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Books you must read: We asked, they answered

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rabble.ca publishes the work of many of Canada's most prominent writers and thinkers. This is a special round up of progressive books recommended by rabble columnists and bloggers. From classics to new releases, zombies to social media strategies for social change, the Haitian revolution to the environment -- this list has a book for everyone.

June Chua recommends The Best Canadian Essays 2010 edited by Alex Boyd and Kamal Al-Solaylee:

Who doesn't like a buffet? How about one with quality selections and deep flavours? I'm a fan of anthologies and The Best Canadian Essays 2010 is a smorgasbord of topics and exceptional writing.

This tight collection of 16 pieces fan out in a range of tastes: from Paul Gallent's superbly-constructed thesis in "Honeymoon's Over: What's Next for the Gay Rights Movement" to Carolyn Morris' incisive, walking-in-their-shoes "The Illegals" to Jason McBride's picaresque "Preparations for the End of the World as We Know It," the pieces shine with each writer's unique voice.

Other writers in the book include Abou Farman, who contrasts the lives of two Iranian Ahmads he knew in a philosophical light -- one is caught up by the revolution in Iran and another who escaped to Canada -- and then there's Danielle Groen's amusing and illuminating article examining the actual chemistry of people who have been struck by Cupid's arrow. This marks only the second volume in the series, and with its funky 1960s-style orange cover, makes for a nice gift, whatever the occasion.

Tyler McCreary recommends:

A book that is neither particularly new nor unheralded. Recommending Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden, the 2008 Giller Prize winner, almost seems passé. However, laggard that I am, I only opened Through Black Spruce this year and would suggest it to anyone else who this book previously passed by.

For those who are either unfamiliar or have forgotten, the book centers on two Cree characters from the James Bay area. The first character, Will Bird, a comatose hospital patient recounts events that led to his condition, weaving together experiences living on the land with the hard drinking and violence of reserve life. Counterpoised, in alternate chapters, is the story of Will's niece, Annie, who negotiates between northern life on the trapline as well as hospital visits with her comatose uncle and southern adventures among both street-involved First Nations people and high fashion parties.

In the book, Boyden conveys the simultaneous heroism and fallibility of his characters. He does not gloss over the alcoholism and violence that penetrates and is perpetuated within First Nations communities. But the novel focuses not on the central characters' tragic flaws so much as on their tremendous resourcefulness and generosity.

Boyden possesses considerable descriptive acumen, particularly in capturing an image of bush life. Further the book's pacing is often brilliantly achieved, as Boyden effectively plays between characters and floats between time frames. The book's epilogue is threadbare and overly neat, but the complex intertwining of the storylines through the book bestows a richness to the book that cannot be undone by a too simple ending. It is a novel well worth picking up.

Linda McQuaig recommends The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada by Marci McDonald.

Journalist Marci McDonald has done a terrific job focusing a spotlight on the largely hidden world of Canadian Christian fundamentalism and its powerful influence on the Harper government. She skillfully traces the role of Christian nationalists in their efforts to reshape Canada and Canadian foreign policy, showing that along with a host of neocons, we now also have to contend with a legion of even more frightening theo-cons. McDonald highlights how Christian fundamentalists have pushed Harper to align Canada with the most belligerent forces inside Israel. No wonder Canada's right has felt the need to denounce her.

Aalya Ahmad recommends World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks:

Dedicated to George Romero and to Studs Terkel, World War Z globalizes the zombie apocalypse in thought-provoking ways. Romero's low-budget, independent zombie films have long been celebrated for their scathing social critiques -- from the good 'ol boy sheriff posse versus the heroic black protagonist in 1968s Night of the Living Dead to the consumerist critiques of Dawn of the Dead (1979) to the stark depiction of racism, sexism and the military-scientific complex in Day of the Dead (1986). Romero's more recent films have been no exception.

Lovingly following in Romero's and Lucio Fulci's footsteps (underwater zombies -- hooray), World War Z pays tribute to its antecedents in ways that have horror geeks like myself smiling and chuckling. At the same time, it does not abandon Romero's commitment to imaginatively overthrowing the old world order, which is why it belongs here as a rabble pick.

Set in the aftermath of a global outbreak of zombies, the survivors recount oral histories that are full of the failure of military technology and defined by bureaucratic breakdown. Corruption, greed and selfishness are revealed to be the fuel to the fire of the outbreak, while official cover-ups only worsen the situation. One of my favourite parts describes former White House chiefs of staff and the elite shoveling shit while their former housekeepers train them to be productive members of society.

John Bonnar recommends
The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith:

While there are lots of books out there on how to use social media like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, The Dragonfly Effect is a book about how to create a social media strategy to drive social change. You'll learn how to clearly define your goal, grab readers' attention in an overcrowded online world, get people excited about your cause, and finally, how to create an online social movement.

There's a lot more to it then creating a cause on Facebook and then standing back and expecting great things to happen. The Dragonfly Effect shows you how to go about creating big changes with the existing free (or almost free) social technology. There is still no guarantee that you'll be successful but with the principles outlined in The Dragonfly Effect, you'll stand a much better chance of making a difference in the world.

