—Anthony Trollope required himself to write 3000 words every morning—but it’s far more fun to read about the wacky ways some of history’s most important books, symphonies, and scientific papers actually got produced, back in the days before cat videos.

Buy on Amazon.

22. FOR THE MAD SCIENTIST IN THE FAMILY:

THE DISAPPEARING SPOON: AND OTHER TRUE TALES OF MADNESS, LOVE, AND THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD FROM THE PERIODIC TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS BY SAM KEAN

A childhood fascination with the mercury inside thermometers led Sam Kean to begin compiling notes on the history, etymology, forensics, and psychology of the elements. The result is a behind-the-scenes look at one of humankind’s most impressive intellectual achievements—our ordering of the building blocks of our world. The scientists (mad and otherwise) who discovered these elements share equal billing with their discoveries in stories that are funny, fascinating, and occasionally macabre, but always illuminating.

Buy on Amazon.

23. FOR THAT PLUSH TOY HOARDER WHO STILL BELIEVES IN THE INVESTMENT:

THE GREAT BEANIE BABY BUBBLE: MASS DELUSION AND THE DARK SIDE OF CUTE BY ZAC BISSONNETTE

For a time in the 1990s, Beanie Babies were on their way to replacing the dollar as acceptable currency. How otherwise rational adults stampeded novelty stores and had judges award them Beanie custody in divorce proceedings is at the tagged heart of Bissonnette’s chronicle, which also includes his close encounter with notoriously reclusive Beanie godfather Ty Warner.

Buy on Amazon.

24. FOR YOUR DIE HARD VHS NOSTALGIC:

I LOST IT AT THE VIDEO STORE: A FILMMAKERS’ ORAL HISTORY OF A VANISHED ERA BY TOM ROSTON

Before binge watching and high-definition video on demand, watching a film required gas in your car and a well-stocked rental store. Roston’s oral history of the VHS revolution in the 1980s is like an archaeological dig guided by filmmakers (Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell) who got their education on magnetic tape.

Buy on Amazon.

25. FOR YOUR GRIT NEWSPAPER READER:

MAIL-ORDER MYSTERIES: REAL STUFF FROM OLD COMIC BOOK ADS! BY KIRK DEMARAIS

X-ray glasses; Sea Monkeys; life-like severed fingers. The ad copy in the back of your old comics promised fun, but most of us were too lazy (or broke) to bother. Fortunately, Demarais was able to track down most of these mail-away products for posterity in this richly-illustrated guide. If you’ve ever wondered whether a 7-foot “nuclear sub” for $6.98 was for real, the answer is in here. (Just don’t get your hopes up.)

Buy on Amazon.

26. FOR THE HANDS-ON CREATIVE TYPE:

BUILDING STORIES BY CHRIS WARE

Chris Ware’s masterful 2012 graphic novel is not only a feat in storytelling, but a work of art. Through 14 pieces—ranging from pamphlets to a newspaper broadsheet to a huge, foldable game board—Ware’s creation chronicles the comings and goings of tenants in a Chicago apartment building. There’s no right or wrong way to read the story, so you and a friend can dive right in, swapping pieces as you go. Just make sure you keep a box of tissues nearby: Ware has more than a knack for laying bare raw emotion.

Buy on Amazon.

27. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO READ ROOM AND CALLED IT “TOO HEAVY”:

HERE BY RICHARD MCGUIRE

Richard McGuire’s Here may be another graphic novel about a home, but in many ways it couldn’t be more different from Building Stories. McGuire’s gorgeous watercolor illustrations set the tone for Here (there are very few words), which quietly and delicately reveals the events that occurred in one corner of a room—from cocktail parties to buffalo hunts to moments of solitary reflection—over hundreds of thousands of years.

Buy on Amazon.

