Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Serious Summer Reading Looks Good to Those Around You! 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Tuesday, August 7 / 12

Zack Gross

I love to read, whether it is the local newspaper, an interesting magazine or especially for me, books or even e-books with the Kobo e-reader that my lovely wife gave me for Christmas!  But I’m not as gone on reading as my good friend and fellow Sun columnist David McConkey, who says that even the back of his morning cereal box is of interest to him!

This summer, I have been working through another stack of books piled up beside my bed, in the neighbouring shelf and downloaded to my electronic device. 

My family will tell you that I read too much spy fiction.  On a recent trip to Ottawa, sitting with my wife and daughter in a patio pub across the street from the US Embassy, I became convinced that the apartment block nearby was filled with Chinese and/or Russian intelligence officers.  When an innocent-looking oriental young man with a bag of chips came out onto his veranda to relax, you can imagine what I imagined…!

Speaking to my sister who is a librarian in the States, telling her that I read a lot of war and spy novels and historical non-fiction, her response was “Oh yes, that’s what men your age read.”  What a put-down! 

Of course, anyone who has read my column over the last umpteen years will attest to the fact that my other reading focus is contemporary issues and social justice.

Right now, I am tackling Francis Fukuyama’s Origins Of Political Order, a doorstopper of a paperback that describes the development of politics from earliest times onward – from tribes to international alliances. 

I also have a book waiting in the wings on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC), one of the most dangerous and troubled countries in the world, where government and rebels soldiers have been killing and raping for years, while their conflict is backed by resource-extracting international companies and Western countries.

Let me recommend a few books that will contribute to your understanding of today’s world.  Take some time over the remaining weeks of the summer to tackle even just one of these.  Whether you are on the beach, on your deck or sitting in a boat waiting for the fish to bite, a serious book will at least make you look good!

Stolen Continents: Conquest and Resistance in the Americas by Ronald Wright – this is a very readable, hard-hitting look at the European colonial takeover and the following five centuries of “occupation” from the perspective of victimized indigenous peoples in Peru, Mexico, the US and Canada.

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild – speaking of the DRC, this is a captivating story of the 19th Century decimation of the Congolese people under the thumb of Belgian King Leopold, looking for rubber, ivory and timber.  Sadly, things are still very bad there! 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo – this Pulitzer Prize winning author spent 3 years following the lives especially of young people in an abjectly poor slum of materials recyclers.  This is a story of often brutally short lives, corrupt officials and incredible survival skills.

Damned Nations:  Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid by Samantha Nutt.  She is a Toronto doctor and head of War Child Canada who writes passionately about her many experiences in Africa’s conflict zones and also gives her own critique of our delivery of assistance to those in need.

Burmese Lessons: A True Love Story by Karen Connelly – With the country in the news these days as it democratizes, here is a book by a Canadian author, telling a memorable story about Burma under recent harsh military rule and her own life-changing liaison with a guerrilla leader.

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis.  Currently a visiting scholar at the University of Winnipeg, this is Davis’ Massey Lecture of 2009.  He is a world renowned anthropologist and photojournalist who has visited indigenous cultures around the globe and writes about what they contribute to our world and how their skills and wisdom are disappearing just like endangered species.

There are certainly many noteworthy books out there, but as I have read these, it isn’t just hearsay that they are good.  In recent times, I’ve been exchanging lists of “Ten Best” books with others I know to see what people like to read and why.  Share your favourites with friends and family – you don’t know what you might learn!

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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