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Some Books Worth Reading

Below is a list of the books I have read over the recent years and enjoyed more than most, and that I would recommend to almost anyone as being worthwhile for them to read as well.  Books that I gave up on and did not finish are not listed here, so as not to waste your time.  These descriptions are my own, with apologies to the authors if I have failed to capture the essence of their work.

Don't Tell The Newfoundlanders

by Greg Malone, © 2012, ISBN 978-0-307-40133-5, pp 314.  Subtitled "The true story of Newfoundland's confederation with Canada".  A very readable but well-researched exposé of the deceitful, duplicitous and entirely undemocratic project carried out by the British government from 1933 to 1948, with the cooperation of the Canadian government, to bring Newfoundland into confederation with Canada without the formal approval of the people of Newfoundland.  The penultimate act by the British was the rigged referendum in 1948 and the burning of the ballots shortly afterward.  Based in part on extensive notes collected by James Halley, prominent Newfoundland lawyer, and confirmed by official documents declassified and released in London and Ottawa beginning in the 1980s, author Malone "finally lays the whole sordid story bare" (in the words of Gwynne Dyer).  Newfoundlanders are generally aware of this story but until Malone's book was published they had no actual proof of how their aspirations for self-determination were repeatedly suppressed by the British government.  Probably they would have eventually joined Canada anyway, but they were allowed no choice in the matter.  With maps, appendices, source notes, bibliography, and index.  (July 2017)

"The War on Science"

by Shawn Otto, ©2016, ISBN 9781571313539, pp 514.  Subtitled "Who's waging it, why it matters, what we can do about it", this book is a study of the origins, history, philosophy, methodology, and aims of the anti-science movement in the United States of America and elsewhere.  Written by someone who clearly understands the scientific method and the necessary role of science in the enlightenment of civilization, the book is an indictment of today's education systems, sloppy journalism, religious extremism, and uninformed politicians and bureaucrats.  Otto's book is especially important for his discussion of today's trend toward accepting opinion as being just as important, or moreso, as actual knowledge ('relativism').  This book goes beyond two previous books, "Censoring Science" by Mark Bowen (2008) and "The Republican War on Science" by Chris Mooney (2005), with its own more extensive coverage and ends with a 14-point action plan for countering the destructive and un-civilizing anti-science movement.  Highly recommended!  With extensive source notes and index,  (May 2017)

"Unaccountable (Truth and Lies on Parliament Hill)"

by Kevin Page, ©2015, ISBN 978-0-670-06816-6, pp 216.  The highly readable yet alarming story of Kevin Page's five years as the new Parliamentary Budget Officer and the relationship between him and his Office and the government of Stephen Harper, various members of Parliament and the Senate during that time, the news media, and Canadian citizens.  Page's broad experience in financial analysis and budgetary work, and his dedication to the principles of an informed democracy, make this book required reading for anyone concerned about Canadian politics and democratic reform.  Page was a brave and principled PBO and his successes were obvious to anyone who placed truth and honesty above ideology.  There are many lessons here for the current government.  With a good index.  (December 2016)

"Everyone Is African (How Science Explodes the Myth of Race)

by Daniel J. Fairbanks, ©2015, ISBN 978-1-63388-018-4, pp 191.  A very readable account of how modern science now shows that each of us is such a mix of different peoples from different places that the old idea of "race" is no longer either useful or valid.  After the beginnings of our species in eastern Africa, we migrated outward to other parts of the world, all the while mixing along the way.  Any local differences that developed quickly became mixed through interbreeding and spread along our routes of migration.  Today, the results of widespread DNA testing and the study of population genetics demonstrate that our few visible distinguishing features, such as skin colour or shape of nose, are insignificant among the very many genetic differences that we all carry, evidence of our individual genetic diversity.  "We are all mongrels", one anthropologist is quoted as saying.  Our ordinary perceptions of race are simplistic and invalid.  The book is an enlightening exposition for new citizens of the world.  With source notes, bibliography, and index.  (September 2016)

