All four of these Canadian books are highly thought-provoking
Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanack between 1732 and 1758. Writing under one of two pseudonyms, “Poor Richard” and “Richard Saunders,” the yearly almanac served as a regular source of wit and wisdom for early American settlers in the Thirteen Colonies.
Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers, came up with many popular sayings and witticisms. Some were thought-provoking, including “a penny saved is a penny earned,” “speak little, do much,” and “a friend in need is a friend indeed,” Others evoked humour and guffaws like “fish and visitors stink after three days,” “he that drinks fast, pays slow” and “three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
There’s also this profound saying, “Read much, but not too many books.”
What did he mean by this? As important as books are to learning and knowledge, you shouldn’t limit your reading to one type of source material. It’s important to focus on newspapers, magazines, periodicals, speeches, pamphlets – and, in the polymath’s time, almanacs.
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Yet it’s hard for people in my line of work to pass on books. We see them everywhere, from bookstores to supermarkets. We buy them in droves and put as many as possible in our libraries. We receive more review copies annually than we could ever imagine. (My wife would confirm this in a heartbeat.)
They haunt us in real life – and in our dreams!
In all seriousness, it’s not a bad situation. If you enjoy reading, and have the number of diverse interests that I and others do, the choices are endless. My main focus has been non-fiction works, including politics, history, economics and philosophy. I also read books on sports, art, religion, music and animation/classic comic strips.
This can lead to a problem when it comes to book reviews. I’ve had the good fortune of writing a fair number of them each year for domestic and international publications. Finding a good home for every well-written title has been a near-impossible task. There are simply too many books in circulation, and too little time to analyze all of them.
For authors and publishing houses that work hard to release interesting titles and send them out in hopes of receiving positive feedback, it’s an enormous obstacle to overcome.
That’s why I occasionally cobble together and review a few titles in one of my columns. It’s a style more akin to a short literary review or books in brief. Not perfect, by any means – but certainly better than nothing.
Here are four Canadian-based books that I would highly recommend.
The Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy’s first book, The 1867 Project: Why Canada Should Be Cherished – Not Cancelled, is a superb collection of essays about different aspects of Canadian political history. Edited by Mark Milke, president of this new think tank, authors like C.P. Champion, Janice Fiamengo, Jamil Jivani, Matthew Lau, John Robson, and Peter Shawn Taylor explore penetrating topics like cancel culture, identity politics, prominent Canadians (including those who have been unfairly cancelled), and how to renew our Confederation. One of the more intriguing and thought-provoking volumes of 2023.
Barry Cooper and Marco Navarro-Génie have released an expanded version of Canada’s COVID: The Story of a Pandemic Moral Panic through the Haultain Research Institute. It’s a fascinating examination of the politics of fear during COVID-19 and how our leaders fell victim to its clutches. The authors examine several subjects with real panache, including China and the coronavirus, governments and lockdown policies, and the hysteria related to the Freedom Convoy organized by Canadian truckers. There’s even a little political philosophy mixed in for good measure. A great book on a difficult topic.
Brian “Chip” Martin’s From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge: Canada and the Civil War, released by ECW Press, is an excellent addition to a subject area previously covered by authors like John Boyko and Claire Hoy. Martin’s book stands out because of the extensive research into the thousands of Canadians who fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Several historians have discussed Canadian ties to the Confederate Army, for instance, but rarely focused on the Southerners who found refuge in Canada. This includes Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family, who fled to Montreal for a spell. A mesmerizing account of a forgotten period in Canadian history.
Mark Bourrie’s Big Men Fear Me: The Fast Life and Quick Death of Canada’s Most Powerful Media Mogul, released by Biblioasis, is the rather extraordinary tale of George McCullagh. A high school dropout who had intelligence and ambition, he became friends with the rich and powerful and made a killing in the stock market. He bought two of Canada’s preeminent papers, The Globe and The Mail and Empire, and merged them. This was all accomplished by the tender age of 31! The media baron is barely remembered today for several reasons, including the unfortunate bipolar disorder that led to his early and unexpected demise. Thanks to Bourrie’s well-written book, that’s no longer the case.
Let’s put a little twist on Franklin’s wise words. Read much, but not too few books!
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
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