New — See a reading list for students of American history and politics.
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.
"Open Secret" by Erin Arvedlund, © 2014, ISBN 978-1-59184-668-0, pp 290; sub-titled "The Global Banking Conspiracy that Swindled Investors out of Billions". Concisely and convincingly written, with biographical treatments of several of the key players in this international gang of greedy thieves, the book describes how some employees of the major banks succeeded in playing the system to their personal and employers' advantage, starting with the now-infamous LIBOR (London Inter-Bank Offered Rate), over a period of several decades. All with the tacit approval of their employers. Some banks paid fines (piddling compared to their profits), a few employees and executives lost their jobs, even fewer still actually went to jail in spite of undeniable evidence of their guilt. And yet the banks expect us to trust them. (May 2018)
"Fire and Fury"
"Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolfe, © 2018, ISBN 9781250158062, pp 321; sub-titled "Inside the Trump White House". Very well and engagingly written. But beware, anyone who feels strongly about the basic principles of democracy, good government, and decency. You will be offended by almost every page of this book as the author delivers example after example of the narcissism, the ego, the unapologetic ignorance, the repeated lying driven by mere convenience and expediency, the total lack of appreciation for history, the continually chaotic thought process, and the total lack of any coherent or guiding principle in the making of decisions. Fire and fury, indeed. What mindless desperation, what totally illogical ideology brought Donald Trump to be chosen, first as a candidate for president, then as President of the United States? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that all of this is the result of the inherent shallowness of social media and the thoroughly mistaken belief by some that "opinions are more important than facts". An excellent book! With brief acknowledgements and an index. (April 2018)
"How UFOs Conquered the World"
"How UFOs Conquered the World" by David Clarke, © 2015, ISBN 978 1 78131 303 9, pp 312; sub-titled "The History of a Modern Myth". The sub-title says it all. "UFOs" are a myth, propagated by the news media, fed and re-enforced by people who want to believe, against all evidence to the contrary and in spite of the basics of rational, critical thought. Author Clarke was a young boy who wanted to believe and who did. Only later in life, as a journalist whose role in life is to ask questions and to critically consider the answers, did he find the answer to the UFO question. As a journalist, Clarke is ideally positioned to examine the spread and multiplying effect of anecdotal "evidence", mis-interpreted observations, and wishful thinking. A fascinating history of the UFO phenomenon and many of its sociological implications. Occam's Razor figures large here. A Must Read for any science fiction fan or student of mass psychology. With notes and references, bibliography, and index. (February 2018)
"Against All Enemies"
"Against All Enemies" by Richard A. Clarke, © 2004, ISBN 0-7432-6024-4, pp 305; sub-titled "Inside America's War on Terror". Written by the American government's first National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism, this is an insightful and disturbing look at how the War on Terror was conducted, mainly by the George W. Bush administration. The style is first-person, lively and immediate, and gives the reader the real flavour of events and reactions during that period. A key chapter is chapter 11, "Right war, wrong war". While the author seems to recognize that U.S. troubles with Islamic terrorism began with Iran, nowhere does he acknowledge that the U.S. was instrumental in the engineered coup which deposed Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically-elected, reform-minded leader of Iran in 1953, replacing him with the autocratic and much-despised Shah of Iran. So much for democracy. With index. (February 2018)
"Through a Canadian Periscope"
"Through a Canadian Periscope" by Julie H. Ferguson, © 2014, ISBN 978-1-4597-1055-9 (pbk), pp 419. Sub-titled "The story of the Canadian Submarine Service". This is the inspiring but unfulfilled history of the Canadian navy's submarine service, from its beginnings in 1914 up to 2013, with details of military operations and all the political machinations that bounded the service's capabilities. Reading of the bravery and professionalism of the service's members made me want to join up! The author is a naval reserve officer and has published several articles and books on related subjects. The book is well-researched with photos, diagrams, appendices, source interviews, bibliography, and index. (November 2017)
"Don't Tell The Newfoundlanders"
"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"
"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)"
"Unaccountable" 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)"
"Everyone is Afriacn" 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"
"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"
"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"
"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"
"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"
"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)