This is the second selection of books I recommend for your reading list this holiday season.
Mark Peterson has written a path-breaking history of early America in The City State of Boston which brings to light its autonomous role as a city state.
Peterson, drawing on archives in Boston, Great Britain and elsewhere, traces the city’s beginnings as a refuge from Britain’s Stuart monarchs.
Then, through its cynical bargain with slave traders, it lost its integrity and autonomy and was eventually incorporated into the United States. It opened my eyes to a little-known role this fascinating city played in early America.
In The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History, Alexander Mikaberidze has written the first complete study of the global impact of the Napoleonic Wars.
While the names of famous battles from Austerlitz to Waterloo are well known, little, until now, has been written about how this era of almost continuous conflict impacted on the world beyond Europe. That is the stated mission of this excellent, wide-ranging and thorough work.
Napoleon was not just a superb general, but a capable originator of new administrative structures and of a truly impressive legal framework.
As Mikaberidze points out, France struggled for dominance not just on the plains of Europe but also in the Americas, West and South Africa, Ottoman Empire, Iran, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Further, his dealings with the young American republic resulted in more than doubling its size and taking it all the way to the Pacific.
Another great history book is Jonathan Scott’s How the Old World Ended: The Anglo-Dutch-American Revolution 1500-1800. This is truly an epic work.
Between 1500 and 1800, the North Sea region overtook the Mediterranean as the most dynamic part of the world.
Two themes stand out. First, the Anglo-Dutch relationship brought about an intensely creative environment. Second, the establishment of a vibrant British North American series of colonies was unique because it centred on settlement and culture rather than the extraction of value.
Scott shows that both were essential to the rise of the industrial revolution.
George Abbott’s Big Promises Small Government provides a well-reasoned and thoughtful description of Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government in British Columbia between 2001 and 2010.
Campbell’s massive tax cut was motivated by supply-side economics and the drive for a balanced budget but resulted in significant destruction to both the civil service and the social safety net.
Campbell’s unwillingness to admit the failure of his fiscal policy when the tax cut failed to generate expected growth and the subsequent slashing of expenditures still reverberate through BC’s political dynamic.
This is essential reading to understand how government in general and the provincial Liberal Party in particular work.
Debt Crises and the Rise of Hitler by Tobias Straumann sheds light on the critical role played by the financial obligations placed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War. The German financial collapse of 1931 led to global panic, brought down the international monetary system and turned a worldwide recession into a prolonged depression. All this played into the hands of the Nazis and eventually brought Hitler to power in 1933.
This exposition is a real page-turner.
In The Coldest Case, Martin Walker has again turned out a delightful tale of Bruno Chief of Police in the fictitious town of St Denis in the Dordogne region of France.
This time, the story revolves around Bruno’s attempt to solve a long-cold case of murder, beginning with the identification of the victim.
As ever, the plot is both deliberate and complicated and dining and cooking play central roles in the solving of mystery. I just love the 14 books Walker has written about this imaginary cop.
For the first time, I recommend a cookbook. Jacques Pepin, who you may have seen in years past on PBS with Julia Child, is the author of more that 20 cookbooks. He has just produced Quick and Simple, a tome I think will be a life saver for those who don’t like or don’t know how to cook.
I have most of his books and find them invaluable. But this one not only has over 200 outstanding recipes but is also filled with interesting antidotes and examples of Jacques paintings.
I spent two evenings reading the recipes when the book arrived and am getting ready to try them over the holidays.
David Bond is a retired bank economist who lives in Kelowna.