"Command and Control"

by Eric Schlosser, ©2013, ISBN 978-0-14-312578-5, pp 632.  This Pulitzer Prize finalist has put together a very well-researched exposé of the history, politics, and weaknesses of the deployment of nuclear weapons by the U.S. government during the Cold War and since.  His engaging narrative is interspersed with a gripping, minute-by-minute recounting of the disastrous accident at a Titan missile site near Damascus, Arkansas, in 1980, and its effect on the lives of the people involved.  This incident was just one example of the many mishaps and mistakes that accompanied the deployment and maintenance of nuclear weapons under the philosophy of mutually-assured destruction (MAD) that somehow kept the Cold War cold.  That MAD worked is obvious, but the cost to society was high.  With extensive notes, bibliography, and index.  (April 2016)

"The Deceivers"

by Thaddeus Holt, ©2004, ISBN 0 297 84804 6.  A well-researched and scholarly history of Allied military deception in World War II, written from an insider's view with names of all the personalities involved.  Although few technical details are revealed, the reader quickly appreciates the complexity and artfulness of successfull military deception using planted information, made-up radio transmissions, dummy equipment, phoney shoulder patches, phantom army groups, double agents, and feint activities, to name just a few tools.  One of the keys to Allied success was the use of the ULTRA and PURPLE intelligence sources to tell what the Germans and Japanese were actually thinking.  Deception measures could then be used to lead their thinking and plans in the desired direction.  In 1148 pages with appendices of all the operational covernames used and the names of notional military formations, maps, a few photographs, bibliography, extensive references, and index.  (August 2008)

"Rough Crossings"

by Simon Schama, ©2005, ISBN-10: 0-670-04470-9.  A well-researched and well-presented history of slavery and the American Revolution and the role played by Britain.  Although Schama doesn't come right out and say it, a reader could be forgiven for concluding that the American Revolution wasn't about taxes and representation at all, but about the preservation of slavery and the lucrative slave trade.  The narrative includes the personal stories of a number of slaves of uncommon courage and moral strength.  The gory details of many of the events described make the book in places difficult to read, made easier only by Schama's engaging style.  With notes and references, further reading, and index.  (July 2008)

"Stealing Jesus"

by Bruce Bawer, ©1997, ISBN 0-609-80222-4.  Subtitled "How fundamentalism betrays Christianity".  A broad discussion about how the fundamentalist Christian churches ("legalistic" churches, in the author's terminology) are distorting and misrepresenting the teachings of Jesus and the true basis of Christianity, by (among other things) substituting hierarchy, power, heartless judgement, and meaningless doctrine for love, mercy, justice, and good faith.  Bawer spares no one, naming churches and their leaders and quoting extensive examples of their misteaching.  With bibliography and index.  (December 2007)

"The Mitrokhin Archive II"

by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, ©2005, ISBN-13: 978-0-140-28488-1, ISBN-10: 0-140-28488-5.  Subtitled "The KGB and the World", this book continues the revelations of the first volume, this time concentrating on Latin America, the Middle East, Asia (especially India), and Africa.  There is little discussion of KGB tradecraft, although their general methods are made quite obvious, and most of the discussions are about KGB subversion, disinformation, and general meddling in support of Soviet political and economic goals.  Their failures, especially those in the various puppet and supported regimes, are discussed as well.  International personalities are often identified by both their real names and their KGB-assigned covernames.  Mitrokhin's archive of copied KGB documents was evidently voluminous.  For anyone who followed international politics during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, this book helps to explain many of the difficult intrigues of that period.  With appendices, extensive notes, impressive bibliography (besides Mitrokhin's famous archive), and index.  (February 2007)

"The Republican War on Science"

by Chris Mooney, ©2005.  ISBN-13: 978-0-7394-6972-9.  This is an important book, a well-argued and well-documented exposé of the many ways in which the right wing of the U.S. Republican Party distorts, misinterprets, misrepresents, suppresses, and politicizes science to support their own narrow ideology.  This abuse of scientific concensus began in the 1970s and has so far reached a peak in the administration under George W. Bush, leading to "wrongheaded and even disastrous" decisions in a number of fields, including climate change, stem-cell research, abortion, breast cancer, and endangered species.  The result is a weakening of scientific progress in the U.S., a 'dumbing down' of the American public's understanding of the scientific method, and a distortion of the goals and validity of science in general.  Current Republican policies will have a lasting detrimental effect on the health of science in the United States for years to come.  With index and extensive notes.  (December 2006)

