Top book recommendations for summer reading
Summer is here; for many, it’s the time of year to relax at the lake, at the cottage or in your backyard and decompress with a good book and a glass of whatever.
Below is a list of what we feel are the ten best books for summer reading. Selections vary from new releases and historical masterpieces to the sublime joy of reading fictional fantasy. We put Tom D’Aquino’s Private Power, Public Purpose: Adventures in Business, Politics, and the Arts as our first choice simply because it is such a compelling read. An enlightening and educational paint-by-numbers romp through power and politics in Ottawa over the past four decades by one of Canada’s most charismatic and influential business executives of the past century. After reading it, you will understand much more clearly how things work in the real politick of Canada.
Read them and reap!
Private Power, Public Purpose: Adventures in Business, Politics, and the Arts
A remarkable memoir by the man at the apex of Canadian power for over fifty years, Private Power, Public Purpose is the ultimate insider’s history in the worlds of politics, business, and philanthropy.
“Private Power, Public Purpose is an ambitious and sweeping first-hand account of the past 50 years of Canadian economic history, told from the front lines . . . A highly rewarding read.” — Stephen Poloz, former Governor of the Bank of Canada and author of The Next Age of Uncertainty
In this monumental memoir, Thomas d’Aquino offers personal insights on four decades of bold leadership at the apex of power. A transforming force in redefining the role of business and the shaping of responsible capitalism, Canada’s private sector leader in advancing the free trade agreement with the United States, valiant defender of national unity, and passionate environmentalist, he has been at the centre of every major policy debate that has influenced contemporary Canada.
Referred to by his peers as “Canada’s leading business ambassador,” Private Power, Public Purpose chronicles exploits on five continents and describes how he has championed Canada’s place as an economic player on the world stage. His insights on leadership are timeless, honed from relationships with six Canadian prime ministers, over one thousand chief executives, and dozens of global leaders. Beyond business and public policy, Thomas d’Aquino’s fascinating adventures in the world of voluntarism, the arts, and philanthropy reveal a great deal about the soul of this remarkable Canadian.
Old Babes in the Wood: Stories
A dazzling collection of fifteen short stories from Margaret Atwood, the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments.
Margaret Atwood has established herself as one of the most visionary and canonical authors in the world. This collection of fifteen extraordinary stories—some of which have appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine—explore the full warp and weft of experience, speaking to our unique times with Atwood’s characteristic insight, wit, and intellect.
The two intrepid sisters of the title story grapple with loss and memory on a perfect summer evening; “Impatient Griselda” explores alienation and miscommunication with a fresh twist on a folkloric classic; and “My Evil Mother” touches on the fantastical, examining a mother-daughter relationship in which the mother purports to be a witch. At the heart of the collection are seven extraordinary stories that follow a married couple across the decades, the moments big and small that make up a long life of uncommon love—and what comes after.
Returning to short fiction for the first time since her 2014 collection Stone Mattress, Atwood highlights both her creativity and humanity in these remarkable tales, which delight, illuminate, and quietly devastate.
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
Author: Timothy Snyder
Publisher: Basic Books
Amazon: Purchase here
Americans call the Second World War “The Good War.” But before it even began, America’s wartime ally Josef Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens—and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Hitler was finally defeated, he had murdered six million Jews and as many other Europeans. At war’s end, both the German and the Soviet killing sites fell behind the iron curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness.
Bloodlands is a new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history, in the time and place where they occurred: between Germany and Russia, when Hitler and Stalin both held power. Assiduously researched, deeply humane, and utterly definitive, Bloodlands will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.
“If there is an explanation for the political killing perpetrated in Eastern Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, historian Snyder roots it in agriculture. Stalin wanted to collectivize farmers; Hitler wanted to eliminate them so Germans could colonize the land. The dictators wielded frightening power to advance such fantasies toward reality, and the despots toted up about 14 million corpses between them, so stupefying a figure that Snyder sets himself three goals here: to break down the number into the various actions of murder that comprise it, from liquidation of the kulaks to the final solution; to restore humanity to the victims via surviving testimony to their fates; and to deny Hitler and Stalin any historical justification for their policies, which at the time had legions of supporters and have some even today. Such scope may render Snyder’s project too imposing to casual readers, but it would engage those exposed to the period’s chronology and major interpretive issues, such as the extent to which the Nazi and Soviet systems may be compared. Solid and judicious scholarship for large WWII collections.”