28. FOR YOUR SISTER WHO COLOR COORDINATES HER BOOKS:

MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF BY THESSALY LA FORCE

The perfect gift for book-lovers, My Ideal Bookshelf pairs colorful illustrations of prominent figures’ bookshelves (done by Amy Mount) with first-person essays about the books nearest and dearest to their hearts. Contributors include Michael Chabon, Jennifer Egan, David Chang, Patti Smith, Judd Apatow, and more. To really go the extra gift-giving mile, get a custom Amy Mount print or painting of your loved one’s favorite books to go along with the book.

Buy at Amazon.

29. FOR THE FRIEND WITH SEVERAL FRAMED MAPS IN HIS APARTMENT:

MAP: EXPLORING THE WORLD BY VICTORIA CLARKE

Whether you’re interested in history, cartography, or design inspiration, this book is sure to class up your coffee table. The hefty tome is an exhaustive catalog of more than 300 versions of how we represent the world, from virtually unrecognizable sketches of landmasses a thousand years ago to modern art projects.

Buy at Amazon.

30. FOR YOUR OVERSHARING FATHER:

GULP: ADVENTURES ON THE ALIMENTARY CANAL BY MARY ROACH

Let science writer Mary Roach take you on a sometimes hilarious, often gross, and always fascinating trip through the history and science of digestion. You’ll learn all about a 19th-century man who lived with a hole in his stomach, Elvis’ perhaps-fatal constipation issues, the process of making palatable dog food, and so, so much more. (For other Roach classics, check out Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.)

Buy at Amazon.

31. FOR THE PSYCH MAJOR WHO DIDN’T JUST CHOOSE IT AS A DEFAULT:

BEHIND THE SHOCK MACHINE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE NOTORIOUS MILGRAM PSYCHOLOGY EXPERIMENTS BY GINA PERRY

If you’ve taken an entry-level psychology class, you’ve probably heard of the Milgram experiments, a set of 1960s Yale psychology experiments that tested people’s predilections toward obedience, even at the expense of strangers’ pain. But there were more to Stanley Milgram’s tests than is often taught in Psych 101. Behind the Shock Machine explores what really went on in the lab, and how distorted Milgram’s findings have become.

Buy at Amazon.

32. FOR YOUR FARAWAY FRIEND WHO SOMEHOW KNOWS MORE ABOUT YOUR CITY THAN YOU DO:

HAPPY CITY: TRANSFORMING OUR LIVES THROUGH URBAN DESIGN BY CHARLES MONTGOMERY

Can cities be designed to make people happy? According to Charles Montgomery, yes. Everything from the size of our front yards to the width of our streets and the design of a building’s front door can influence how we behave and interact, in ways that can be counterintuitive. Whether you’re from a sleepy suburb or a bustling metropolis, Happy City will change how you think about where you live.

Buy at Amazon.

33. FOR THE CEPHALOPOD ENTHUSIAST (BECAUSE EVERYONE KNOWS ONE):

OCTOPUS!: THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE SEA BY KATHERINE HARMON COURAGE

The octopus is one of the most intelligent animals around, but in many ways, they’re utterly alien. They have what are essentially brains in each of their arms, are completely anti-social (one mating ritual involves a literal hand-off of reproductive material), and can change their skin color almost instantaneously. This book is full of octopus trivia you’ll be tempted to break out at parties forevermore.

Buy at Amazon.

34. FOR THE FANTASY GEEK WHO NEEDS ANOTHER OUTLET FOR HIS/HER NERDOM:

THE ART OF LANGUAGE INVENTION: FROM HORSE-LORDS TO DARK ELVES, THE WORDS BEHIND WORLD-BUILDING BY DAVID J. PETERSON

It takes a lot of creativity, imagination, and work to create entire worlds like those in Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World, and Defiance, but creating entire languages for those worlds is some next level nerdom (and we are all about it). Peterson has two degrees in linguistics, speaks eight languages, and is responsible for the fully functional but fictional languages Dothraki and High Valyrian (spoken on GoT), as well as others. In the book, Peterson offers a fascinating glimpse of what it’s like to invent a language as well as tools for creating your own.

Buy at Amazon.