"The End of Oil"

by Paul Roberts, ©2004.  ISBN 0-618-56211-7.  This is an important book.  A well-researched, balanced, and almost scholarly yet blunt study of the geological and political reasons why and how we are running out of oil, and what we can expect at the end of it all.  After you have read "It's the Crude, Dude" by Linda McQuaig (see below), you should read this book.  My only complaint is that he includes not one map, graph, chart, diagram, or table to help us visualize the considerable amount of information presented.  With new Afterword (2005), extensive notes, bibliography and index.  (August 2006)

"A Brief History of the Cold War"

by Colonel John Hughes-Wilson, ©2006, ISBN 10: 1-84529-258-8.  Sub-title "The hidden truth about how close we came to nuclear conflict".  Well-researched and well-told, this book is full of insightful explanation, anecdotes and background to the tense events that some of us lived through and remember so well.  I recommend this book highly, especially to anyone who isn't old enough to have gone to sleep at night worrying about The Bomb.  It was real, too real, and Hughes-Wilson's necessarily brief telling of the history of the many important and crucial events of the post-WWII years is an excellent summary and reference to that formative era.  With maps, glossary, appendix, notes, and index.  (July 2006)

"The Devil and the Disappearing Sea"

by Rob Ferguson, ©2003, ISBN I-55192-599-0.  The sad story of one of the doomed efforts to save the shrinking, polluted Aral Sea in Central Asia, despite the good efforts and committed backing of the World Bank and many selfless experts and supporters.  Frustrated and sabotaged by the culturally institutionalized corruption of many bureaucrats in the area, these efforts are in vain and the Aral Sea, "once the world's 4th largest inland body of water", will probably be gone by 2020.  A fascinating story, written by someone who tried to help.  The author is Canadian, the tragedy is international.  With maps and a short bibliography. (June 2006)

"The Voynich Manuscript"

by Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill, ©2004, ISBN 0 75285 996X.  This book is a very readable summary of the known and supposed history of an intriguing and mysterious manuscript which has baffled historians, cryptologists and literary experts since at least 1912.  The manuscript's unique and undecipherable script and many "almost familiar" drawings have puzzled all who studied them.  With source notes, bibliography and index.  My thanks to Don Clark (NSG) of Washington, DC, for introducing me to the Voynich Manuscript in the mid-1970s.  (June 2006)

"It's The Crude, Dude"

by Linda McQuaig, ©2005, ISBN 0-385-66011-1.  Revised and updated, this is an important book and everyone should read it.  Sub-titled "War, Big Oil, and the fight for the planet".  Well-researched and wide ranging, it is a history of Big Oil and their exploitation of oil and its users (that's you and me).  Read it and weep because there is not a damned thing we can do about it (the U.S. government is on their side).  With source notes and index.  (December 2005).

"Starfarers"

by Poul Anderson, ©1998, ISBN 0-812-54599-0.  Hard sci fi by a classic author, the story of the farthest interstellar voyage ever attempted by mankind, full of searching, excitement, discovery, drama, good extrapolations based on solid science, real characters, and human nature.  It doesn't get any better than this.  Obviously I should be reading more of Anderson's work.  (October 2005).

"A Brief History of the Crusades"

by Geoffrey Hindley, ©2003, ISBN 1-84119-766-1.  Subtitled "Islam and Christianity in the struggle for world supremacy", this book is about the failure of the Christian church and its followers to regain Jerusalem during the Middle Ages due mainly to their fragmented efforts and internal, convoluted conflicts (byzantine is a good adjective).  Brief mention is made of the many pre-Crusade attacks (7th and 8th century) by the Islamic world upon the Christian world.  While we have forgiven them, they have never forgiven us.  With 3 maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index.  (October 2005).

