Recently I have been exchanging ideas for Top 10 books with friends and family members, including fellow Sun columnist Zack Gross. Zack had his list last summer; now here’s my list.
These books from the past few years have led me to a better understanding of the world. Perhaps some of these books — or these themes — will pique your interest for some deep winter reading.
• "Civilization: The West and the Rest" by Niall Ferguson (2011). This is an interesting time to read about why the West (Europe and later the United States) has dominated the world over the past 500 years, because that dominance is now melting away right before our eyes. Ferguson concludes by asking: will the U.S. gently retire or come crashing down?
• "After America: Get Ready for Armageddon" by Mark Steyn (2011). Steyn entertains as he answers the above question with his prediction that the U.S. is headed for a big crash. The author, a ferocious right-winger, is a Canadian who has moved to the U.S. (I reviewed this book last year.)
• "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright (2009). With religion becoming increasingly important in the world, here is a survey of the history of religion. Wright is in favour of religion and optimistic about its future role. Because, he says, as we progress and become more morally inclusive, "God tends to eventually catch up."
• "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" by Richard Dawkins (2009). Here is the counterpoint to religion and a wonderful description of current science. Dawkins is a prominent scientist and atheist. He explains why evolution is both so central to modern science and also a challenge to traditional religion. (Reviewed in 2011.)
• "The End of Growth" by Jeff Rubin (2012). Here is a perspective of our current economic crisis from a former CIBC economist. Our economy is in for a big change, he says, because we have arrived at "peak oil." (I plan to review this book soon.)
• "What’s the Economy for, Anyway?: Why It’s Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness" by John de Graaf and David Batker (2011). This makes the case for an environmentally sustainable economy and has many concrete suggestions of how to get there. From a left-wing perspective, it is a great combination of history, economics and linking of big ideas to everyday life.
• "The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich" by Timothy Ferriss (2009). Here is a personal favourite and definite "oddball" choice for this list! This book is a fascinating take on the new global economy. It also has lots of ideas for anyone on work and life, even if they don’t escape the rat race and cut their workweek to just four hours.
• "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains" by Nicholas Carr (2011). Carr says we are in the midst of a media revolution on the scale of the adoption of the printing press in the 1400s. A cogent argument for the need for more reading and for book lists such as this one! (Reviewed last year.)
• "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating" by Mark Bittman (2009). A look at how we can eat food that is better for us and the planet. A bonus: by reducing our carbon footprint, we can also reduce our own food costs. Includes 75 recipes, which he has expanded into a companion cookbook with 500 recipes.
• "Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2010). This book is a personal look at many of the major social, economic, political and religious themes affecting our world. (Reviewed in 2010.)
Of course, a list like this will never be the last word. Some of these books here are already in need of revising or replacing; I look forward to updates.
Even in the Internet age, book publishing seems to be flourishing. I anticipate learning about new books from media reviews and personal recommendations. And I hope to discover books by serendipity when browsing online and in book stores (both new and used), the Rotary Club book sale and the Brandon Public Library.
To end on a fun note, Hirsi Ali, author of the last book on the list, recently married and had a baby with Niall Ferguson, author of the first book on the list. That kid is going to grow up as one heck of an informed global citizen!
» David McConkey is an active citizen. Contact him and read previous columns at davidmcconkey.com