35. FOR YOUR NIECE WHO JUST GOT A ROCK POLISHER OR MICROSCOPE:

THE SECRETS OF SAND: A JOURNEY INTO THE AMAZING MICROSCOPIC WORLD OF SAND BY GARY GREENBERG

To the naked eye, all sand looks pretty much the same. But magnified by a hundred-fold or more, each individual grain exhibits a distinct beauty. Dr. Gary Greenberg photographs what he calls these "dramatic landscapes of hidden worlds" using a high-powered light microscope to give each grain its due. Greenberg's photographs feature grains of sand from all over the world—and beyond. In collaboration with Dr. Carol Kiely and Professor Christopher Kiely from Lehigh University, he’s even photographed grains of sand from the moon that were collected during the Apollo 11 voyage. There are no crashing waves to create sand on the lunar surface, though; instead, the dust is the result of a constant battering on the moon's surface by meteorites and micrometeorites.

Buy at Amazon.

36. FOR YOUR DESIGN FRIEND WHO LOVES THE ART IN NATURAL HISTORY BOOKS: OPULENT OCEANS: EXTRAORDINARY RARE BOOK SELECTIONS FROM THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY LIBRARY BY MELANIE L.J. STIASSNY

Most people don’t have many opportunities to experience the underwater universe of Earth's oceans firsthand. Instead, we rely on photos, drawings, and essays like the ones in Opulent Oceans to bring us closer to the ecosystems that cover over 70 percent of the planet. From whales to coral, this book from the American Museum of Natural history covers the vast world of oceanography with lovely detailed illustrations including 40 frameable prints. For the natural-science devotee who likes to stay dry, we also recommend the AMNH’s Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library by Tom Baione (basically a companion text to Opulent), as well as Creatures of the Deep by Erich Hoyt for amazing underwater photos, and Bird Love by Leila Jeffreys for the prettiest bird photos you’ve ever seen.

Buy at Amazon.

37. FOR THE COMPLICATED GENIUS:

THE INVENTOR AND THE TYCOON BY EDWARD BALL

On the surface, Leland Stanford and Eadweard Muybridge didn’t have much in common. One was a wealthy, horse-obsessed railroad tycoon who would go on to found Stanford University; the other, an eccentric and volatile photographer. Stanford became Muybridge’s patron and friend, initially hiring the already well-known landscape photographer to snap photos of his new San Francisco mansion. Later, he asked Muybridge to figure out (through photography) if horses lifted all four feet off the ground while running. When Muybridge succeeded in snapping the photos that showed the horses with all four hooves off the ground in 1873, it made him more famous than ever. The next year, he murdered his wife’s lover—and got away with it.

Buy at Amazon.

38. FOR THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL ENTHUSIAST:

MOTEL OF THE MYSTERIES BY DAVID MACAULAY

Written and illustrated by David Macaulay, Motel of the Mysteries begins in 1985, with a catastrophe that wipes out civilization in the United States. By 3850, archeologists are digging on the continent—and in 4022, Howard Carson, participating in a marathon across what is called Usa, makes the discovery of a lifetime. The ground gives way and deposits him in front of a door. That door opens up to a “tomb” which readers will recognize as a motel room, with artifacts such as “the ceremonial burial cap” and “the sacred pendant” (a shower cap and a drain plug, respectively). Published three years after items from King Tut’s tomb toured the United States, Motel of the Mysteries is a parody of Howard Carter’s discovery of the boy king’s tomb and pokes fun at the tendency to bestow great meaning on ancient objects. After all, sometimes a toilet seat is just a toilet seat, and not a sacred collar.

39. FOR THAT CERTAIN SOMEONE WHO DEFIES CLASSIFICATION:

PLATYPUS: THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF HOW A CURIOUS CREATURE BAFFLED THE WORLD BY ANN MOYAL

These egg-laying, venom-toting mammals have puzzled scientists since they were discovered in 1797—and famously, the first European naturalists to lay eyes on a specimen thought the animal was a hoax. In Platypus, Ann Moyal journeys to Australia to see the animal in the wild, then examines the animal’s impact on the classification system, recounts the debates it sparked, and reveals how it shaped Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Buy at Amazon.