Claws of the Panda – Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada
Claws of the Panda tells the story of Ottawa’s failure to recognize and confront the efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate and influence Canadian politics, academia, and media and to exert control over Canadians of Chinese heritage. Jonathan Manthorpe gives a detailed description of the CCP’s campaign to embed agents of influence in Canadian business, politics, media, and academia. The book traces the evolution of the Canada-China relationship over 150 years, revealing how Canadian leaders have constantly misjudged the reality and potential of the relationship while the CCP and its agents have benefited from Canadian naiveté.
China’s Political System
Edited by: Sebastian Heilmann
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Amazon: Purchase here
The Chinese government is one of the most important actors in international affairs today. To thoroughly understand how the People’s Republic of China has grown in power requires a careful analysis of its political system. To what extent can China’s economic achievements be attributed to the country’s political system and its policies? What are the effects of economic modernization and global economic integration on the Chinese polity? Is the Chinese political system capable of adapting to changing economic, technological, social, and international conditions? Exploring these central questions, this definitive book provides readers with a comprehensive assessment of the preconditions, prospects, and risks associated with China’s political development.
At the Centre of Government: The Prime Minister and the Limits on Political Power
Author: Ian Brodie
Publisher: McGill-Queen’s University Press
Amazon: Purchase here
“Canada’s prime minister is a dictator.” “The Sun King of Canadian government.” “More powerful than any other chief executive of any other democratic country.” These kinds of claims are frequently made about Canada’s leader – especially when the prime minister’s party holds a majority government in Parliament. But is there any truth to these arguments? At the Centre of Government not only presents a comprehensively researched work on the structure of political power in Canada but also offers a first-hand view of the inner workings of the Canadian federal government.
Ian Brodie, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former executive director of the Conservative Party of Canada, argues that the various workings of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, the cabinet, parliamentary committees, and the role of backbench members of Parliament undermine propositions that the prime minister has evolved into the role of an autocrat, with unchecked control over the levers of political power. He corrects the dominant thinking that Canadian prime ministers hold power without limits over their party, caucus, cabinet, Parliament, the public service, and the policy agenda.
Citing examples from his time in government and from Canadian political history, he argues that in Canada’s evolving political system, with its roots in the pre-Confederation era, there are effective checks on executive power and that the golden age of Parliament and the backbencher is now. Drawing on a vast body of work on governance and the role of the executive branch of government, At the Centre of Government is a fact-based primer on the workings of the Canadian government and sobering second thoughts about many proposals for reform.
A Death at the Party
In this tense, spellbinding thriller set over the course of a single day, a woman prepares for a party that goes dreadfully wrong—for fans of Ashley Audrain and Lisa Jewell. Nadine Walsh’s summer garden party is in full swing. The neighbours all have cocktails; the catered food is exquisite—everything is going according to plan. But Nadine—devoted wife, loving mother, and doting daughter—finds herself standing over a dead body in her basement while her guests clink glasses upstairs. What happened? How did it come to this?
Rewind to that morning when Nadine is in her kitchen, making last-minute preparations before she welcomes more than a hundred guests to her home to celebrate her mother’s birthday. But her husband is of little help to her, her two grown children are consumed with their own concerns, and her mother—only her mother knows that today isn’t just a birthday party. It marks another anniversary as well.
Still, Nadine will focus just on tonight. Everyone deserves a celebration after the year they’ve had. A chance for fun. A chance to forget. But it’s hard to forget when Nadine’s head is swirling with secrets, haunting memories, and concerns about what might happen when her guests unite.
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality
This #1 National Bestseller is based on a viral article, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is the essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussion on generations of Indigenous Peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer. Since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes. Bob Joseph’s book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance – and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.
