This has been a vintage season for Canadian business books, with at least four dozen new titles published, some of them outstanding. Here is a sampling:
• Behind Closed Doors by Linda McQuaig. Stripped of its barricadechic bias, this is a tough and thoughtful analysis of how Canada’s tax system rewards the rich. A moving reprise of Kenneth Carter’s lonely attempt to put into place, through his royal commission, an infrastructure that would help redistribute Canadian wealth, and a devastating profile of Mickey Cohen, the Reichmanns’ resident courtier, add spice to the writer’s soggy idealism.
• Fleecing the Lamb by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths. This profoundly disturbing dissection of the Vancouver Stock Exchange and its main players should be required reading for every Canadian investor. All the case histories are lively, but the best of them are the profile of Canarim’s quixotic chief Peter Brown and the manipulations of Beverlee Claydon, the glamorous head of Ultra Glow Cosmetics, who “flaunts her mystique and wears the turbulence of her career like a badge of honor.” The authors have it right when they sum up the operational code of the VSE as “what you can get away with.”
• The Square Mile by Donald MacKay. Using the magnificent resources of the Notman photograph collection and his own journalistic curiosity, MacKay has produced a gem about the cradle of Canada’s commercial aristocracy.
• Quebec Inc. by Matthew Fraser. A finely honed Baedeker to French Canada’s new entrepreneurial class, explaining how businessmen have displaced priests, politicians, lawyers and bureaucrats as the province’s dominant elite. There isn’t a dull page in this lively rundown of the remarkable men and even more remarkable women who run Canada’s most exciting provincial economy—and are successfully reaching out to world markets.
• Rising to Power by Dave Gruber. One of the few truly shoddy efforts on this year’s business lists, this is a derivative, thirdhand attempt to lionize Paul Desmarais, the complex and elusive head of Montreal’s Power Corp. There are no new facts or insights here; nothing to make you pick this book up, once you’ve put it down.
• Blind Trust by Rod McQueen. Primarily a handbook on how politicians should not run their private investment portfolios, this superbly crafted volume’s subliminal theme is a thorough, revealing analysis of the seamless web that links Canada’s political back rooms and business boardrooms.
• Jimmy—An Autobiography by Jimmy Pattison with Paul Grescoe. A rare and surprisingly revealing glimpse into the soul of the hero of Canada’s
own Horatio Alger story, Jimmy Pattison, the West Coast dervish who has spun his wit and charm into personal control over Canada’s 64th-largest corporation. The fabulous jacket photograph by Brian Wilier deserves a special prize.
• Running on Empty—Alberta After the Boom. Using more talent than dispassion, half a dozen of the province’s best journalists examine the current political and economic problems of Alberta. This slim but compelling volume
should probably be subtitled “The Impending Downfall of Don Getty.” A good read on an important subject, e Claims by Ken Lefolii. The year’s best business book, Claims is much more than the story of how Canada’s richest gold mine, in Ontario’s Hemlo field, abruptly changed ownership. In a taut sequence of anecdotes, written with the skill of a juggler on a high wire, Lefolii captures the capricious ethic of the gold seekers—himself included. The search quickly reaches beyond avarice to being justified by the quest itself. This is the triumphant book debut of an important Canadian magazine writer and editor who in the past has been more interested in living his prose than writing it.
• The Exchange by Allan Levine. The sustaining myth of western Canadian capitalism has been the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, now 100 years old. In recounting the ample lurid details of that century, this Manitoba historian meticulously pieces together a fascinating quilt that reveals the best and worst of free enterprise on the hoof.
• Arctic Imperative by John Honderich. Though not strictly a business book, this emotion-laden cry from the heart is an example of advocacy journalism at its best—a chilling reminder of why our loudly proclaimed sovereignty over the Arctic is being lost by default. Benign neglect is too generous a description of Ottawa’s traditional attitude toward our significant slice of the circumpolar world. Unlike most critics, Honderich sets out comprehensive and sensible prescriptions that would transform a national disgrace into a viable asset.
• Just Rewards by David Olive. Here is nothing less than an attempt to define the anatomy of greed or, as Olive prefers to call it, the “ethical vacuity” currently in vogue among North American businessmen. Instead of trying to spin any conspiracy theories, Olive wisely erects an impressive array of case histories documenting the false but all too prevalent notion in executive circles that business is responsible only to its owners. Olive’s book is full of dirty little secrets, including the fact that convicted Wall Street swindler Ivan Boesky has three bottles of 1961 Château Mouton Rothschild hidden behind a false wall of New York’s 21 Club (just a few rows away from Richard Nixon’s stash of Dom Perignon) so that he can whet his whistle in style when he gets out of jail.
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