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Canadian history

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A dark adventure story based in 17th-century North America

In the biography Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, author Mark Bourrie portrays Radisson as a tough survivalist, a brilliant linguist and a ruthless con man with an eye for the main chance. Bourrie uses the adventurer’s story to shed light on northern North America in the 1600s, leading the reader into an Otherworld as distant from contemporary Canada as any universe in science fiction.


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Remembering Canada’s black train porters

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An immigrant who came to Toronto from Barbados in the early days of Canada’s official foray into multiculturalism, Cecil Foster had the courage to examine the realities of race in this country long before it was commonplace to do so. His most recent work focuses on one of the many black Canadian stories that are suspiciously absent from most history books. It’s all there in the title – They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada.


/The Canadian Press

Six books to help you understand the Winnipeg General Strike

During the Winnipeg General Strike of May and June of 1919, more than 30,000 workers walked out to demand living wages, better working conditions and collective bargaining rights. On its centenary, it remains one of the greatest examples of collective action in Canadian history. Although the strikers’ demands ultimately weren’t met, the strike changed the political landscape.


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An entertainingly wry look at the 1919 disappearance of Ambrose Small

In 1919, 53-year-old Toronto theatre magnate and impresario Ambrose Small disappeared, days after selling his empire for $1.75-million. A full century later we’re still wondering what happened to him. Katie Daubs’s spirited new book The Missing Millionaire: The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed with Finding Him is less a lament for the unsolved mystery of a petty, philandering, Machiavellian middleman than it is a vivid social and physical portrait of rapidly evolving Toronto.


Library and Archives Canada

Why don’t we have the prime minister biographies we deserve?

Academics are not taking on the subject of Canadian prime ministerial biography and the country’s understanding of itself suffers as a result, writes J.D.M. Stewart. Consider: The only comprehensive, academic treatment of Robert Borden was two volumes by the late Robert Craig Brown, the second of which was published in 1980 – 39 years ago. It is also almost impossible to find. So, why are academics no longer writing about the country’s most important leaders?

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A merciless takedown of Mackenzie King’s response to Hitler and fascism

With Mackenzie King in the Age of the Dictators: Canada’s Imperial and Foreign Policies, former diplomat and high commissioner Roy MacLaren eschews biography to focus on the Canadian prime minister’s foreign-policy performance. He delivers an exhaustively detailed, tightly controlled, yet merciless takedown of Mackenzie King’s responses to both Benito Mussolini and Hitler.


Elena Viltovskaia/The Globe and Mail

Who is the real Justin Trudeau? Two books paint vastly different pictures

If you are interested in reading a book about how the Liberal government has fared since Justin Trudeau’s surprising victory in 2015, your own biases will probably dictate whether you choose Trudeau: the Education of a Prime Minister, by John Ivison, or Promise and Peril: Justin Trudeau in Power, by Aaron Wherry. Each offers an informed take on the Trudeau government, although from something close to polar opposite perspectives.


AP

Revisiting Newfoundland’s past, 70 years after the divisive decision to join Canada

After centuries of “nationhood,” on April 1, 1949, Newfoundland became a part of Canada, distinguished mainly by geographic isolation and economic desperation. Because most Newfoundlanders are indefatigable storytellers, the island narrative, which spans more than 500 years, has been well reported in folklore, academic scholarship and a wealth of literature. The recently published Where Once They Stood: Newfoundland’s Rocky Road Towards Confederation, by historians Melvin Baker and Raymond B. Blake, is an important and insightful contribution to Canada’s evolving story, as it helps expand understanding of the relationship between Newfoundland and Canada.


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An historical assessment of an effectual premier

In Back to Blakeney: Revitalizing the Democratic State – a series of essays on the late New Democrat premier of Saskatchewan, Allan Blakeney – 15 writers trace a line from the 1970s to today. Together, the essays take readers through his 11 years as first minister, and the legacy of his successes and shortcomings. Woven through the assembled pieces are potential futures that might be imagined from the vision of an activist state led by a “principled pragmatist.”


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A feminist viewpoint of politics in Canada

Monique Bégin was heading into the House of Commons to take her seat for the first time when a guard tried to stop her, shouting “Ladies, upstairs!” Bégin uses the guard’s words as the title of her recently published memoirs, Ladies, Upstairs! My Life in Politics and After. They serve as a reminder of the kinds of obstacles and casual sexism that faced the trailblazing women of Canadian politics.


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How the Supreme Court of Canada was changed by the arrival of two women

More than three decades ago, Bertha Wilson and then Claire L’Heureux-Dubé were selected for the top jobs in the Canadian judiciary. In Two Firsts: Bertha Wilson and Claire L’Heureux-Dubé at the Supreme Court of Canada, author Constance Backhouse does a fine job of showing us how truly transformative and difficult it was, both for the women and the country.

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The 20th century world

IWM/Getty Images/Getty Images

Five D-Day books on its 75th anniversary

Of the 14,500 Canadian soldiers who took part in the D-Day landing, 340 were dead and 574 wounded by the end of June 6. What they won with their foothold in northern France was invaluable: the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. From classic histories to a real-life thriller about the spies who made D-Day possible, there’s a read here for anyone looking to delve into the event in its 75th anniversary year.


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Why I stopped reading – and came back to – books about the Second World War

“We say ‘never again’ and I take that responsibility seriously,” writes Marsha Lederman. “Never again should this happen – to anyone, to any group. And part of ‘never again’ is keeping the memory of these horrors alive. A recent poll found that 22 per cent of young Canadians had not heard of the Holocaust or were unsure what it was. Supporting books about the Holocaust is one way to accomplish the never again.”


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The thrilling story of Israel’s secret service and how it all began

Before Israel was a country and before its spy service earned a fearsome reputation for covert operations, a small group of volunteers was sequestered on a kibbutz to train in the arts of espionage and concealment. The men were the forerunners of the modern Mossad, the subject of Toronto-born, Jerusalem-based journalist Matti Friedman’s latest book, Spies of No Country: Behind Enemy Lines at the Birth of the Israeli Secret Service.

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NASA

Revisit the great 1960s space race

With the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing on July 20, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are getting all the glory. But Douglas Brinkley’s new book, American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race, gives credit to an unsung hero of the space program: Lyndon B. Johnson. Though President John F. Kennedy set the goal of putting an American astronaut on the moon before the end of the 1960s, it never would have happened without his successor, according to Brinkley.


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Northern Ireland’s past and future

Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland tells the story of the disappearance of Jean McConville, a 38-year-old mother who was kidnapped at gunpoint in front of her children in Belfast at the height of the Troubles. It weaves the story of her disappearance with the lives of Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes, important figures in the Provisional IRA, and Gerry Adams, who went on to lead Sinn Fein.


JEAN BIZIMANA/Reuters

Books to help you make sense of the Rwandan genocide

April 6 marked the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana – the spark that lit the Rwandan Genocide, which saw up to one million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus murdered by their government and fellow citizens over 100 days. These five books are essential for a deeper understanding of the region.

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