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Archived Book Reviews

Review of A History of Canadian Culture, From Petroglyphs to Product, Circuses to the CBC..., by Jonathan F. Vance

In the Introduction, the author admits, "I have no doubt that many readers will be unsatisfied with this book, if only because i have left out a favourite painter, poet, or sculptor." for everyone else, this is a comprehensive survey of aboriginal "the First Artists"; colonial Societies and on the Frontier of British North America; Importing and Exporting; the First World War, Patron Saints and Patronage; the Second World War, and the rise of Government Funding Agencies.

With black-and-white photographs throughout, this is a useful history resource, suitable for university and public libraries. It is a readable account of popular culture, accompanied by facsimiles of relevant documents, and illustrations, many from the author's private collection.

Of course, there are the typical statistics: "[C]anadians' spending on the arts is nearly double what they spend on live sporting events, and nearly twice as many households spend some money on live performing arts as on live sports." (p. 452)

In his "conclusion", he cautions, "clearly, lists reflect many things-the predilections of the compilers, the method of calculation, the nature of current trends, and any number of other imponderables. " Nevertheless, lists "can be very revealing": even these imperfect lists "provide a window into the tension between the traditional and the modern." (pp. 453-4).

A biographical note on the author would be most welcome.

Women, Power, Politics

The hurdle to leap in the next election

For a country that prides itself on its inclusiveness and diversity, Canadians are doing a poor job of reflecting their society in their political ranks, especially women

From Monday's Globe and Mail
Published on Monday, Jan. 11, 2010

With Canada on the brink of a federal election in 2010, political leaders should pause to examine the composition of the people who administer our most important democratic institutions. And if they do so critically, party leaders will have to conclude that, for a country that prides itself on its inclusiveness and diversity, Canadians are doing a poor job of reflecting their society in their political ranks. Read more...

Earth to ET: Is anyone out there?


Michael R. LeGault, The Globe and Mail
Published: Tuesday, December 23, 2009

HERE BE DRAGONS: The Scientific Quest for
Extraterrestrial Life
By David W. Koerner and Simon LeVay

Notwithstanding the newly anointed field of astrobiology, the study of extraterrestrial life has always had more in common with movies, fiction and religious-like passions than it has with science. From War of the Worlds to Star Trek to The X-Files to alien abductions, human imagination has filled the universe with life forms that are enigmatic, organized, territorial, intelligent and, at times, neurotic -- i.e. remarkably similar to humans. 

What made the crocodile cry?
Thunder and enlightening

How language is a process of natural selection

Robert Fulford, National Post
Published: Tuesday, December 22, 2009


John Dennis was a London playwright who no doubt dreamt of achieving immortality. He pulled it off, but not in the way he imagined. In 1709, for a performance of Appius and Virginia, his tragedy about ancient Rome, he devised a new way to imitate the sound of thunder. That show failed, but the theatre management later used Dennis's technique in a performance of Macbeth, to Dennis's intense annoyance. He rose from his seat and shouted: "That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder, but not my play."

It was the first time in history that a writer suggested he held moral copyright on a sound effect. More important, it was the first accusation of thunder-stealing ever hurled at anyone, except perhaps a Greek god. Read more...


Oh Canada! The year's best-reviewed books with a Canadian angle
A History of Canadian Culture


By: Patrick Watson

The Complete Fairy Tales
We have seen the enemy, and he's a huge, hairy ogre

This new edition of Charles Perrault's Complete Fairy Tales is a mix of the seductively repellent and the decorously charming

The Globe and Mail
Published: Friday, November 20, 2009

When I was 12, or thereabouts, I developed a habit of sneaking into my father's study every Sunday, pulling a book off the shelves and daring myself to open it and stare at the frontispiece, on which appeared a mass of appalling images, all of whom were characters in the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen that filled the rest of the volume.

It was a wartime edition, and illustrated by a Hungarian refugee: The children all had staring eyes, heads too large for their slender necks, and emaciated bodies; the magical creatures, such as the Snow Queen, had a certain ghastly elegance of cruelty. Read more...


