(Note: This post was created with AI assistance)
I was recently appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Ottawa Public Library. As a lifelong library user and champion of its Intellectual Freedom policy, the opportunity to join the library’s volunteer board is a perfect fit coming at the right time.
In honour of the Ottawa Public Library and the countless hours of reading enjoyment it has brought to me over the years, I want to share with you the Top 10 Books I enjoyed in 2022.
Of course, most Top 10 lists of 2022 were published well before the end of the year, but one of the joys of libraries is the ability to go back in time and find lost treasurers or discover books that slipped through the cracks the first time.
1. Title: “The Age of the Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy Around the World”
By: Gideon Rachman
Publisher: Other Press
Publication Date: April 2022
I borrowed this book for the chapter on Vladimir Putin. It includes an examination of the former President and current Prime Minister of Russia, and his impact on Russian politics and the world stage. The chapter on Putin highlights his rise and consolidation of power in Russia, as well as his approach to foreign affairs. Rachman argues that Putin represents a growing trend of strongman leaders who are challenging the international order.
The book features several other dictators and strongman leaders, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Xi Jinping of China, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and Donald J. Trump of the United States. Through a comprehensive analysis of these leaders and their regimes, Rachman sheds light on the challenges faced by liberal democracy and the growing influence of authoritarian leaders on the global stage.
Overall, the chapter on Putin, as well as the rest of the book, offers a timely and incisive examination of the rise of strongman leaders and the threat they pose to democracy and the rule of law.
2. Title: “The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War”
By: Nicholas Mulder
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication Date: January 2022
This book provides a comprehensive view of the use of economic sanctions as a tool of conflict and diplomacy in the modern era. It argues that sanctions have become an increasingly important tool for states to wield against other countries and non-state actors, and have replaced traditional military force as the preferred method of coercion in many cases.
Mulder describes several different types of “economic weapons” that are used in sanctions, including trade restrictions, asset freezes, financial embargoes, and restrictions on access to technology and resources. The book also discusses the ways in which sanctions can be used to target specific individuals or organizations, as well as entire countries.
The book highlights the growing use of sanctions as a means of exerting influence and achieving strategic objectives, and examines the ways in which sanctions can have both positive and negative consequences for the countries affected by them. Mulder argues that while sanctions can be an effective tool of diplomacy, they also carry significant risks, including the potential to cause unintended harm to civilians and to destabilize entire countries.
3. Title: “2034: A Novel of the Next World War”
By: Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis USN
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: March 2021
“2034” is a dystopian novel set in the future that imagines a world ravaged by a global conflict. The book follows several characters who are caught up in the events leading up to and during World War III, including soldiers, civilians, and politicians.
The novel imagines the war beginning with a series of skirmishes in the Arctic as various nations vie for control of the region’s vast oil reserves. As tensions escalate, the conflict quickly spreads, including to the Taiwan Strait, eventually engulfing the entire world, and leading to widespread destruction and loss of life.
The consequences of the war are far-reaching and devastating, with much of the world’s infrastructure destroyed and its populations decimated. The novel explores the themes of power, violence, and the human cost of war, as well as the devastating impact that such conflicts have on individuals, communities, and entire societies.
At its core, “2034” is a thought-provoking exploration of how World War III might start, written by authors who have an inside perspective on global dynamics and military capabilities, which makes their fictional account a chilling read.
4. Title: “Five Little Indians”
By: Michelle Good
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: April 2020
It’s about time I insert some Canadiana into this list. “Five Little Indians” by Michelle Good is a collection of interconnected short stories that explore the lives and experiences of Indigenous people in contemporary Canada. The book draws upon the author’s own personal experiences growing up as a member of the Cree Nation in British Columbia and offers a nuanced and powerful portrait of Indigenous life in modern Canada.
The book is particularly powerful in its depictions of the experiences of Indigenous women, and the unique challenges they face because of systemic violence and discrimination. Through these stories, the book offers a deeply moving portrait of Indigenous life and provides a powerful voice for Indigenous people and their experiences. Thanks for the recommendation, Jake!
5. Title: “War: How Conflict Shaped Us”
By: Margaret MacMillan
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: October 2020
“War: How Conflict Shaped Us” by Margaret MacMillan explores the ways in which war has shaped human society, from ancient civilizations to the modern era. The book argues that war is a constant feature of human history and plays a significant role in shaping our political, economic, and social institutions.
MacMillan argues that while war has caused immense suffering and destruction, it has also been a driving force behind technological innovations, cultural exchange, and the spread of ideas and beliefs.
