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Author Topic: Best Political Books
West Coast Lefty
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posted 27 March 2004 07:51 PM      Profile for West Coast Lefty     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
As a lifelong political junkie, I have amassed quite a collection of political books over the years. Here are my Canadian politics faves, listed separately by language:

Canadian Politics - English:

"The Life" by Steve Paikin (2001). Just finished this one, it has incredible insight into the psychology of politicians and backroom operatives. A rare recent interview with Brian Mulroney is one of the highlights - everything good and bad about him comes out in that chapter.

"Grits" by Christina McCall-Newman (1982). Still the definitive study of the Liberal party IMHO, and much better than the fawning "Trudeau and Our Times" series that came later from the same author and her co-author/husband Stephen Clarkson.

"Playing For Keeps" by Graham Fraser (1989). The best account I've read of the 1988 election, with insider accounts of all 3 parties (remember when there were just 3 parties?) campaign strategies and a good overview of the great free trade debate.

"Not Without Cause" by Georgette Gagnon and Dan Rath (1991). The 1990 Ontario election as seen by two Peterson advisers, but they are quite critical of the arrogance of the Peterson government and the ineptness of the campaign strategy. The ultimate story of how a "can't lose" campaign blew a 30-point lead. I worked that election for the NDP, so it's an especially sweet read for me.

"Rae Days" by Thomas Walkom (1994). Not a fun read for people like me (see previous entry) but an important one. A great analysis of how the Rae government lost its way, with interviews with many of the key players. A strong critique but not a knee-jerk rant like the vastly inferior "Giving Away a Miracle" by Ehrlich and Roberts.

Canadian Politics - French

"Mes Premiers Ministres" by Claude Morin (1991). The ultimate Quebec insider (and RCMP informant!) profiles Premiers Jean Lesage, Daniel Johnson Sr, Jean-Jacques Bertrand, Robert Bourassa and René Lévesque. He's fair to all of them, and it's a funny, interesting read about different styles of leadership and how they effect advisers, bureaucrats,and Cabinet colleagues (Morin played all of those roles at one point between 1960 and 1982).

"Le Tricheur" by Jean-François Lisée (2 volumes -1994). A fascinating account of Bourassa's strategy between Meech and Charlottetown, including the 1992 referendum campaign, to keep the PLQ together and to keep Quebec in Canada by flirting with the sovereingty option. No holds barred, tons of inside gossip and back-stabbing, you just can't put it down, plus there are substantive chapters about public opinion trends, media analysis, etc. The only drawback is Lisée's moralistic tone, he's a sovereignist (which is fine) but his "J'accuse" diatribes against Bourassa for cheating Quebec's destiny get tiresome after a while.

[ 27 March 2004: Message edited by: West Coast Lefty ]

[ 31 March 2004: Message edited by: West Coast Lefty ]


From: Victoria, B.C. | Registered: Feb 2003  |  IP: Logged
weakling willy
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posted 28 March 2004 10:31 PM      Profile for weakling willy     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I believe the second volume of Le Tricheur is actually called Le Naufrageur. Those are remarkable books, both for what Lisée was able to find, and for his pretending to believe that people were fooled by Bourassa. I had the pleasure of taking a web-design short-course with Lisée a couple of years ago, which confirmed my view that he is unable of being anything other than a propagandist.

From your titles, it looks like you find books good if they provide excellent insider's accounts. Unfortunately, most Canadian political biographies are written as stocking stuffers or as publicity puff pieces, and thus lack the behind-the-scenes intrigue. Here are a couple in that vein that I might add:
1. Garr's _Tough Guy_ deals with the Bill Bennett Socreds, giving some behind-the-scenes stuff on the rise of neoconservatism on the Western frontier. Also contains a fetching portrait of Art Kube in his bathrobe.

2. Janice MacKinnon's _Minding the Public Purse_. I have reviewed this book elsewhere on Babble, but it is a remarkably frank look behind the scenes of the Romanow government, and has some good dirt on the Devine regime. MacKinnon is unable of exercising self-criticism, but her book is a rare gem in terms of giving us an insider's view of a recent provincial government.


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Sine Ziegler
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posted 28 March 2004 10:43 PM      Profile for Sine Ziegler     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What a wonderful thread topic !