The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder
On January 28, 1742, a ramshackle vessel of patched-together wood and cloth washed up on the coast of Brazil. Inside were thirty emaciated men, barely alive, with an extraordinary tale to tell. They were survivors of His Majesty’s Ship the Wager, a British vessel that had left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. While the Wager had been chasing a Spanish treasure-filled galleon known as “the prize of all the oceans,” it had wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. After being marooned for months and facing starvation, the men built the flimsy craft and sailed for more than a hundred days, traversing 3,000 miles of storm-wracked seas. They were greeted as heroes.
But then … six months later, another, even more, decrepit craft landed on the coast of Chile. This boat contained just three castaways that told a very different story. The thirty sailors who landed in Brazil were not heroes but mutineers. The first group responded with countercharges of their own of a tyrannical and murderous senior officer and his henchmen. It became clear that the crew had fallen into anarchy while stranded on the island, with warring factions fighting for dominion over the barren wilderness. As accusations of treachery and murder flew, the Admiralty convened a court martial to determine who was telling the truth. The stakes were life-and-death—for whomever the court found guilty could hang.
The Wager is a grand tale of human behaviour at the extremes told by one of our greatest nonfiction writers. Grann’s recreation of the hidden world on a British warship rivals the work of Patrick O’Brian, his portrayal of the castaways’ desperate straits stands up to the classics of survival writing such as The Endurance, and his account of the court martial has the savvy of a Scott Turow thriller. As always with Grann’s work, the incredible twists of the narrative hold the reader spellbound.
Wokeness: A Brief History of Wokeness, Woke Culture, and Staying Woke
Author: University Press
Amazon: Purchase here
In 2018, Peter Boghossian, a professor of philosophy at Portland State University, set about proving there was something wrong with academia. He and two other authors wrote and tried to publish twenty fake papers in various peer-reviewed journals. One paper criticized “imperialist astronomy,” suggesting that physics departments should study interpretive dance. Another paper discussed “queer performativity” in urban dog parks — a paper on rap culture among dogs that included nonsensical phrases like “because of my own situatedness as a human, rather than as a dog.”
Seven of the twenty fake papers were duly published before Peter Boghossian, and his co-authors exposed them as fake. In 2021, Boghossian, a renowned atheist and champion of critical thinking and moral reasoning, resigned from the university, stating that the university had been changed from “a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood, and whose only outputs were grievance and division.”
But the question remained: How could seven fake papers get published in peer-reviewed journals? Had the journals been blinded by wokeness? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, wokeness is a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality. Nothing too controversial about that. So how did wokeness become so controversial?
This short book provides the fair, balanced, captivating history of wokeness that will help you better understand today’s dynamic marketplace of ideas – a history that you can read in about an hour.
The 1867 Project: Why Canada Should Be Cherished—Not Cancelled
Author: Mark Milke
Amazon: Purchase here
The 1867 Project is a thought-provoking book that seeks to reassess and reevaluate Canada’s history and its impact on Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, and marginalized groups. The book offers an alternative perspective to the dominant narrative surrounding Canada’s founding and examines the country’s historical development through a critical lens. One of the book’s primary strengths is its dedication to challenging the conventional understanding of Canadian history. By exploring the country’s foundation and subsequent evolution, The 1867 Project reveals the hidden narratives and voices often marginalized or overlooked in mainstream historical accounts. This inclusive approach sheds light on the experiences of Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, and other historically marginalized groups, offering a more comprehensive understanding of the Canadian past. By foregrounding the impact of colonialism, the authors bring attention to the ongoing challenges Indigenous peoples face in Canada. They also confront the persistent systemic inequalities that affect marginalized communities, calling for a more inclusive and equitable future. This aspect of the book contributes to broader discussions on social justice and the pursuit of a more just society. However, it also exhibits weaknesses in terms of oversimplification, limited representation of diverse perspectives, and a lack of clarity in recommending actionable steps. While the authors strive to highlight the experiences of Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities, the inclusion of additional voices could have further enriched the narrative. Expanding the range of perspectives would have provided a more comprehensive analysis and a stronger foundation for understanding Canada’s complex history. Despite these limitations, The 1867 Project contributes to a vital conversation about Canada’s past, present, and future, encouraging readers to critically examine the country’s history and work towards a more just society. It is, without a doubt, an important contribution to advancing the discussion about the important events of the past that have contributed to the rich tapestry that makes Canada what it is today.