EclipseInteresting Books
Totality: Eclipses of the Sun (Third Edition)

Glenn Perrett
Published: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Totality: Eclipses of the Sun takes a fascinating look at eclipses of the sun including what causes a total solar eclipse, monuments testifying to earlier civilizations’ knowledge of astronomy, “Anatomy of the Sun” as well as other topics including capturing an eclipse on video. This interesting guide looks at past, present and future eclipses. Lots of stunning photographs. Read more...



A History of Canadian Culture

You didn't know that?!?

Globe and Mail Update
March 27, 2009

The first television transmission in Canada took place in Ogilvy's department store in Montreal in 1931, 20 years before the CBC's first TV broadcast.

I didn't know that.

Gwethalyn Graham's novel Earth and High Heaven (1944), No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list for months, earned the Montreal author a fortune from its U.S. publication. More than a million copies were sold. The royalties poured in. But under Canadian tax law then, royalties were "unearned income," the tax people grabbed most of what Graham earned and she died in near poverty at the age of 52.

I didn't know that, either.
This book by historian Jonathan Vance, of the University of Western Ontario, is full of stories that will have you muttering "I didn't know that." With pleasure, too, because the guy really is a storyteller.  Read more ...


Influential Muslim scholar to speak at UVic

Radical Reform

By Jeff Bell
Published: February 23, 2009
Times Colonist

He has been called provocative and controversial but there is no denying that Tariq Ramadan is an influential Islamic scholar and a touchstone for debate.

A New York Times article noted some of the labels that have been given to him over the years, have gone from "slippery" and "double-faced" to "bridge-builder" and a "Muslim Martin Luther." Time magazine listed him as one of the top 100 innovators of the 21st century.  Read more ...




U.S.-banned thinker urges moderate Muslims to contribute to wider culture

By Douglas Todd
The Vancouver Sun
February 23 2009

A prominent European Muslim who has been banned from the U.S. has come to Vancouver to call on moderate Muslims to come out of their self-imposed hiding, speak up publicly and seize the media debate from headline-grabbing “dogmatic” Muslims.

“These voices of moderation should be radically more vocal,” said Tariq Ramadan, arguably the most famous Muslim thinker in Europe.

The prolific author, whom Time Magazine ranked among the world’s “top 100 innovators,” on Monday bravely called on Muslim immigrants to Canada and other Western countries to stop acting like misunderstood “victims” and get on with “contributing” to Western society. Read more ...

Falon Gong

Blood on the Street

Published: February 19, 2009
New York Times

At the stroke of noon on Sept. 16, 1920, a bomb exploded along Wall Street, killing 38 people and maiming hundreds more. It was the worst terrorist bombing in the United States until the Oklahoma City attack in 1995, the worst in New York until the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.  Read more ...

The End of Lawyers

The end of lawyers as we know it

By Michael Rappaport
The Lawyers Weekly
February 27 2009

Mercers (traders in fine cloths and silks), tallow chandlers (candle makers), cordwainers (fine leather workers) and wheelwrights (makers of wheels) all provided goods and services for centuries, before eventually being displaced by innovation and technology.

Might lawyers one day fade from society like these once venerable craftsmen and traders? Richard Susskind begins his book, The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, by posing this provocative question.  Read more ...

Falon Gong

Communism’s Nemesis

Published: August 22, 2008
New York Times

On an April day in 1999, some 10,000 practitioners of the quasi-religious Chinese exercise society Falun Gong gathered outside Zhongnanhai, the tightly guarded compound in Beijing where China’s leaders live and work. The demonstrators staged a silent protest against negative media coverage and dispersed without a fuss. But it was the largest and most disciplined civil action in the Chinese capital since the student-led democracy movement a decade earlier. Read more ...

Remembering our childhood



Remembering Our Childhood: How Memory Betrays Us

Review by William Leith
Financial Times

If you were to take a single point from this complex and rigorous book on memory, it would be this: “ALL memory, whatever age it is laid down or recalled, is unreliable.”

Memory, as Karl Sabbagh tells us on the cover of this book in italicised letters, betrays us. Sometimes we think we remember things, only to find out that they did not happen. And sometimes we fail to remember things, and it turns out that they did happen. In short, our memories work, but in mysterious ways.  Read more ...