40. FOR THE FRIEND WHO’S A SECRET SERVICE/FBI AGENT/UNDERCOVER COP/INTERNATIONAL SPY WANNABE:

MIND HUNTER: INSIDE THE FBI’S ELITE SERIAL CRIME UNIT BY JOHN DOUGLAS AND MARK OLSHAKER

During his career, Special Agent John Douglas—the Mind Hunter himself, and the basis for Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs—writes about his life and his part in developing the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit, which has profiled and helped to capture some of the most notorious serial killers in American history. Initially called the Behavioral Science Unit, the division had tough beginnings: According to Douglas, FBI founder Herbert Hoover was no fan: “Back in the ‘just the facts, ma’am’ Hoover days, no one in any position of authority considered what became known as profiling to be a valid crime solving tool,” he writes. “So anyone ‘dabbling’ in it would have to do so very informally, with no records kept.” To develop the tools necessary to create profiles, Douglas and his team extensively interviewed serial killers in prison.

Buy at Amazon.

41. FOR THE COWORKER WHO’S ALWAYS TAKING YOU TO THE NEWEST AND COOLEST TACO TRUCK:

TACOPEDIA BY DEBORAH HOLTZ AND JUAN CARLOS MENA

A lot of taco fanatics (and there are many) talk a big game, but do they have the knowledge to back it up? This encyclopedic look at Mexico’s taco culture contains 100 recipes, along with photos, interviews, graphics, illustrations and maps. It’s a fitting tribute to the history of the dish, both in its reverence and sense of fun, and is a must-have for the taco connoisseur who’s tried every variation out there.

Buy at Amazon.

42. FOR THE VISUAL READER:

PLOTTED: A LITERARY ATLAS BY ANDREW DEGRAFF

What did Robinson Crusoe’s “Island of Despair” look like? Or the Mississippi River journey in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Or how about the mind-bending travels through time and space in A Wrinkle in Time? This collection of maps from literary classics helps to turn those imaginary spaces into a physical reality with stunning illustrations. The colorful cartographic take on old favorites makes it easy to dive right back into beloved literary worlds.

Buy at Amazon. 

43. FOR THE PARENT WHO HASN’T SLEPT IN YEARS:

THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP BY CARL-JOHAN FORSSEN EHRLIN

Bedtime can be really tough for parents and kids, but what if there was a book that could solve that? It sounds far too good to be true, but The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep reportedly does just that. Translated from Swedish into English, the book has garnered unmitigated success with countless testimonials from parents who all say their child falls asleep before the book is even over. Which isn't to say there aren’t detractors—some parents say it didn’t help their child at all and others have called its hypnosis techniques into question. Still, for all those parents out there who haven’t slept in months, this book might be just the thing they’re dreaming of.

Buy at Amazon.

44. FOR THE DAD WHO ALREADY OWNS EVERY BASEBALL-RELATED GIFT KNOWN TO MAN:

A HISTORY OF BASEBALL IN 100 OBJECTS by JOSH LEVENTHAL

Every gift guide for dads is sure to contain something baseball-y, but this one is actually worth investing in (sorry, baseball mitt shaped oven mitt). It’s exactly what it says it is—a complete history of America’s favorite pastime told through 100 objects, from documents to equipment to merchandise. It’s visually stunning and textually informative in equal measure, with full-page photographs accompanied by stories, context, and historical significance. Great for the reader who wants to reminisce while they learn something new.

Buy at Amazon.

