Mississauga, ON – In transit with Canada Post __ Mississauga, ON – Order processed at postal facility __ Mississauga, ON – Item processed at postal facility __ Edmonton, AB – Item processed at postal facility __ Edmonton, AB – Item out for delivery __ Edmonton, AB – Item successfully delivered (awesome!)
I’ve ordered one or two books online from this source (not saying who, no free advertising), and they all travel the same path; scanned three times in Mississauga (I’m mentioning Mississauga as much as possible here to help me remember how to spell….Mississauga), an unnerving several day wait where nothing happens, and then the comforting arrival in Edmonton. Anyway, amidst the reading for work related stuff, volunteer stuff and what have you, I did actually manage to buy and read a few books for myself in 2011. Without further au jeux (that’s the joke), here’s the top 5, ranked by my personal preference and which ones friends have asked to borrow.
5. Stupid to the Last Drop – How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn’t Seem to Care) by William Marsden
“This is a resource-based economy. You just extract it and say, ‘What, me worry?’”.
Somewhat inflammatory in it’s title, and unapologetic about it, it means what it says. There’s a slant here (obvious), but the footwork done by Mr. Marsden makes this a legitimate body of work, and indeed provides fuel for his arguments. While some may take issue with the politics involved, and admittedly my choice of politics is likely to find more here to agree with than others, and while Marsden does indeed take on the political forces, there’s indeed a consternation throughout the work at the abundance of politics involved in places where perhaps science should be left alone, and politics kept out of sight until the research has been done and left in the open for all to debate. It’s a good read, and at a time when we seem to spend far too much energy (pun intended) yammering on ideology, the more we read on this subject and bring to a debate, the better off future generations will be. For something on the side, there’s always this blast from the past.
4. Harperland – The Politics of Control by Lawrence Martin
“The PMO was structured on the basis of the silo system, with individual compartments and very little cross-pollination. In this way, as opposed to the more circular patterns of organization where information is more broadly shared, only the prime minister and his chief of staff knew everything”
For a good deal of the volunteer time I’ve devoted to causes and organizations which directly deal with various layers of government, I’ve long grumbled about the “silo mentality”. In my early naivete, I often wondered why someone, anyone, would want an inefficient organizational structure, where folks across the hall from each other could pass everyday without knowing what the details of what the other guy was up to. Where as an outsider trying to gain access in, walls were everywhere, and gaining access to one part of organization bought you few if any lines of communication to other parts of the greater whole. But, for folks like the Prime Minister, perhaps ‘open concept’ just isn’t for them. However, as a democratic society, I believe in not asking or demanding openness from government, but expecting it as a way of doing business. Some may feel free to jump in here and tell me I’m being naive again, and that’s fine, as long as their name isn’t Frederick Lee. It’s also why I considered this to be essential reading for last year’s election.
The prorogation of parliament, the placement of partisan individuals in the ‘non-partisan’ privy council office, the silo-ization of reporting in upper levels of the government, American-style attack ads – these are the things we’ve seen from the ruling Conservatives, reported on in the main-stream media, and oft discussed in blogs, Twitter and so forth. Harperland is the equivalent of pulling the oft quoted and/or behind-the-scenes individuals aside and asking “what’s really going on”. Martin does his homework, and the interviews with the behind-the-scenes players alone make it worth the purchase price. It may no longer be election reading – at least for a few years – but many of the controversial actions taken by the Prime Minister were born during a minority government. If nothing else, it’s worth following along to see how the operation of our government changes, if it all, having accomplished a long sought-after majority.
3. Triumph of the City – How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser
“Perhaps the most common error was thinking that these cities could build their way back to success with housing projects, grandiose office towers, or fanciful high-tech transit systems. Those mistakes came out of the all-too-common error of confusing a city, which is really a mass of connected humanity, with it’s structures.”
If you live in a city you’ll probably enjoy this book. If nothing else, just to read about how that density of humanity and services, that we take advantage of to buy groceries and find employment, has profoundly influenced science, technology, and society.
If you’re an urbanite, an urban advocate, an urban planner, or an elected representative for an urban centre, you should definitely read this book. Glaeser is clearly a tireless advocate for education and innovation. These are things of course, which urban environments lend themselves so easily to becoming centres for. Glaeser pulls strongly from examples and case studies which anyone can appreciate, the one which happened before our very eyes is of course the detailed rise and fall of Detroit and the “Industrial City”. Once driven by creators and innovators in the automotive field, the lack of economic diversity within the City is explained in painful detail by Glaeser as he works through the downfall of the Detroit’s vertically integrated auto industry.
This however is far more than a lesson in economics and an advocate for investing in education and entrepreneurship. The health benefits of urban living, the problematic rise of urban sprawl, NIMBYism, and lessons for urban renewal. There’s a wealth of information here to make this a more than deserving read.
2. When the Gods Changed – The Death of Liberal Canada by Peter C. Newman
“What the Liberals should have been seeking was not merely a return to the comforts of power, but a new populist mandate that could become a revolutionary instrument.”
If there’s one thing that truly pissed me off about last year’s election it’s the Ignatieff attack ads. He’s not here for me? Well, the monarchy, the war of 1812 and the gun registry aren’t exactly on my priority list, but here we are. Do I care that Ignatieff went out into the world, wrote, taught, spoke, then came back home and entered politics? Not really, other than being proud, as a Canadian, to see the accomplishments of one of our own on the world stage, even if I disagree with some of his public statements over the years.
Anyway, the book, I may look like I’m going off topic, but I’m not. Ignatieff is central to a body of work that describes in detail what every ‘Liberal’ should read, the fall of a party which Mr. Newman details to point in time far beyond the year when I was old enough to vote. A party that did little to renew it’s mandate during it’s reigning years in the 90’s and the previous decade. A party that failed to tap into, cultivate or empower volunteer assets. The controversial nomination of Ignatieff in his Toronto riding, divisions within the party, internal fiefdoms, etc. It’s all here, the good, the bad, everything, in detail and Newman’s wit. The Federal Liberals may/may not be rebuilt but if they are, and for anyone who wants to avoid the same mistakes, there are many lessons here.
1. The Savage War – The Untold Battles of Afghanistan by Murray Brewster
“Khan went into hiding. He locked himself in his office for days after the murder and refused to come out. He would call at all hours, sobbing into the cellphone and pleading for some kind of deliverance.”
I stayed up to some ridiculously late hours reading this book, and I spent some time that I probably should have spent on reducing my todo list, reading this book. Murray Brewster provides an immensely detailed and equally honest and emotional recount of his time covering the war from Ottawa and the streets of a savaged country. Everything here is brutally honest, written in the detailed lengthy prose that can only come from a book, not a syndicated news story. It’s as gripping as it is troubling. There’s just so much here – a government at home desperately trying to control the story, confusion on the ground, the detailed accounts of living as an embedded reporter in a war zone, travelling the streets of an Afghan city, chasing the story without an armed escort bringing up the rear. I highly, highly recommend picking up a copy as essential reading.