As a poli sci student, having to read Plato's REPUBLIC opens up your political mind and it is one of the most precious political/philosphical books ever.

Fights of our Lives, by John Duffy, is also one of my modern favourites.


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al-Qa'bong
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posted 28 March 2004 11:32 PM      Profile for al-Qa'bong   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Although some of the novel is deformed by cheap Victorian romance, the descriptions of the lives of the "clemming" Lancashire working classes during the Chartist period are powerful.


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West Coast Lefty
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posted 29 March 2004 01:19 AM      Profile for West Coast Lefty     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
As a poli sci student, having to read Plato's REPUBLIC opens up your political mind and it is one of the most precious political/philosphical books ever.

Ah, if you want to get into all that high-falutin' PHILOSOPHY stuff, my inspiration at McGill University political theory class (with Charles Taylor ) was Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Discourse on Inequality." Rousseau is my whole reason for being involved in politics in a nutshell, with classic lines like "man is born free but is everywhere in chains". Most Profs would tend to assign "The Social Contract" as the main Rousseau text, but I prefer the "Discourse on Inequality" and "Emile" as my main Rousseau references. I'm lucky in that I can read the original French versions but the English translations are pretty good as well.

quote:
1. Garr's _Tough Guy_ deals with the Bill Bennett Socreds, giving some behind-the-scenes stuff on the rise of neoconservatism on the Western frontier. Also contains a fetching portrait of Art Kube in his bathrobe.

I've read "Tough Guy" and was not that impressed. The Stan Perksy series of books on the Bill Bennett/Vander Zalm era ("Son of Socred," "Bennett II," "Fantasy Government,") are my preferred references for BC political history, but quite frankly, they don't measure up to some of the other books discussed in this thread.

The quality of writing on BC politics is disappointing. There is a real need for an equivalent to "Rae Days" for the 1991-2001 BC NDP government - a full record by an impartial observer of the good, bad, and ugly of the Harcourt/Clark/Miller/Dosanjh governments. Harcourt's memoirs and "High-Wire Act" by Dan Gawthrop only cover the first term, and both are hampered by an overt pro-NDP bias. "Barbarians at the Gate," by Mark Milke of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, while I haven't read it, is by all accounts an anti-NDP screed with no nuance or analysis whatsoever. And I won't even go near Judy Tyabji's "Assasination of Glen Clark" for obvious reasons

Mackinnon's book sounds fascinating, I'll have to pick it up. Yes, I must confess I like the insider stuff. There are 2 great volumes of oral history of the Diefenbaker years by Peter Stursberg, "Leadership Gained" and "Leadership Lost", with interviews of all the key advisers and ministers, is a fascinating read as well.

[ 29 March 2004: Message edited by: West Coast Lefty ]

[ 29 March 2004: Message edited by: West Coast Lefty ]


From: Victoria, B.C. | Registered: Feb 2003  |  IP: Logged
rasmus
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posted 29 March 2004 01:56 AM      Profile for rasmus   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The End of Parliamentary Socialism, Leo Panitch and Colin Leys -- the most educational book about politics I've ever read.

Arguments for a New Left, Hilary Wainwright -- her opening arguments, which are a critique of traditional leftist theories of knowledge, and a recovery of a leftist politics that embraces these critiques -- are brilliant. The case studies in this book and her most recent one, Reclaiming the State, are also very interesting.

Marxism and Politics, Ralph Miliband. An oldie but a goodie.

Imagine Democracy, Judy Rebick. Inspired me that there were alternative strategies for progressive & democratic transformation of society, other than the old social democratic and Marxist approaches. A wealth of concrete ideas.

Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, Michael Sandel. To my mind, the most compelling and most concise critique of Rawlsian liberalism, one which Rawls didn't even have the courtesy to acknoweldge as motivating his later reformulations of his theory.

Power, a Radical View. Steven Lukes. Another oldie, but perspicuous in the Anglo-Saxon style.

The End of Capitalism as We Knew It, J.K. Gibson-Graham. A feminist/post-modernist critique of Marxism and recovery of the discourse of class.

The Art of War, Sun Tzu. Read, reflect on your experience, reread. Repeat annually.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Luo Guanzhong. A treasure!

The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx. Still reads well today.

The German Ideology, Karl Marx.

A Dictionary of Political Thought, Roger Scruton. Hey, he's a right-wing nut, but it's a useful book.