45. FOR THE WINO WITH A PENCHANT FOR DRAMA:

THE BILLIONAIRE’S VINEGAR: THE MYSTERY OF THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE BOTTLE OF WINE BY BENJAMIN WALLACE

The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold was a 1787 Château Lafite Bordeaux supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson. It fetched $156,000 at auction in 1985, and the authenticity was questioned from the very beginning. At the heart of the mystery is the man who discovered the bottle (engraved with the initials “Th. J.”)—a well-known wine collector named Hardy Rodenstock. His story serves as the launching point for an absorbing look at the world of pricey wine, from collecting to counterfeiting and beyond, for a thrilling true life tale about a world far beyond grocery store Merlots and weekend wine tastings.

Buy at Amazon.

46. FOR THE PERSON IN YOU’RE LIFE THAT’D BE MOST EFFECTED BY THIS ERROR-RIDDLED PHRASE:

BETWEEN YOU & ME: CONFESSIONS OF A COMMA QUEEN BY MARY NORRIS

Part memoir, part grammar guide, and part a collection of juicy tidbits from behind the scenes at The New Yorker (where Norris has been a copy editor for decades), this utterly charming bestseller is perfect for readers and writers who carry a flame for proper English. Also a great conversation starter if you want to argue about the Oxford comma or make people furrow their brows with the tidbit that there’s actually, technically a hyphen in Moby-Dick.

Buy at Amazon.

47. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO’S OBSESSED WITH CARL SAGAN AND NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:

HEADSTRONG: 52 WOMEN WHO CHANGED SCIENCE—AND THE WORLD BY RACHEL SWABY

Maria Mitchell—one of the 52 women profiled—was among the first Americans to discover a comet and was the first female American astronomer. As a professor at Vassar, she bucked curfew rules to hold her astronomy classes (gasp!) at night. Swaby’s book is the kind of quick read that you can devour in a couple of days or pick up every now and again, and shines a light on the women who have been a powerful force in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering for centuries.

Buy at Amazon.

48. FOR YOUR MINDFUL FOODIE FRIEND:

INGREDIENTS: A VISUAL EXPLORATION OF 75 ADDITIVES & 25 FOOD PRODUCTS BY STEVE ETTLINGER AND DWIGHT ESCHLIMAN

Reading an ingredient label isn’t quite the same as meeting each component of your guilty pleasure—from the Blue No. 1 in Cool Ranch Doritos to the dehydrated onions in Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle Soup—face to face. Enter Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products, a collaboration between photographer Dwight Eschliman and writer Steve Ettlinger. The two dissect a range of processed foods and additives—from MorningStar sausage patties to shellac—walking the reader through unexpected tidbits about each item, like that most of the country’s cornstarch production goes into making paper and cardboard or that we’ve known about coffee since the ninth century, but only started making caffeine extract in 1821. Whether or not you want them on your plate, these Ingredients prove a feast for the eyes and mind.

Buy at Amazon.

49. FOR YOUR CULTURED AND CAT CRAZY AUNT:

CATS GALORE: A COMPENDIUM OF CULTURED CATS BY SUSAN HERBERT

If you’re a cat person, even highbrow culture can be improved upon—so long as you add whiskers and a tail. That seemed to be the personal motto of late English artist Susan Herbert (1945-2014), who gained international acclaim for her hyper-realistic paintings of sophisticated felines. Herbert’s watercolors portray tabbies and tomcats alike posing and prancing their way through scenes borrowed from famous works of film, art, opera, ballet, and literature. Feline Hamlet? Check. Tuxedo cat-with-cigar as Charlie Chaplin? Check. A furry Venus ascending from a clamshell in a surprisingly dignified reinterpretation of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus? Check. This volume culls images from four of Herbert’s previous compilations and groups them by section, based on whether the kitties are on-stage, on-screen, or on-canvas stars.

Buy at Amazon.