Steel Drivin' Man

John Henry's hammer resonates still

Globe and Mail Update
January 14, 2009

According to one version of The Ballad of John Henry, when he was a baby, he sat on his papa's knee, picked up a hammer and a piece of steel, and said that the hammer was going to be the death of him.

Sure enough, he ended up driving steel to build the railways, and when the work team's boss – better known as “The Captain” – said he would bring a steam drill to the site, John Henry replied fiercely: “A man ain't nothin' but a man. Before I let your steam drill beat me down, I'd die with a hammer in my hand.”  Read more ...


Six-Legged Soldiers

Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War

By Jeffrey A Lockwood
Financial Times

Setting swarms of insects on your enemies might sound like science fiction. But entomologist Lockwood turns his antennae to military history, and shows us that it has happened – and warns that it will again.

Though the first example of man’s vulnerability to such attacks is in the biblical plagues, insects were used as weapons as early as the Stone Age.  Read more ...

The End of Lawyers?

A novel idea: the end of lawyers

Globe and Mail Update
By: Jacquie McNish | Posted: February 17, 2009

When Richard Susskind predicted in 1996 that lawyers would soon send most legal advice and documents through e-mail, he was dismissed by his British brethren as a threat to the profession.

Today e-mail is as common as the office phone, but 12 years ago the Internet was only taking baby steps and Mr. Susskind's digital forecast was seen as blasphemy to a profession that has imparted advice and arguments on written paper for hundreds of years. Read more...

The End of Lawyers?

The Financial Post
By: Mitch Kowalski | Posted: February 10, 2009

Last month I finished teaching a course for the Osgoode Hall LL.M. programme in Real Estate Law. As part of the curriculum, much to the chagrin of programme director Jeff Lem, I included a discussion of "The End of Lawyers?" by Richard Susskind.  Read more ...

Betting Their Lives

The cost of gambling

By Matthew Hoekstra - Richmond Review
Published: January 14, 2009

A 6/49 wager, a risky stock buy, a real estate deal. Almost everyone gambles on occasion, and most do so without causing harm to themselves or others. But for one of every 20 people who gamble, feeding a coin to a slot machine is not unlike doing drugs.

Some build a tolerance to gambling and throwing down cards comes with a such a sense of euphoria that stopping comes with symptoms of withdrawal. Read more ...

The Globalisation of Addiction


The Globalisation of Addiction

Bruce Alexander is best known - though deserves to be much better known - for the 'Rat Park' experiments he conducted in 1981. As an addiction psychologist, much of the data with which he worked was drawn from laboratory trials with rats and monkeys: the 'addictiveness' of drugs such as opiates and cocaine was established by observing how frequently caged animals would push levers to obtain doses. But Alexander's observations of addicts at the clinic where he worked in Vancouver suggested powerfully to him that the root cause of addiction was not so much the pharmacology of these particular drugs as the environmental stressors with which his addicts were trying to cope.  Read more ...


Magic IslandMontgomery captured

One of the finest books to appear during 2008's centenary celebration of the publication of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, is Elizabeth Waterston's Magic Island.

Nancy Schiefer, Special to Sun Media

The London writer and former professor of English Literature at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Guelph, knows her subject well having edited, with Mary Rubio, all five volumes of L. M. Montgomery's journals, 1889 through 1942.
Magic Island takes a different slant on the Prince Edward Island writer, one which juxtaposes Montgomery's consistently popular novels against the eventful chronology of the writer's life. Waterston centres each novel in a chapter of its own, provides historical reminders of the times in which the books were written and ties their conception and publication to happenings in the author's life. It is an original approach and one that works to the advantage of the reader. Read more ...

Getting the Real StoryBehind the Headlines

Investigative journalism is tough, expensive and essential.

Fred Vallance-Jones, Literary Review of Canada
Published: January/February 2009

The history of journalism and the printed word has been the history of periodic technological upheaval. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century made wide distribution of the written word possible and was the beginning of the end of the dominantly oral culture of Europe. Later, the invention of the Linotype machine in the late 19th century heralded the beginning of thick, mass-market newspapers. Read article (pdf)...