Jim Stanford recommends The Trouble with Billionaires by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks:

This book is chock full of hard economic facts, statistics and scholarly footnotes, yet it's as readable as a crime novel. Come to think of it, this is a crime novel -- except that it's true. It's the sordid tale of how a shockingly small elite of society (the richest one percent) have hijacked social and economic policy, educational institutions, culture and the media, in their endless quest to capture even more of the world's wealth for themselves. There's no single better metric of the history of neoliberalism than the fall and subsequent rise of the share of the richest of the rich over the last half-century. This book explains how it happened, and why.

Progressives scratch their heads over how it is that the populist right has so successfully hijacked widespread public anger over the horrible economic events of the last few years. Read this book and get damn angry yourself -- then put that anger to work for justice and equality, instead of cynicism and belt-tightening. McQuaig and Brooks' book will be an invaluable mobilizing tool, helping us to push back against the real gravy train: the self-dealing excesses of the rich.

Jooneed Khan recommends The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James:

The Black Jacobins, a sweeping analytical history of the Haitian Revolution, was written in 1938. The author was born in 1901 in Trinidad and Tobago. His lifetime almost spanned the twentieth century, as he died in 1989, when both the Soviet empire and the dungeon of apartheid were about to crumble in the dustbin of history.

I first read The Black Jacobins at 20, when I came to Canada on a university scholarship. It resonated with my own experience as a Mauritian growing up in an Anglo-French colonial power structure founded on slavery and indentured labour, and struggling for universal suffrage and national independence in the 1950s and 1960s.

I re-read the book recently, at 60, and I was overwhelmed not only by the scholarship extracted from long months of research at the British Museum and in France, but also by James' visionary powers: as early as 1938, he denounced both Stalin and Hitler, and he foresaw as inevitable the cry for freedom throughout all colonial empires from Asia to Africa to the Caribbean.

I then felt, and still do, that if ever one single book should be compulsory reading for all of humanity in the 21st century, this was it. The new generations need to know where we come from so they can wisely decide where we go from here.

Jessica Yee recommends two books:

Lee Maracle's First Wives Club: Coast Salish Style because anything by Lee Maracle rocks -- especially because she's not afraid to talk about sex

Being Again of One Mind: Oneida Women and the Struggle for Decolonization by Lina Sunseri -- because anything that challenges the hypocrisy of mainstream feminism and it's claims to feminism beginning in "waves" which is in fact a total erasure of Indigenous feminism and its origins -- is a book I want to read.

Derrick O'Keefe has a recommendation for the activist in your life:

Derek Wall's The Rise of the Green Left traces the emergence of a socialism worthy of the struggles of the 21st Century, with ecology and indigenous rights at its core. The author is the type of activist-intellectual our movements need -- he explains complex topics in simple, clear language and always ties the theory back to concrete action.

A former chief spokesperson of the U.K. Green Party, Wall has been immersed in the effort to bring greens and the left together for over three decades. The Rise of the Green Left is the story of an important work in progress -- the success or failure of this historic convergence may well determine the future of our species.

Duncan Cameron also suggests The Armageddon Factor:

My pick appeared last spring. It is by Marci McDonald, a much decorated Toronto freelance magazine writer. The Armageddon Factor takes us behind the scenes into the mysterious world of the Canadian religious right. Based on extensive interviews, and thorough research, McDonald sheds light where none has been shed before.

Who knew how significant had become the organizational apparatus of evangelical Christians determined to become a counter-revolutionary force in Canadian public policy? The extent of what she uncovered will surprise you, it did me. I also understand much better what is becoming of the Canada we thought we lived in, before the Harper Conservatives began re-making our land.

Krystalline Kraus suggests The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck:

Written to inspire resistance movements within occupied territories. Originally published in English in 1942, illegal copies were translated and spread throughout Nazi occupied France and occupied Europe throughout and after WW2. I re-read this book when I'm feeling demoralized and outnumbered and it reminds me that resistance = hope.

Wayne MacPhail recommends Zero History by William Gibson:

It's a great examination of marketing and anti-marketing through the lens of a near-future sci-fi writer.

Jerry West compiled this reading list for progressives:

There are many issues that concern progressives in the 21st century, but two concern me the most. One is the most important issue of our time, the environment, and specifically the sustainability of the historic ecosystem in which we have evolved. The other is the history of our species, something that helps explain how we developed to have the environmental problems that we now have.

A good beginning resource for examining the progress of human society is Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Diamond looks at culture and the environment, including geography, to explain the development of human civilization.

Alfred W. Crosby's Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 examines how European civilization, flora and fauna have come to dominate a large swath of the globe.

Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress looks at the development of civilizations and what causes them to fail.

One book that is a must for understanding the issue of climate change is William F. Ruddiman's Plows, Plagues & Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate.

Michael P. Byron's Infinity's Rainbow: The Politics of Energy, Climate and Globalization includes the political and economic dimensions in looking at the growing environmental crisis.

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