50. FOR THE FRIEND WHO LOVES NATURE, AND CONFESSIONALS:

BAD LUCK, HOT ROCKS: CONSCIENCE LETTERS AND PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE PETRIFIED FOREST BY RYAN THOMPSON AND PHIL ORR

The Petrified Forest National Park of northeast Arizona’s Painted Desert was designated a national monument in 1906, in part to protect the 200-million-year-old deposits of petrified wood that formed there during the late Triassic period. Only problem? Visitors can’t seem to keep their hands off them—they frequently pocket bits of petrified wood (colloquially known as “rocks”) as souvenirs. Later, many of them regret the move. That’s when the thieves mail the rocks, along with cathartic letters, back to the park. Bad Luck, Hot Rocks, compiles the confessions, from the heartrending to the hilarious. (The thefts are often seen to be the starting point for strings of bad luck.) Visual artist Ryan Thompson became interested in the phenomenon on a 2011 park visit. So he and coeditor Phil Orr mined the park’s archives for the most interesting letters (there are more than 1200 of them) and photographed the rocks in question. Ironically, the park can’t actually return the rocks to the land: It would undermine geologic research being done there. While the erstwhile souvenirs land in a pickup truck–size “conscience pile” in a secluded area of the park, at least the hearts of their returners are a little less heavy.

Buy at Amazon.

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Flurry Road: 5 Tips for Safe Driving on Winter Roads
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For drivers in the Upper Midwest, traveling during the winter can range from slightly unsettling to deadly. Between 2011 and 2015, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center, an average of 800 fatalities occurred annually as a result of weather-related accidents. Icy roads, poor visibility, and other factors can make cold-weather commuting a dicey proposition.

While we can’t control the weather (yet), we can increase our odds of navigating slush-filled roadways successfully. Mental Floss spoke with American Automobile Association (AAA) driving education expert William Van Tassel, Ph.D., for some key tips on how to get your winter driving in gear.

1. GATHER SUPPLIES.

Before you even start your car up for a trip through inclement weather, Van Tassel recommends you pack a worst-case scenario trunk full of supplies. “In case of emergency, you want things on board like water, a blanket, a flashlight, gloves, and kitty litter,” he says. (That last one is for traction in case you get stuck in a snowbank.) You should also have road flares, a shovel, an ice scraper, and a fully-charged cell phone to call for assistance if needed.

2. SLOW DOWN.

Posted speed limit signs assume you’re driving on clear and clean roadways. If snow or ice has accumulated, you need to adjust your speed accordingly. “In slick conditions, tires lose a lot of traction,” Van Tassel says. “You should be cutting your speed down by half or more.” Unfortunately, a lot of people learn this the hard way. “After a snowstorm, we’ll see more crashes on day one than days two or three.”

Van Tassel also cautions to avoid becoming overconfident on snow tires. While they provide better traction in bad weather, it’s not license to speed up.

3. MAINTAIN A SAFE DISTANCE FROM OTHER CARS.

You should be doing this regardless, but bad weather makes it even more crucial. Keep your vehicle at a safe distance from cars behind, in front, and off to the sides, as well as away from pedestrians or cyclists. If you need to brake suddenly, you need time—and space—to avoid a collision. “You really want more space in front,” Van Tassel says. Try to stay between seven and 10 seconds behind the vehicle ahead. That means seeing a landmark and then counting down until you pass the same marker. If you’re only a few seconds behind, you’re too close.

4. DON’T STEER INTO SKIDS.

“That was an old rule of thumb,” Van Tassel says. “The problem is, by the time I remember to steer into a skid, I’m already in a ditch.” If you feel your vehicle sliding, it’s better to steer in the direction you want to go. “You’ll drive where you look, so don’t look at a telephone pole.”

To help maintain control of the car, you want to focus on doing one thing at a time. “If you’re going through a turn, brake, finish braking, then turn. Don’t brake and turn at the same time.”

5. KEEP YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON.

Yep, even in broad daylight. Bad weather limits visibility, and headlights allow both you and your fellow drivers to orient a vehicle. “You’re twice as visible to other drivers that way,” Van Tassel says. “When people can see you, they can avoid you.”

Van Tassel also recommends that drivers avoid relying on fancy car technology to keep them safe. While blind spot monitoring and lane changing sensors are useful, they’re not there so you can zone out. “The tech is there to back you up if you need it. Drive the car, but don’t rely on those things,” he says.

