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holiday 2012

Detail from the cover of “Nation Maker”

A busy book lover's holiday fantasy goes something like this: plump armchair, crackling fire, quiet house, tumbler of some fragrant amber liquid at hand. On one side, a basset snoring on the rug. On the other, a thick stack of coveted books, with – at long last – some time to enjoy them.

"It wasn't that long ago that if you were facing a long cross-Canada flight, you could at least spend the tedious hours with a good book," says David Mitchell, president of Canada's Public Policy Forum.

Nowadays, Mitchell, like many frequent fliers, uses his full travel schedule to keep up with work demands.

"Technology allows us to be constantly productive," Mitchell says. "The downside is that we have less time to read for pleasure. For me, the holidays are when I can finally take a breath and catch up on some of the great titles I've wanted to read all year."

The Forum, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has asked some prominent Canadians from the political, corporate, non-profit and academic spheres what they plan to read over the becalmed weeks ahead. Here are a few of the books our leaders have on their lists this year:

Ken Lewenza, national president, Canadian Auto Workers

I am reading the Paul Krugman's End This Depression Now! to better understand alternatives to improving the economy versus the existing slash-and-burn mentality by multiple governments globally. I am also reading Howard Pawley's autobiography Keep True: A Life in Politics to get an idea of how he managed the economy as an NDP premier, and ultimately I want to know how the labour-relations climate was, in his defence of unions, in establishing the middle class. And I have just completed The Trouble with Billionaires, by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, and it reinforced, for me, how the 1 per cent does so well on the backs of the 99 per cent.

John Risley, president, Clearwater Seafoods

David Stahel's Kiev, 1941: Hitler's Battle for Supremacy in the East: Business success is virtually always about strategy. The right strategy is almost a prerequisite to success. You can fix execution, but it's almost impossible to fix a bad strategy. Kiev, 1941 is a story about a bad strategy well executed. Hitler was blinded by his early success in the Russian campaign, not understanding the outcome was destined to be failure because the strategy was fatally flawed. Huge lessons for business here. Don't mistake this as a book about war. It's not. Also: Grace Goulder Izant's John D. Rockefeller: The Cleveland Years

The Hon. Alison Redford, premier of Alberta

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, because it was my favourite book when I was 10 and now it is my 10-year-old daughter's favourite. Pursuing China: Memoir of a Beaver Liaison Officer, by Brian Evans, because the author is a great Canadian from Alberta who tells his life story, which includes the early days of China and Alberta's relations in the 1970s, and because this relationship matters so much to us again more than 30 years later. And finally, The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, because it's an interesting description of the institution of political office, regardless of partisanship.

The Hon. Eva Aariak, premier of Nunavut

George Lakoff's The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain

The Right Hon. Paul Martin, former prime minister

I will be rereading three books which I read in draft form in order to review or otherwise comment on them. I will be rereading them in their final forms: Chrystia Freeland's Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else; Amanda Lang's The Power of Why: Simple Questions That Lead to Success; and Showdown at Border Town: An Early Adventure of Paul Martin, by Caroline Woodward.

David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor, University of Manitoba

I'm looking forward to reading Law and Literature, by Richard A. Posner, to stimulate my thinking about how different kinds of texts are understood, and how interpreting literary and sacred texts can throw light on interpreting the law. Other books that I hope to get to have been recommended by friends whose reading tastes I share: Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman and Champlain's Dream, by David Hackett Fischer.

Daniel Caron, Librarian and Archivist of Canada

This year's choices were made to cover a better understanding of how society is evolving as a system (Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman's Networked: The New Social Operating System) and how we cope with its challenging environments as human beings (Ralph Heintzman's Rediscovering Reverence: The Meaning of Faith in a Secular World). There are also lessons learned from a flagship of Canadian co-operatism with regard to building organizational memory both for historical purposes and business requirements (Martine Cardin's Archivistique: information, organisation, mémoire–l'exemple du mouvement coopératif Desjardins, 1900-1990 ).

Brenda Kenny, president and CEO, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association

Kim Thuy's Ru; Linda Spalding's The Purchase; Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion; Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail But Some Don't

Lorraine Mitchelmore, president and country chair, Shell Canada

Richard Gwyn's John A.: The Man Who Made Us, and Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald

Karen Barnes, president, Yukon College

Clayton Christenson and Henry J. Eyrin's The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out: This book has been recommended to me because it provides a very readable overview of how institutions of higher learning are undergoing significant change – changes coming from both within as the baby boom faculty moves on and the new generation comes in. But also pressures from a world that is plugged in globally and where the insatiable appetite for information never stops.

Ilse Treurnicht, CEO, MaRS Discovery District

Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking and Brad Feld's Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City

Marcel Lauzière, president and CEO, Imagine Canada

Jonathan Haidt: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

John Manley, president and CEO, Canadian Council of Chief Executives

Jeffrey Simpson: Chronic Condition: Why Canada's Health Care System Needs to be Dragged Into the 21st Century; Amanda Lang: The Power of Why: Simple Questions That Lead to Success; Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty; Erik Larson: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin