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January Books

1. Imperialist Canada by Todd Gordon.
I already mentioned this book in my last post, when I interviewed the author, Todd Gordon.  However, given that I really do think that this book is required reading for every Canadian, I thought I would highlight that again.
Gordon begins with an examination of the big picture of (imperialist) capitalism itself.  This helps the reader to understand that the cases he studies are not exceptions to the rules for how governments and businesses operate within that picture.  Rather, he demonstrates that imperialist and violent behaviour is intrinsic to capitalism itself.  From here, Gordon moves to an examination of the practices of imperialism that take place “at home,” within Canada and against indigenous populations (the book was published in 2010 and this section is up-to-date, which is one of its strengths).  Gordon then moves from the national to the international scene and looks at the expansion of the interests of Canadian-based imperialist capitalism into other nations.  He looks at various trade and legal arrangements before looking at the death-dealing results of these arrangements.  He then looks at the ways in which military and paramilitary state-backed forces have been employed to back those businesses (both in Canada and abroad), before offering a final chapter on more direct Canadian military invasions, occupations and coups.
All in all, this book presents a damning picture of Canadian political and business activities.  Not only that, but it is damning of the status quo of daily life in Canada, as the lives of ordinary “citizens” are caught up within (and often benefit from) the machinations of these parties.  This is very strongly recommended reading.
2. Stolen Continents: The “New World” Through Indian Eyes by Ronald Wright.
As I continue my move into a more sustained reading of the history and present experiences of indigenous groups in Canada, I thought a more sweeping historical overview would be helpful.  In this book, Wright looks at this history of five people groups — Aztec, Maya, Inca, Cherokee, and Iroquois — and explores events from their perspectives through three historical phases that he terms conquest, resistance, and rebirth.  He draws heavily upon histories recorded by the indigenous peoples and offers a narrative that runs counter to the standard histories taught in public schools (America wasn’t an empty wilderness waiting to be populated, the indigenous people weren’t “inferior savages,” and so on).  Importantly, Wright also continues to tell the stories of these First Nations up until the time of writing (c.1993).  By doing this, he demonstrates the ways in which our systems of politics, law, and business continue to actively pursue the genocide of indigenous people groups.  However, Wright also demonstrates that resistance has continued up until our present day and so hope remains.
On a more personal note, I remember reading The Conquest of New Spain when I was young.  That book is an account of Hernan Cortes’ conquest of the Aztec empire, written from the perspective of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, one of the conquistadors present at that time.  As such, it is a classic example of history written from the perspective of the victors.  At that time of my life, I read a lot of adventure stories (lots of Dumas, Tolkien, Pyle, Scott… that sort of thing) and I was thrilled to find such wild adventures — stories of knights triumphing against all odds — occurring in real life.  Shame on me.  I mention this because I think the default position ingrained into all of us (through our education but also through the ongoing presentation of these matters in mainstream media and political discourse) is one that is deeply racist and violent.  Over the years, I have undergone a conversion related to these matters, and hope others will do the same.  This book is recommended reading.
3. The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius.
I first read Suetonius back when I was starting to seriously research Paul.  However, as the years(!) have gone by and as my perspective has gained more and more focus, I made a decision to go back and reread a lot of the primary source material.  It’s very interesting to see how different a text appears after that kind of sustained work.  Many things about Suetonius’ account of the Caesars look very different and all sorts of unnoticed emphases now jump off the page.  It’s funny how much a text changes after you immerse yourself in its context(s).  It feels so different than my prior reading and I’m amazed by how much I missed or just didn’t understand the first time around (in part amazed because Suetonius’ account seems so straightforward and because I already had some basic knowledge of the matters related therein).
When I think about this, I also think that this is what happens when a person begins to engage in a serious and engaged study of “sacred” texts, like the Bible.  I often think that most Christians would be better served if they put down their Bibles and simply spent a few years reading books about the Bible.  After that, I imagine that they would be amazed at how different things look.  Truth be told, after all my years of engaging in biblical studies (I just realized I’ve been doing that for 11 years now!), I only now feel like I can pick up the New Testament and have a decent understanding of what is going on there.
4. Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy.
This is the final volume of McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy.”  In it, he brings together the protagonists of the first two books — John Grady Cole and Billy Parham (see here for a more detailed overview, including spoilers).  Initially, this conjunction rather excited me (like Wolverine meeting Batman, or something) but I ended up finding the book a bit disappointing.  It didn’t seem to quite meet the (admittedly very high) standard set by the earlier volumes.  Of course, as with anything written by McCarthy, there were still really excellent moments, like the conversation that occurs between John Grady and Eduardo during the climax of the novel.
So, one month behind schedule, I have completed my objective of reading all of McCarthy’s novels.  Now I gotta get back to Proust…

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