Crossed SwordsTacit 'Understanding' On Blitz

Missile Strikes; U. S., Pakistan co-operating secretly: analyst

Peter Goodspeed, National Post
Published: Saturday, November 15, 2008

The world exploded in three hellish high-explosive bursts of flame early yesterday morning in the isolated North Waziristan village of Ghari Ayub.

Before the sun had risen high enough to warm the small valley about 30 kilo-metres from the Afghanistan border, a home belonging to a certain "Mr. Gul" erupted as it was hit with up to three rockets, fired by at least two pilotless U. S. Predator drones. Read more ...

The Hypocrisy Of Government GamblingBetting Their Lives

Government's addiction to gaming revenue is fueling the spread of a destructive disease

Robert Fulford, National Post
Published: Saturday, November 01, 2008

The gambling industry, which grosses about $8.7-billion a year in Canada, amounts to an elaborate conspiracy of the clever against the dim. Government-operated gambling, including lotteries, has rightly been called "a tax on stupidity." But while that's an indulgent, almost amiable way to describe it, the spread of gambling to every mall in every town has produced ugly results. Read article...


Oxford Canadian Spelling Bee Dictionary

Essay collection by former Weekend staff writer recalls life in Canada's corners

Canadian Magazines (Blogspot)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back in what seems more and more a "golden age" for Canadian magazines, Weekend Magazine sent writer Ernest Hillen across Canada writing "portraits" of Canadian lives in various corners of the country. It's hard to imagine a magazine today doing such a thing.  Read review ...



Questions of Taste

Rave Reviews

November 2008
Style at Home Magazine

Read review ...

Oxford Atlas of the World Embassy's 20 Most Influential Books

Embassy, October 1st, 2008

Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World

By Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart
Former World Bank officials and UN advisers, Clare Lockhart and Ashraf Ghani, who also served as finance minister of Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, provide an explanation of what makes a state fail, and why efforts to fix them have long eluded the international community. Against this backdrop, the two provide a roadmap for dealing with these most pressing of challenges in the 21st century. At times somewhat abstract, the ideas outlined in this book nonetheless encourage new thinking on a problem that the world has yet to solve.  Read article...

The Globalisation of AddictionOxford Canadian Spelling Bee Dictionary

'The Globalization of Addiction is a landmark study, a work of astonishing synthesis and originality. Comprehensive, lucid, and always thoughtful, it is an essential guide and provocative challenge to all seeking to understand the place and meaning of addiction in the modern world. '

- Harry G. Levine, Department of Sociology, Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York


I Brought the Ages Home

As mentioned in the Globe and Mail, New in Paperback, July 19th, 2008

I Brought the Ages Home

I Brought the Ages Home is the intriguing story of how a boy born in southwestern Ontario and trained for the ministry became one of Canada's great archaeological pioneers and museum-builders-nothing less than a homegrown Indiana Jones.

Described by scholar Dennis Duffy as the Royal Ontario Museum's own "Genesis narrative," I Brought the Ages Home is a lively, adventure-packed memoir that traces Currelly's life from his childhood in Exeter, Ontario, to Victoria College in Toronto, and on to Egypt, Crete, and Asia Minor, where he established his reputation as one of the era's most energetic and passionate collectors of antiquities. Read more ...

Eureka! on the printed page

Modern Science Writing
Richard Dawkins' editorship brings a brilliant Oxford anthology to life
Robert Fulford, National Post
Published: Tuesday, July 08, 2008
The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, edited by Richard Dawkins

Hot and sweaty under the Ethiopian sun, the two scholars began jumping up and down like kids, hugging each other, joined in astonished happiness.

A miracle had suddenly appeared in their lives. They found, on that historic day in 1974, the fossilized remains of four-tenths of the bones of a hominid, something never seen before. She was a female, a metre tall and 3½ million years old, a precious glimpse into the African origins of humanity. 
Read more ...

The Bear Barrels Back

Putin, Power, and the New Russia
By Marshall I. Goldman

Reviewed by Juliet Johnson, Globe and Mail

“Petrostate paints a compelling picture of a Russia politically resurgent on a windfall wave of energy riches.”