Humanity, A Moral History of the Twentieth Century -- Jonathon Glover. A profound, essential book.

The Lives of Animals, JM Coetzee. Ditto.


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weakling willy
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posted 29 March 2004 11:12 AM      Profile for weakling willy     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I have heard that William Carroll and Bob Ratner have done interviews with major players in the NDP government in B.C. -- we'll see if a book comes out of it. You are probably right about Tough Guy, but that photo of Kube is priceless.
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N.Beltov
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posted 29 March 2004 11:59 AM      Profile for N.Beltov   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
For an influential or formative book I would list Rene Levesque's "An Option For Quebec." As an anglophone it took the top of my head off...and caused me to part company with the vast majority of the political views of the people around me, including (sadly) most leftists ...Not that I'm a separatist anymore, but it opened my eyes...
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terra1st
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posted 29 March 2004 12:26 PM      Profile for terra1st     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
ramus, you're awesome.

You stole lots of my books.
__________

Occupied Canada - Robert Calihoo and Robert Hunter

Recollections of the On-to-Ottawa Trek - Ronald Liversedge, edited by Victor Howard.

Rules for Radicals - Saul Alinsky (some chapters are absolute trash, others are brilliant)

Pomosexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality - pat califa and/or carol queen (I'm not sure which one)

Rank and File (the old one, haven't read the new one) - Staughton and Alice Lynd


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HalfAnHourLater
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posted 29 March 2004 04:52 PM      Profile for HalfAnHourLater     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
"L'Histoire Noir du Canada Anglophone" by Norman Lester is a very good overview of the english media and historical bias to french spoeaking 'canadiens' and metis. Definitely eye opening.
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al-Qa'bong
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posted 29 March 2004 04:55 PM      Profile for al-Qa'bong   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Lament for a Nation and Technology and Empire by George Grant.
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kingblake
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posted 29 March 2004 05:07 PM      Profile for kingblake     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Some really great suggestions so far. I can't wait till the summer, when i'll try to read as many of these as possible.

I also really loved the Lawrence Martin Chretien Bios. Federalism and the French Canadians is a classic (not saying i agree with it all).

A Nation Unaware by Hershel Hardin, In Search of a New Left by Jim Laxer, and Shooting the Hippo by Linda McQuaig were perhaps the books that got me into politics the most.

And maybe its not a "political book", but Gabrielle Roy's Tin Flute is a more hard-hitting than anything a Poli Sci academic has yet to come up with.

quote:
Plato's REPUBLIC
Puking Emoticon, PLEASE!

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terra1st
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posted 29 March 2004 05:13 PM      Profile for terra1st     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
forgot one:

Godwin's inquiry concerning political justice. I have only read "on property", but it is excellent.


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skdadl
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posted 29 March 2004 05:14 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Has anyone mentioned Dalton Camp, Gentlemen, Players, and Politicians?

Gustavus Myers, A History of Canadian Wealth. Now a century old, but a muckraking socialist classic, as is the Liversedge mentioned above.

Norman Penner, Winnipeg 1919: The Strikers' Own History of the Winnipeg General Strike. Go to the appendix and find the astounding courtroom address made by one of the strike leaders (ashamed I've forgotten his name).


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Loony Bin
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posted 29 March 2004 05:17 PM      Profile for Loony Bin   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I read Coming of Age in Mississippi, an autobiographical novel about the civil rights movement in the US last year. It covers most of the developments in the movement from its early stages to the million man march and the assassination of King, all from the perspective of the female narrator who was active in the movement at the time. I'll check at home for the author's name and try to remember to post it tomorrow.
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Tommy Shanks
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posted 29 March 2004 05:24 PM      Profile for Tommy Shanks     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I bought The Strange Death of Liberal England a couple of years ago in a great used bookstore in Vancouver. Great read.

And All the Presidents Menis still a great book

[ 29 March 2004: Message edited by: Tommy Shanks ]


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terra1st
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posted 29 March 2004 05:29 PM      Profile for terra1st     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:

And All the Presidents Menis still a great book

It's about clinton, is it not?

I think you misspelled it.


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Tommy Shanks
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posted 29 March 2004 05:32 PM      Profile for Tommy Shanks     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I was debating editing that but said, eeeehh, what the hell.

I kinda like menis, no?