Through a wide-ranging and insightful analysis, MacMillan offers readers a unique perspective on the role that war has played in shaping the course of human history.
6. Title: “The Immortality Key: the Secret History of the Religion With No Name”
By: Brian Muraresku
Publication Date: September 2020
This eye-opening book explores the hidden history of a religion with no name, which has been passed down through the centuries and has played a significant role in the development of Western spirituality and culture.
The main point of the book is that ancient religious traditions of consuming psychedelic substances, which has been largely forgotten or dismissed as mythology, was in fact a real and powerful spiritual movement that has had a profound impact on the world.
The author argues that this religion played a critical role in the development of early Western civilization and was central to the formation of many of the world’s major religions. Muraresku also argues that this tradition has been deliberately suppressed and its history erased, due to its association with drugs and other taboo practices.
At its core, “The Immortality Key” is a deeply researched and thought-provoking exploration of the interplay between religion, spirituality, and drug use, and its impact on human history.
7.Title: “Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees”
By: Bob Klapisch
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication Date: March 2019
This book is a comprehensive look at one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. It delves into the inner workings of the New York Yankees, focusing on the team’s front office, ownership, and player development strategies.
I particularly enjoyed the book’s description of the team’s use of technology and data analysis to gain a competitive advantage.
Klapisch also highlights the Yankees’ innovative approach to scouting and player evaluation, including a thoughtful commitment to player development including nurturing young talent early – Many lessons for business managers can be gained from this book too.
8. Title: “The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World”
By: David Deutsch
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: January 2012
At the time of publication, David Deutsch’s book was seen as a ground-breaking work that explored the nature of knowledge and the limits of human understanding. Since then, many of the concepts and analogies have become so mainstream that reading the book occasionally gave the sensation of deja-vu.
The main idea of the book is that knowledge is a never-ending process of discovery and explanation, and that there is no limit to what humans can understand or achieve. Deutsch argues that this process has transformed the world throughout history, leading to technological advancements, cultural innovations, and scientific breakthroughs.
One of the key themes in the book is the concept of “wonder,” which Deutsch argues is a crucial component of the human quest for knowledge. Wonder, according to Deutsch, is the feeling of awe and amazement that comes from discovering something new and unexpected. This sense of wonder, he argues, is what drives us to seek out new explanations and to continue pushing the boundaries of our understanding.
9. Title: “To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings”
By: John O’Donohue
Publisher: Convergent Books
Publication Date: March 2008
No book in 2022 touched me quite as profoundly as John O’Donohue’s collection of prayers, poems, and meditations written by the late Irish poet, philosopher, and priest. John O’Donohue was widely regarded as one of the most iconic spiritual leaders of his time, and his writing reflects his deep insight into the human experience and his profound wisdom about the nature of spirituality.
The book is a compilation of O’Donohue’s most famous blessings, which offer encouragement, comfort, and inspiration to readers as they navigate the ups and downs of life. The blessings range from simple prayers that offer comfort in times of loss and sadness to more elaborate meditations that encourage readers to find meaning and purpose in their lives. Thanks for the introduction, Kate.
10. Title: “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage”
By: Alfred Lansing
Publisher: Adventure Library
Publication Date: June 1994
I had always heard of Sir Ernest Shackleton but knew nothing about why he was such a great adventurer. This book explores his 1914 Antarctic expedition and the crew’s incredible journey of survival. It highlights Shackleton’s unwavering leadership and commitment to his men, as they faced seemingly insurmountable challenges and extreme conditions in their attempt to cross the Antarctic continent.
One of Shackleton’s defining characteristics was his refusal to abandon any of his men, no matter what the circumstances. Throughout the journey, Shackleton made it his top priority to keep his crew safe and ensure their survival. When their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in ice and eventually sank, Shackleton organized a series of grueling trips to find help, eventually leading all of his crew to safety after nearly two years stranded in Antarctica. Few real-life adventure stories encapsulate the best of humanity so thoroughly. It also gives me hope that if I’m ever stranded on a deserted island that the outcome doesn’t have to be, “Lord of the Flies” lol.
As a final plug for libraries, I believe they are the ultimate equalizer and one of the purest expressions of democracy: A place open to everyone and allowing people to seek out answers for themselves, while exploring the countless curiosities and imaginations that exist throughout the ages.
As our society’s rate of innovation continues to accelerate with new technologies like AI language models, access to unfiltered information, whether you agree with it or not, will become ever more important.
The people of Ottawa are fortunate to have a healthy library system comprised of dedicated staff and volunteers who understand the importance their work. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the 2023 Draft Budget to see the effectiveness of the Ottawa Public Library system.