A History of Canada in Ten Maps
It’s a challenge to find books on the history of Canada that are engaging for those of us who were awake for history classes in high school and college. 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.
Textbooks and history classes so often make the eventual outcome seem inevitable, even pre-ordained. Taylor’s book tells the story of a war most of us Americans have barely thought about and reveals the myriad possible futures of a very different Great Britain, Canada, and United States.
We hear a lot about American values and traditions, usually in political speeches and ‘kids these days’ complaints. In The Way We Never Were Stephanie Coontz burns these to the ground and shows us what Americans were really like.
I picked up this book with a reasonable background on the history of slavery in America, but there is a particular impact of understanding the details of how American capitalism was constructed to meet the needs of slaveholders. The Half Has Never Been Told left me with so many questions about the banal legal details of slavery in accounting and taxation. There’s something about reducing human suffering into spreadsheets and legalese that is particularly horrifying, which is exactly the point. American capitalism feels different from the market economy in other countries and it is this history — that it was built explicitly to enable wealthy white men to enslave and exploit — that makes it unique.
I’m generally a fan of Belt Publishing, since their focus on the ways the build environment impacts our lives and highlighting the midwest really resonates with me. I grew up thinking the suburbs were boring and all more or less the same, but Radical Suburbs reveals the utopian roots of the suburbs and I learned all about a suburban commune in New Brunswick, NJ that I — a history nerd from NJ who even lived in New Brunswick — had never heard about before.
E.B. White is known for his children’s books, but his columns about daily life in Maine caught my interest and I quickly made my way through all of his other books. In One Man’s Meat his observations feel like they could have been written this morning, except for when he references prices or politics and I’m suddenly reminded that he’s writing in the 1930s.
You probably know the GDP is a terrible measure of the wealth of a nation. What’s the Economy For, Anyway? goes way beyond mocking our politicians and CEOs for their GDP obsession and provides alternate frameworks for how we can use measurement (and the way that inevitably results in teaching to the test) to create an economy that works for people, not just corporations.
Understanding the world
This book never uses the word misogyny, but it is the best proof of its existence that I’ve encountered. Reading The Seeds of Life might turn you off medicine forever once you hear about the ways the men who created western medicine spent hundreds of years proving that women had nothing to do with childbirth. Some of the asides are gems that didn’t fit into the narrative but Dolnick couldn’t resist including — like the guy convicted of adultery with a pig and menstruating bats. Menstruating bats! They made me laugh out loud and haunt me still.
I read Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, then listened to the audio book, and then gave copies to several people. I’m not planning on writing a memoir.
Prior to reading this book, I thought that North America was colonized by the British. After reading Merchant Kings I understood that it was colonized by corporations. Everything else made a lot more sense after that.
This is a very long book and it’s packed with ideas that were new to me, as someone without formal economics training. Graeber’s writing is clear and accessible, but it still took me a while to get through it and I’m sure I’ll be re-reading it soon. I talked so much about Debt that I convinced several friends to read it and basically tricked them into becoming a book club.
The stories about economics that we learn in school — that before cash everyone had to barter and it was terribly inefficient, the tragedy of the commons, the self-regulation of pricing, that each dollar is the same as any other — didn’t grab my interest because they all seemed wrong. Graeber explains the real history behind these misunderstandings in the first book about economics I’ve read that bore any resemblance to my own experience with how money works.
Okay, so most people don’t get excited reading about tax systems. I understand. But if you’ve read books like Merchant Kings or The Half Has Never Been Told you understand how the tedium of bureaucracy has a huge impact on history and dictates our daily lives. A Fine Mess shows how taxation determines the options we have in our lives using examples from around the world and shows how changing the tax system is an overlooked tool in building the world we want to live in.
Also, you can’t figure out the differences between the tax codes in two countries without spending a lot of time thinking about how that shapes and is shaped by the differences in their cultures.
After reading this book I found myself working pigeons into practically every conversation and suggesting people read this book, which is surprisingly easy to do if you’re as good at steering conversations as I apparently am. Sorry, friends. But it’s a great book. Especially if you’ve found yourself wondering why so many pigeons have messed up feet or read that article about the pigeon pyramid scheme and can’t stop thinking about it.
Other books I enjoyed
Overdrive is my BFF.