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Jeffrey Eugenides

Opening the books on holiday gifts for readers

"Physics on the Fringe"

In these tough economic times, books offer a great return on a gift-giver's investment. Relatively inexpensive, they provide hours of enjoyment for the recipient — if you make the right choice. Never fear: the Book Bag is here to help.

Lovers of intrigue and derring-do will enjoy Jean-Vincent Blanchard's "Eminence" (Walker, $28), a biography of the infamous Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu is best known in popular culture through Alexandre Dumas' unflattering portrait in "The Three Musketeers," but Blanchard reveals a more complex truth.

Caught between the mercurial King Louis XIII and the king's power-hungry mother, Marie de Medici,...