COLUMN

The best new books of a bountiful season

Peter C. Newman December 22 1997
COLUMN

The best new books of a bountiful season

Peter C. Newman December 22 1997

The best new books of a bountiful season

The Nation s Business

Peter C. Newman

There’s a great crop of new Canadian books this year. Here are some of my favorites: Preston Manning: The Roots of Reform, by Frank Dabbs (Greystone Books, $27.95). The times cry out for an unemotional, balanced biography of Preston Manning, the evangelical populist who leads Canada’s alternate government—and here it is. Alberta writer Frank Dabbs came to his task with two advantages: he grew up in an evangelical family and he won the trust of the two people closest to Manning—his wife and his mother. The result is an evocatively written and amazingly intimate portrait of our would-be prime minister. This is must reading.

Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, by Don

Tapscott (McGraw Hill, $32.95). The thesis of this important book by communications guru Tapscott is simple and incontrovertible: by

the year 2000, there will be more than 88 million people in North America between the ages of 2 and 22. They are the Net Generation, and just as the baby boomers dictated the economic, political and cultural agenda of the past two decades, the Nets will shape how we live, love and work in the first part of the

21st century. Tapscott’s profile of the N-Gen benefits from the fact that 300 of its members have contributed their thoughts and feelings.

They will be a generation of Netaholics—a quantum improvement from the couch potatoes that are us.

No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics, by John Crosbie with Geoffrey Stevens (McClelland & Stewart, $35). John Crosbie always says exactly what he thinks and has a wicked sense of humor, twin qualities that isolate him among Canada’s politicians. No

Holds Barred is a joyful romp that reflects its subject. One example: when Liberal MP George Baker accused the Newfie Tory of never having got past his Dick and Jane books in kindergarten, Crosbie shot back that he was sorry Baker’s library had burned down: “He lost all two books, one of them before he finished coloring it. The

other one was Playboy.'”

Fitzgerald’s Storm: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,

by Dr. Joseph Maclnnis (Macmillan Canada, $16.95). In 1991, Joe Maclnnis, this country’s premier underwater explorer, discovered the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a giant ore carrier—two city blocks long—that sank with all hands during a 1975 hurricane-force storm on Lake Superior. In this well-crafted, poignant book, Maclnnis reconstructs that catastrophe and explains how a modern vessel could sink so rapidly that none of her 29-man crew had a chance to send a distress call. “Shipwrecks,” he writes, “are like dreams, lying beyond the observable everyday world. They draw us into places we do not belong, confirming that there are times when reason and fact are no match for enduring mysteries.” Maclnnis concludes that

when the “Big Fitz” ran into huge seas and winds of more than 60 knots, she was literally driven into the lake: “She shook violently, quivering from one end of her keel to the other, fighting the pull of gravity, but the lake was unyielding. The Fitzgerald began her long dive to the centre of the earth.”

Blue Skies and Boiler Rooms: Buying and Selling Securities in Canada, 1870-1940, by Christopher Armstrong (University of Toronto Press, $39.95). The only difference between the BreX scandal and stock swindles 100 years ago was the size of the con. Christopher Armstrong, a history professor at Toronto’s York University, has ably assembled some blue-sky deals that made boilerroom history. This is a fun testimonial to the limitless gullibility of the investing public, and to an industry whose ethics have changed very little since moose pastures were sold as gold mines.

A biography of Preston Manning is an evocatively written and intimate portrait of our would-be prime minister

Golden Phoenix: The Biography of Peter Munk, by Richard Rohmer (Key Porter Books, $32.95). What an opportunity Rohmer was handed when Peter Munk, Canada’s most exciting entrepreneur, chose him to be his official biographer. Rohmer mined deeply and he mined well. The book contains much new information on the elusive Hungarian, including a rundown of how Munk was ready to pay $1 billion for Bre-X and its mountain of mud—and how he just missed making the deal. The problem is that Rohmer’s writing is so wooden you could build a ship out of it. It’s hard to imagine any writer making Munk appear dull and ordinary, but in his 24th book, Rohmer has achieved precisely that.

Around the Sound, by Doreen Armitage (Harbour Publishing, $28.95). This is very much a regional book about Howe Sound, that painfully beautiful, Norwegian-like fjord

drivers glimpse on their way from Vancouver to Whistler. That little-known slice of natural wonder, ringed by permanently snowcapped extinct volcanoes, features Canada’s best Windsurfing and the country’s first underwater marine park. The area’s romantic history is beautifully told by retired Vancouver teacher Doreen Armitage, who also includes lively portraits of some of The Sound’s more eccentric hermits.

Wrestling with the Elephant: The Inside Story of the Canada-U.S. Trade Wars, by Gordon Ritchie (Macfarlane Walter & Ross, $32.95). When he was energy minister in the short-lived Joe Clark government, Ray Hnatyshyn, who later became governor general, was once asked about free trade with the Americans. “It’s like wife-swapping with a bachelor,” he replied, and that remains the definitive statement on the subject. Now along comes Ritchie, who was Canada’s deputy chief negotiator for the treaty signed in 1988, to tell what actually happened. His is a great yarn, well told. We probably got the best treaty we could, but those shrewd-trading Yankees took advantage of our hunger for a deal.