Michael’s Summer Nonfiction Picks

This summer, instead of the usual light beach reading, why not let the housework pile up, the lawn get parched, and the kids feed themselves – all while you sink into a great non-fiction read? Here are a few recommendations that promise to deliver.

WhereBearsRoamWhere Bears Roam the Streets, by Jeff Parker

Russia has been much in the news lately, sparking interest in this enormous and diverse country. Parker set out for Russia in 2008 intending to write about Putin and the economic and social changes evident in the wake of Communism. But fate had other intentions; he ended up befriending Igor, a kind of Russian Big Lebowski. The resulting book is an amusing tale of everyday Russia, coloured with vodka and misadventure. If you like to learn something while reading on the beach, this one is for you.

CouchOfWillingnessThe Couch of Willingness: An Alcoholic Therapist Battles the Bottle and a Broken Recovery System, by Michael Pond and Maureen Palmer

‘Harrowing’ and ‘riveting’ are two words that keep coming up in reviews of this book. After addictions therapist Michael Pond himself becomes an alcoholic, losing everything to the bottle, he winds up sleeping on a couch in a recovery home. His battle to recover his life takes him from his family in Toronto to the Downtown East Side — to dumpsters, ditches, hospitals and finally, to prison. The journey also reveals much about the helping profession he once thrived in.

DavyThePunkDavy the Punk: A Story of Bookies, Toronto the Good, the Mob and My Dad by Bob Bossin

Good old days? Bob Bossin, a Canadian folk singer, tells the story of his father’s life in the 1930s and 40s. It’s a world of gambling, horse racing, anti-Semitism, double standards, and one man’s quest to understand his father. It’s also an absorbing social history of Canada showing a darker face than the popular imagination would like to admit.

GreatestVictoryThe Greatest Victory: Canada’s One Hundred Days, 1918, by J. L. Granatstein

2014 marks the hundredth year anniversary of the start of World War I, and a number of books are being released in commemoration. In this book, distinguished historian J. L. Granatstein covers the hundred days that led to the end of the war, during which 100,000 Canadian soldiers fought using a revolutionary mobile kind of warfare; this ultimately influenced the development of what the Germans would come to call “blitzkrieg.” The hundred days is an important and costly aspect of the Canadian contribution to the Great War that few of us have even heard of.

ShadowsInTheVineyardShadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine, by Maximillian Potter

Fact can be stranger than fiction. In 2010, the proprietor of a famous French vineyard received an extortion note threatening destruction of his vines if a million euros were not paid in ransom. Thinking it was a hoax, Aubert de Villaine ignored the message and the priceless vines were poisoned. It was an event that triggered a dramatic sting operation and the suicide of the prime suspect. Pour yourself a glass of burgundy and settle back to soak up the rich history of the region – all while following this true crime whodunit.

TaleOfTheDuellingThe Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness and Recovery by Sam Kean

Just where does neuropathology end and personality begin? This book explores the fascinating world of historical brain research – reliant on accidents, infections, strokes, seizures and other traumas – with wit and lucidity, producing a book that Kirkus calls “compulsively readable, wicked scientific fun.” Slip on the sunglasses, sink into your beach chair, and enjoy.

 

-Michael

 

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