"Colossus"

by Niall Ferguson, ©2004, ISBN 0 14 30.3479 0.  Subtitled "The rise and fall of the American Empire".  From the occupation of American Indian lands to the war in Iraq, this is a provocative history of the political, economic and cultural impact on the world of the United States as an "empire in denial".  Well-researched and well-written, this book changed the way I think about American foreign policy.  With index, some tables and graphs, extensive notes and bibliography.  (October 2005).

"Radio Wizard"

by Ian A. Anthony, ©2000, ISBN 7715-8050-9.  Subtitled "Edward Samuel Rogers and the Revolution of Communications", this commissioned biography of Ted Rogers, Sr. (1901-1939) is a very readable non-technical description of his technical and entrepreneurial achievements during the early years of broadcasting in Canada.  Without Ted Rogers (Amateur Radio 3BP) and his many business initiatives and electronic innovations, despite his short life, Canada would have been just another backwater for American broadcasting giants.  The inclusion of more technical detail in this fascinating story would have been appreciated.  With index, bibliography, and a good selection of photographs.  (August 2005).

"The Beginning of the Long Dash"

by Malcolm M. Thomson, © 1978, ISBN 0-8020-5383-1.  Listeners to C.B.C. radio in Canada will recognize the title as taken from the announcement for the daily 1 p.m. time signal from the National Research Council.  This book is a "history of timekeeping in Canada", the astronomy, the physics, the electronics, the economics and the politics, and some of the social and industrial effects of the advancing science of precision time and its dissemination.  Many famous people in Canadian science appear in this story, a very few of whom I had the great pleasure of meeting personally.  A well-told history.  (August 2005).

"To Say Nothing of the Dog"

by Connie Willis, ©1998, ISBN 0-533-57538-4.  My two favourite kinds of fiction, science and satire, in one book.  A satirical look at human nature in Victorian England (1888) with a science fiction basis (time travel), wrapped around an engaging mystery story.  Funny and charming, and very intriguing.  Watch out for Lady Shrapnell!  (August 2005).

"Doomsday Book"

by Connie Willis, ©1992, ISBN 0-553-56273-8.  Wow!  A historical novel set in England at some time in the future and in the past, during the Black Death, with a science fiction premise (time travel) and a page-turning plot that is funny (bloody beaurocrats!), sad (so many died), and inspirational (with saintly social and religious devotion).  Did I say page-turning?  It's a historical delight!  Another book I should have read years ago.  By the way, practical time travel is the dream of every genealogist and family historian (myself included).  (July 2005).

"Secret Weapons of World War II"

by William B. Breuer, ©2000, ISBN-13: 978-0-7858-1952-3, ISBN-10: 0-7858-1952-5.  A well-researched collection of anecdotes illustrating the triumphs and failures of intelligence, counter-intelligence, cryptology, and scientific research and developments that contributed to the outcome of the Second World War.  Most of the stories are British but a number of American and German stories are included.  SOE, OSS, and R. V. Jones and his "boffins" feature prominently in many of the stories.  Easy to read and relatively non-technical with many illustrations.  Bibliography and index.  (June 2005).

"Spin State"

by Chris Moriarty, ©2003, ISBN 0-553-58624-6.  Part murder-mystery, part hard sci-fi, this intense novel takes place in a future where technology is sufficiently advanced as to seem almost magical.  Most people have bionic add-ons and enhancements, quantum mechanics has been mastered, and super-computers are everywhere, but human affairs are still driven by greed and the lust for power.  A fast-paced twisty and turny read!  (June 2005)

"Omega"

by Jack McDevitt, © 2003, ISBN 0-441-01210-8.  Hard sci-fi; another fast-paced and satisfying story about the mysteries of alien technology, the problems of making first-contact with an alien species, and the human need to take care of those less fortunate.  McDevitt does it again!  (June 2005).