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25 Polite Compliments You Can Pay a Coworker
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January 24 is National Compliment Day, and a great way to celebrate is by making a concerted effort to praise the people you work with. Be sure to consider when an appropriate time and place for a compliment would be (for instance, shy people would rather be commended on their stellar presentation in private rather than in front of a crowd), but know that whether a coworker is a longtime friend or more of an acquaintance, lauding their work performance and letting them know you appreciate their skills could really make their day.

1. "YOU HAVE A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR."

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Every office has one person who knows how to ease tensions at work by cracking a quick joke or sharing a funny link. If this person's sense of humor makes your job a little more enjoyable, make sure to let them know.

2. "NICE JOB ON THAT PRESENTATION."

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Public speaking is intimidating, especially to someone who's new to their job and not used to giving presentations. Notice your coworker is nervous before a big meeting? Seek them out afterwards. Letting them know you enjoyed and learned from what they said will hopefully make them feel more confident next time.

3. "YOU ALWAYS KNOW WHEN TO LEND A HAND."

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You probably know someone who's always willing to help out with a project when you need it most, and odds are they rarely receive the recognition they deserve. Next time a coworker offers some relief when you're feeling overwhelmed, don't let it go unnoticed. Set aside time to tell them you see the great work they're doing and you appreciate it.

4. "YOU'RE A SAVVY PROBLEM-SOLVER."

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Being able to see problems differently is a valuable skill in the workplace. It can open up a team to new ideas and save precious time and resources. Sometimes you may be the person to spot the way out of a problem, and other times it's a coworker who points out the solution that was right in front of your face. If you're grateful for their point of view, they deserve to hear it.

5. "YOU'RE A GREAT COMMUNICATOR."

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Without communication, collaborating with the people in your workplace would be impossible. A great communicator knows how to understand other people's perspectives, explain their own, and make sure they're never keeping anyone in the dark. They're also not above receiving a compliment every now and then.

6. "I LOVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM."

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For some people, getting up and going to work each day is easy: They're personally invested in the company they work for and enjoy helping it succeed. Maybe you're not there yet, but you might see this level of passion and enthusiasm in at least one person you work with. Don't let that inspiring attitude go unrecognized.

7. "I APPRECIATE YOUR TRUST."

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Effective management is just as much about offering guidance and support as knowing when to back off. Sometimes leaving employees room to breathe is the best thing managers can do to encourage growth and creativity. It's also a thankless move that often goes unrewarded. Expressing your appreciation to your manager can make a big difference in their day.

8. "WHAT A FUN PARTY (LUNCH/HAPPY HOUR/ETC.)."

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People take certain work events for granted without stopping to consider the employees who make them possible. Birthday cakes don't magically appear and after-work happy hours don't plan themselves. Behind every fun break you get from your day-to-day duties, there's a coworker who took the initiative to make it happen, and they would like to hear that you enjoyed the fruits of their labor.

9. "YOU'VE GOT A KILLER WORK ETHIC."

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We all wish we could be the employee who blows through projects without breaking a sweat. If you're not that person, the least you can do is pay the tireless person in your workplace a compliment—especially after a big project that had them tackling most of the work.

10. "YOUR POSITIVE ATTITUDE IS INFECTIOUS."

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Just like one pessimistic employee can bring down the whole office, a positive person can have the opposite effect. It's hard to feel grumpy about starting a new week when the colleague sitting next to you does everything with a smile on their face.

11. "YOU ASK GREAT QUESTIONS."

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Asking about something you're not familiar with at work can be intimidating, whether it's about a new policy or procedure or perhaps about the ins and outs of a department you don't usually work with. But asking for help or clarification is also the only way to learn and grow. Complimenting a coworker who asks a lot of questions lets them know that not only is that OK, it's valued.

12. "I LOVE YOUR IDEAS."

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When someone introduces a great idea at work, people often respond in one of two ways: They get upset that they didn't think of it themselves, or they admire the person for their brilliance. If you want to strengthen work relationships and feel better in the long run, we suggest expressing the latter.