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terra1st
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posted 29 March 2004 05:40 PM      Profile for terra1st     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Love menis.
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mighty brutus
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posted 29 March 2004 06:08 PM      Profile for mighty brutus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Animal Farm.
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oldgoat
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posted 29 March 2004 10:12 PM      Profile for oldgoat     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
When The Wind Blows By Raymond Briggs. As powerful as anything I've read.
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Tim
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posted 29 March 2004 10:30 PM      Profile for Tim     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by skdadl:
Has anyone mentioned Dalton Camp, Gentlemen, Players, and Politicians?

Geoffery Stevens' recent biography of Camp - The Player - is also really good.

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Willowdale Wizard
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posted 30 March 2004 04:33 AM      Profile for Willowdale Wizard   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
the imperial war museum north in manchester is putting on "where the wind blows" as a play the weekend after easter.

- "homage to catalonia" - george orwell
- "my american history" - sarah schulman
- "this is the way the world will end, this is the way you will end, unless" - harold freeman
- "the autobiography of malcolm x"


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'topherscompy
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posted 30 March 2004 05:10 AM      Profile for 'topherscompy        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
i like political books, especially those written on the sauce. plato, they say, could stick it away-
half a crate of whiskey every day. aristotle, aristotle was a bugger for the bottle. hobbes was fond of his dram, and rené descartes was a drunken fart. 'i drink, therefore i am.'

seriously, i like marx, sun tzu, plato, foucault, hobbes and rousseau all alot, but each writer for a different reason. my favourite political book though, i think can be narrowed down to either the art of war, or the republic. its close. i can't pick just one.


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skdadl
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posted 30 March 2004 09:50 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 

'stopherscompy, that post is a classic of the genre.

Now, if I can just figure out which genre ...


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weakling willy
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posted 30 March 2004 10:26 AM      Profile for weakling willy     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I believe Lester's book has a title closer to this: Le Livre Noir du Canada Anglais. He is riffing off the title of Le livre noir du communisme, which for some reason set off great debates in France just shy of a decade ago. In the 2000 election, the Bloc put out Le livre noir du party libéral.

I actually found Gustavus' History of Canadian Wealth a little dull as a muckraking account. Stanley Ryerson's Unequal Union, while not a muckraking account, reads with more interest.


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flotsom
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posted 30 March 2004 03:41 PM      Profile for flotsom   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Scott A. Boorman, "The Protracted Game: a Wei-ch'i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy" (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1969)

An excellent book.


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'topherscompy
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posted 30 March 2004 06:33 PM      Profile for 'topherscompy        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Now, if I can just figure out which genre ...

comedy. more precisely, it's from monty python's song of the philosopher bruces. (australia! australia! australia! we love you! amen!)

full lyrics:

immanuel kant was a real pissant
who was very rarely stable.
heidegger, heidegger was a boozy beggar
who could think you under the table.
david hume could out-consume
wilhelm freidrich hegel,
and wittgenstein was a beery swine
who was just as schloshed as schlegel.
there's nothing nietzche couldn't teach ya
'bout the raisin' of the wrist.
socrates himself was permanently pissed.
john stuart mill of his own free will,
after half a pint of shandy, was particularly ill.
plato, they say, could stick it away -
half a crate of whiskey every day.
aristotle, aristotle was a bugger for the bottle.
hobbes was fond of his dram.
and rené descartes was a drunken fart.
'i drink, therefore i am.'
yes socrates himself is particularly missed -
a lovely little thinker,
but a bugger when he's pissed.


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al-Qa'bong
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posted 30 March 2004 07:05 PM      Profile for al-Qa'bong   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
A couple of classmates and I sang that tune in Louis' Pub after writing our "Philosphy of Religion" final back in the 80s....
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ghoris
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posted 30 March 2004 07:26 PM      Profile for ghoris     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I noticed somebody already mentioned Steve Paikin's "The Life" but he's got a new one out - "The Dark Side: The Personal Price of a Political Life" which is also very good.

West Coast Lefty - I actually liked "Trudeau and our Times" (although "Grits" is better). The first volume is pretty laudatory, I grant you, but I thought that the second volume (how the 1980-84 Trudeau government's economic policies fell apart) was a pretty evenhanded treatment.

[ 30 March 2004: Message edited by: ghoris ]


From: Vancouver | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged

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