When I decided to move to Canada, I did what I always do: took out a stack of books from the library.
This didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. The US and Canada share more than a border. They have a lot of common history, long after they both split from the motherland. This made for some really dull reading, since I wanted to learn what makes Canada Canada.
More subject specific books were also a dud. They were geared towards real history buffs and focused on a lot of military history. There were too many pages dedicated to minutiae about military uniforms and whatnot.
I did some more digging and called in some experts. These are my top books for understanding Canada, so far.
A Little History of Canada
If you want a nice overview of Canadian history, from the very beginning, this is where you should start. Sure, there’s quite a bit of this we already know, but the book is compact enough that it feels like a quick refresher and quickly moves on to new territory.
Do you remember learning about the War of 1812? I knew that it happened, sure, and the burning down the Whitehouse business and not much more. Taylor’s book tells a fascinating story that upends the ideas our history textbooks give us about how the current state of the border being inevitable.
I did learn about the Hudsons Bay Company in school, but little of it stuck with me. Merchant Kings tells the full story about how very real (complicated, flawed) people accidentally built a nation in their quest for riches.
When I was reading Cod I subjected everyone I encountered to fun facts from the book. Instead of ghosting me, they picked up their own copies. Like Merchant Kings, Kurlansky’s book covers quite a bit of world history, but it explains a lot about the Maritimes in the process.
The differences between the US and Canada aren’t obvious at first glance, but the more time I spend in Canada, the more American I feel. Lipset untangles their origins in this exhaustively researched book.
A History of Canada in Ten Maps
A History of Canada in Ten Maps was fantastically helpful for filling in the gaps in my knowledge of Canadian history. Each map is paired with a compelling narrative about the exploration that led to its production. It really makes Amtrak or Greyhound seem comfortable in comparison.
Okay, so you want something a little lighter. Fair enough. Timbit Nation is not as funny as intended, but it’s still an interesting and easy read. Maybe I just liked it because I, too, like the idea of taking a highway from one end of the country to the other.
Ferguson brings us another road trip story. He’s not doing it all in one shot, though, nor is he hitchhiking. He’s using just about every other mode of transport, though. It left me ready to go find some polar bears.
Thanks to Molly Worthen for her suggestions!
What books am I missing? Add your favorite books on Canadian history and culture in the comments and I’ll pick up a copy.