"Digital Fortress"

by Dan Brown, © 1998, ISBN 0-312-99542-3.  What to say about this book?  A fast-paced, action-packed mystery with lots of twists and turns in the plot to keep you interested.  But it is flawed.  For example : Brown's definition of public-key cryptography (p 21) is about any other kind of cryptography, not public-key!  His portrayal of the National Security Agency (NSA) is unrealistic and he would have benefitted from reading any of James Bamford's books on the subject.  The German Enigma machines were not "twelve-ton beasts" (p 403).  The Top Secret Umbra classification is not the USA's "highest level of security" (p 177).  Just a few.  But it is a good story.  (May 2005)

"Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code"

by Bart D. Ehrman, © 2004, ISBN 0-19-518140-9.  Though somewhat repetitious in style, this is an interesting accounting by an established historian of what is known, and is not, about the early Christians.  I have not read "The Da Vinci Code" but perhaps now I will, suitably forewarned.  (April 2005)

"A Short History of Progress"

by Ronald Wright, from the CBC Massey Lecture Series, ©2004, ISBN 0-88784-706-4.  A thoughtful and thought-provoking look at the mistakes of past civilizations and some of the lessons that we evidently have not learned.  With index and extensive footnotes and bibliography.  (March 2005)

"The Skeptic's Dictionary"

by Robert Todd Carroll, ©2003, ISBN 0-471-27242-6.  A well-researched and well-written "collection of strange beliefs, amusing deceptions and dangerous delusions", with index and an extensive bibliography.  (March 2005)

"Absolute Friends"

by John Le Carré, ©2003, ISBN 0-14-301694-1.  Novel about a reluctant spy, excellent!  (Who would expect less fhttp://reviewcanada.ca/rom Le Carré?)  (Feb 2005)

"Infinity Beach"

by Jack McDevitt, ©2000, ISBN 0-06-102005-2.  Hard sci-fi; fast-paced story of humankind's disastrous first contact with an alien species, but it doesn't end there.  A real page-turner.  (Feb 2005)

"Rushing to Armageddon"

by Mel Hurtig, ©2004, ISBN 0-7710-4162-4.  "The shocking truth about Canada, missile defence and Star Wars", and he isn't kidding either.  One wonders how our politicians can be so naive and illogical.  (Jan 2005)

"The Border"

by James Laxer, ©2003, ISBN 0-385-65982-2.  Very interesting history and portrait of the Canada-U.S. border, entertaining too!  (Jan 2005)

"The Haj"

by Leon Uris, ©1984, ISBN 0-385-3459-8.  Historical novel exploring the social and psychological roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  I wonder why I didn't read this years ago?  (Jan 2005)

"Hybrids"

by Robert J. Sawyer, ©2003, ISBN 0-765-34906-X.  Hard sci-fi and third in his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy.  All of Sawyer's stuff is good.  (Fall 2004)

"The Secret Wireless War"

by Geoffrey Pidgeon, ©2003, ISBN 1-84375-252-2.  Anecdotes and reminiscences, many by the actual players, on the role of radio in some British intelligence and counter-intelligence operations during World War II.  Somewhat technical but not technical enough (IMHO).  Fun to read. (Fall 2004)

"The Music of the Primes"

by Marcus du Sautoy, ©2003, ISBN 0-06-093558-8.  Entertaining and engaging non-mathematical history of the search for the cause of prime numbers and an explanation of their importance.  (Fall 2004)

"Evolution"

by Stephen Baxter, ©2003, ISBN 0-345-45783-8.  Hard sci-fi; a slow-moving but entertaining exploration of the course of evolution of life on earth, in both past and future.  (Summer 2004)

"Krakatoa"

by Simon Winchester, ©2003, ISBN 0-06-621285-5.  An engaging natural history of the volcano that blew its top in 1888 and a good though unintended introduction to the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster of 2004.  (Summer 2004)

"Crypto"

by Steven Levy, ©2001, ISBN 0-14-02.4432-8.  "How the code rebels beat the government -- saving privacy in the digital age".  And how! in this rollicking tale of the origins, development and triumph of public key cryptography.  A well-researched, well-told true story.  (Summer 2004)


So there, if you be so inclined.