13. "YOU'RE GREAT AT TAKING INITIATIVE."

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Employees who take initiative help businesses run smoothly. Managers don't have to worry about babysitting them, and their coworkers never end up picking up their slack. Next time you go into work, find the person you know who always takes initiative and compliment them for their efforts.

14. "YOU'RE VERY CREATIVE."

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Even if your job isn't particularly inspiring, you may have coworkers who find everyday opportunities to be creative. Their creativity might shine through in the form of a sharply designed flyer, a well-written memo, or an innovative solution to the problem at hand. Sometimes people who don't work in a traditionally artistic field are rarely complimented for their creativity—you can change that.

15. "I APPRECIATE YOU TAKING RESPONSIBILITY."

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Do you know someone at work who's taken responsibility—whether for a botched performance, a failed pitch, or a missed deadline—even when they could have gotten away with keeping quiet? That's not easy to do. Recognize their actions, and they may be inclined to do it more often.

16. "YOU'RE SO FLEXIBLE."

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Sure, you can promise your coworker this is the absolute last time you'll ask them to push a meeting back a couple of days or move up a deadline by a week. Or, you can compliment them on being so flexible and thank them for working around the changes so efficiently.

17. "I LOVE YOUR CONFIDENCE."

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Confidence in the workplace is hard to ignore. It radiates from everything a person does, and when you're working on a project with such a person, it can make you feel more confident as well. Let this employee know that you appreciate their poise and self-assuredness.

18. "I APPRECIATE HOW TECH-SAVVY YOU ARE."

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Who do you turn to when your screen freezes, or when the long email you spent the last 15 minutes crafting suddenly disappears? Likely, instead of running to I.T. every time, you ask a nearby coworker who always seems to have the answers. Even if they don't share their know-how for the praise, they deserve a compliment and gratitude.

19. "YOU'RE A GREAT BAKER."

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People who bake for their coworkers are a special breed. By sharing what they made with the office, it means that they not only took the time to cook with you in mind, but also that they're sharing a bit of their personal likes or hobbies with you. What better time to compliment the chef than when they bring platter of fresh cookies to the morning meeting?

20. "I ADMIRE YOUR LEADERSHIP."

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A good leader is many things, including fair, compassionate, and hard-working. But whatever qualities your manager exhibits that make you appreciate working for him or her, find a chance to let them know you commend their leadership, and that you're a better employee because of it.

21. "YOU HAVE A MIND FOR DETAIL."

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Details make a big difference at work, whether you're writing a big report or a thank you email. Sometimes the details that make the biggest impact on a project are hard to notice on their own. See if you can spot the smart, subtle details the next time you're evaluating your coworker's work, and tell them if you're impressed by what you find.

22. "YOU'RE ON MY WAVELENGTH."

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It may not always top lists of most valuable skills to take into the workplace, but empathy can do wonders for office culture. When team members practice empathy and really make an effort to understand the people they work with, they make everyone's job easier. This is one skill that definitely deserves recognition.

23. "THANKS FOR BEING SO RELIABLE."

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No matter what you do for work, it's impossible to do your job entirely on your own. Reliable coworkers you can depend on for support, guidance, and inspiration are a priceless resource. If they make the effort to show up and work hard consistently, the least you can do is show them you appreciate it.

24. "YOU'RE A REAL TEAM PLAYER."

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In order to succeed as a team, your colleagues need to have the right attitude. Maybe there's one person on your team who sets a good example for the rest of you: They know exactly when to step back and listen to other people's ideas and when to come forward with their own. Sometimes being a good team player means swallowing your pride to do what's best for the group, and that's behavior worth celebrating.

25. "YOU GIVE GREAT ADVICE."

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At some point in your career, you've likely relied on a more experienced coworker for advice. Without mentors, many of the world's most successful people wouldn't be where they are today. Never be ashamed to ask for guidance, and once you receive it, make sure to show your gratitude.

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