Christmas has always been the season of the book for me. I love looking under the tree at the cabin on Christmas morning and finding a heavy, rectangular package, usually well chilled from spending a night on the old wooden floor after Santa forgets to refill the woodstove.
Kindles and Amazon gift cards are nice, but not quite the same. Especially since cabins don’t have Wi-Fi.
Buying books for others is a challenge, however. You have to get just the right one. Friends and family catch on quickly if you buy them books you want to read. I recall the frosty glare I received when I hinted to one of my daughters that she might be getting the latest John Maynard Keynes biography.
So here are a few ideas. These are books I’ve enjoyed this year, each with an angle that may appeal to a challenging gift recipient on your list.
China. It’s hard to pick up a newspaper without reading about the momentous rise of China, including the Yukon papers as we read about the premier’s trade mission, the new Canada-China investment deal and the Chinese-owned mines and gas exploration companies in the Yukon.
For Chinese history, I suggest On China, by Henry Kissinger. The old reprobate’s name may send a shiver down your spine, but, as with Conrad Black, you have to admit that he writes well. Kissinger’s forte is the broad historical narrative, and he takes us from the Opium Wars through Mao to today’s politburo machinations. If you need to put everything you hear about China into historical context, this is the book.
The Party by Richard Macgregor is essential if you want to understand how the symbiotic relationship between the Communist Party, the government and Chinese big business works today. Useful reading if you’re in government or working with one of the state-owned firms investing in the Yukon today.
Finance and economics. Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance by Jane Gleason-White is, believe it or not, a very interesting history of double-entry accounting. It begins with the first attempts to replace Roman numerals with Arabic numbers. The church prosecuted one early adopter for “witchcraft,” a sentiment since shared by generations of math students and victims of accounting scams.
The core of the story is about a remarkable monk name Luca Pacioli, a true Renaissance man. He not only documented double-entry accounting in a booklet which “went viral” thanks to the newly invented printing press, but also defined the rules of perspective and helped Leonardo da Vinci with The Last Supper (and who also seems to have been Leonardo’s lover for a time).
The book shows the fundamental impact double-entry accounting has had on society, enabling the joint stock company and the rise of the big governmental and corporate organizations that dominate our lives today.
Politics. A lot of pundit ink has been spilled lately about the state of our democratic institutions, with prorogued parliaments, robocalls and mindless talking points spewed by politicians. Anne Applebaum’s new book, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956, looks at these worries from a new direction. She documents the tricks and tactics the Soviets used in Eastern Europe to build totalitarian states, from dominating youth organizations to managing elections. A frightening must-read for any student of democracy.
Yukon books. The year has also seen some fine Yukon books published, which you can get at Mac’s or the MacBride gift shop. Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail by Michael Gates tells the riveting tale of that famous stampeder route and its remarkable promoter.
There is also I Was Born Under a Spruce Tree, the new JJ Van Bibber memoir. It just came out and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but a quick flip indicates it will be a fascinating trip through the Yukon’s history through the eyes of someone who has seen more of the Yukon than most of us ever will. The book is also illustrated by JJ Van Bibber’s grandson, Shane Van Bibber.
Yukon Wings by Bob Cameron is all about aviation in the Yukon, and is full of great photos and ripping yarns from the bush pilot days. Even as I waited to pay at the book launch, I was already deeply engrossed in a story about Yukon aviation icon Lloyd Ryder. That’s the sign of a good book!
All three of these should be on your Yukon bookshelf.
At the risk of offending bibliophile readers, let me recommend a video series this year too: Frozen Planet by the BBC. I don’t know how the British beat the CBC to making a world-class nature documentary about northern animals, but I have to admit they have done an excellent job. As a child, I watched far too many TV shows about lions and wildebeest, and not enough about marten and Arctic foxes.
The cinematography is stunning. You’ve never seen moose, wolverines and the rest of the taiga menagerie on screen like this. You may have seen the series playing in a local doctor’s office waiting room, where a small child and I recently watched raptly as wolves in the N.W.T. chased down a bison.
Happy reading and Merry Christmas.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.