“Goldman ably documents Putin’s successful efforts to wrest Russia’s leading natural-resources companies from private and semi-private hands.”


Investigative journalism is here to stay: Rosner

Behind the Headlines
June 4, 2008
By David Spencer

While working my way through this all too rare collection of Canadian journalism content from the Oxford University Press, my memory took me back a couple of decades to a conversation with an old friend and colleague who was earning his keep as a senior producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in Toronto. He had just received a telephone call from a very important person in the higher ranks of a large commercial television network in the United States. It was not the first time that these two had spoken. But this time the conversation had nothing to do with story rivalry, as it usually did. The American broadcaster had received an application from a Canadian producer and the call dealt with a request for a reference. When my Canadian friend was advised of the nature of the position that was being considered, he immediately advised his New York colleague that he felt the applicant was not a suitable candidate for the type of investigative journalism that the U.S.-based network wanted to pursue. Read more ...

A How-to Guide for Newly Arrived Immigrants

Embassy, May 14th, 2008
By: Brian Adeba

You have waited nearly a year for your visa to be approved and here you are standing in front of an immigration official at the Canadian mission not knowing what to expect.

Suddenly the immigration officer stretches out a hand and says: "Congratulations—your application for permanent residence in Canada has been approved."

You are excited about the prospects of a new and perhaps better life in Canada, but it quickly dawns on you that you know very little about the country they call the Great White North.

Fear, panic, and anxiety grip you.

Once out of the officer's sight, you rush to the Internet and start reading up on Canada. But there's so much information, you quickly get lost.  Read more ...

Behind the Headlines: a History of Investigative Journalism in Canada

"CONGRATULATIONS TO. . . Cecil Rosner, the former Free Press reporter turned head honcho of CBC Winnipeg news, launched his new book Behind the Headlines: a History of Investigative Journalism in Canada Monday night at McNally Robinson. And he's already getting rave reviews from local journalists who got an early look at it." - Gordon Sinclair, Winnipeg Free Press


Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Deluxe Edition

"The Shorter is the Matterhorn to the great OED Everest - elegant, awesome and marvelous to behold, differing only in size. A stupendous achievement." - Simon Winchester

"The Shorter is a mine of information." - Toronto Star

"The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary redefines hip." - The New York Post

"The whole process of changing the spelling of words in the dictionary is all based on our analysis of evidence of language; it's not just what we think looks better," - Angus Stevenson, Editor of the Shorter

"The Shorter demands a shelf, but one very close to the desk of anyone who cares about words." - Daily Telegraph

"It is a dictionary with zest ... a rare treasure." - Frank Devine, The Australian

"These are words so new even your spell-checker won't recognize most of them." – Time

"The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary remains the most reliable and certainly the most capacious of abridged dictionaries." – The American Spectator

"Even at a fraction of its original bulk, the premier collection of English words manages to squeeze in over a third of the original's content, including its hallmark: minute etymological details." - US News & World Reports

The International Struggle Over Iraq: Policies in the UN Security Council 1980-2005

David M. Malone

"...David Malone...offers an illuminating and fascinating account of the Security Council on Iraq...a vital, must-read study." - The Globe and Mail, January 2007

"The diplomatic stalemate over Iraq at the UN Security Council in 2003 will stand as an indelible moment of the post-Cold War era. This book, by a Canadian scholar-diplomat and UN insider, provides an illuminating account of the 25 years of tangled Security Council involvement with Iraq, culminating in the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein without council mandate in 2003... a fascinating portrait... This book is essential reading for those who want to use the lessons of the Security Council's tumultuous encounter with Iraq to guide UN reform." - Foreign Affairs, January/February 2007

Jesus of Hollywood

Adele Reinhartz

"...lively academic study of Hollywood's Messiah complex..." - The Globe and Mail, January 2007



The Letters of Stephen Leacock

Selected and edited by David Staines

"(a) much needed and valuable collection...a timely reminder to us of one of our great national treasures." - The Globe and Mail, June 2006



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