Each year, I publish a list of books that I find particularly interesting and suggest as suitable Christmas stocking stuffers. This has been a very good year so my list will take two columns.
Without a doubt, the best title on a Canadian public policy issue is Jeffrey Simpson's Chronic Condition. It is a comprehensive and dispassionate discussion of Canada's health-care system and the challenges facing it and, therefore, the nation.
Bringing about the necessary reforms will require immense political courage, which will probably only be found when the costs become so great that virtually all government spending will be subsumed by health care.
For the sheer joy of reading magnificent prose and learning about life in Europe from 1850 onwards, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss, by Edmund de Waal is the best read I have experienced in the past decade. I found myself rereading portions out loud as I savoured the richness of the prose. And I learned of the disgraceful treatment many Jews received from the Austrian government after the Second World War.
Nicholas Lardy's Sustaining China's Economic Growth After the Great Financial Crises is a fascinating study of the workings of China from a political, economic and social perspective. He is a recognized scholar with a proven record of insightful analysis. If you want a thoughtful overview of the challenges facing China in the next two decades, this is the best you could hope to find.
The Bell Labs in New York and later in New Jersey were the breeding grounds for many of the inventions that make digital photography, cellular phones, fibre optics, satellite communications and the GPS system possible. Scientists working there garnered a raft of Nobel prizes and helped propel the United States to the leading edge of the technical revolution of the second half of the 20th century. The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner gives an enthralling account of just what it was like to work there.
Three first-rate political biographies were published this year. The General: Charles de Gaulle and the France he Saved by Jonathan Fenby is biography at its best. Fenby places de Gaulle in context vis-a-vis events in France and the world at large and shows how this often arrogant, stubborn and essentially conservative, but cunning, man drove himself to shape his country for more than three decades.
Another biography equally impressive in terms of setting the subject within his time and place is Jean Edward Smith's Eisenhower in War and Peace. The U.S. general who oversaw the Allied effort to open a western front in Europe during the Second World War and who subsequently became president has, until recently, been thought of as a mediocre resident of the Oval Office. Smith shows that he was a thoughtful and effective politician, both during the war and in the White House.
Finally, Robert Caro's third volume on Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, is yet another testament to the balanced and thorough work of this gifted writer. It deals with the period between 1958 when Johnson first began thinking of running for the presidency until seven weeks after the death of Kennedy. His assumption of power and deft handling of the gigantic egos that peopled the coterie around the dead president are breathtaking to behold and Cato is the master of both the incidental and the grandiose events that define the man.
Jeff Rubin, an economist formerly with CIBC, has written The End of Growth, about the impact of rising energy prices on our way of life. His forecast is not a happy one. And while his focus on energy prices is perhaps overdone, it still makes us think of how we will all have to adjust over time.
David Bond is an author and retired bank economist. Email: