I didn't come close to reading all the books released this year by B.C. authors.
For example, I still haven't gotten around to Listening to the Bees, by Mark L. Winston and Renée Sarojini Saklikar. And I'm ashamed to say that I haven't read Stephen Hui's highly acclaimed 105 Hikes In and Around Southwest British Columbia. And I haven't yet picked up A Matter of Confidence: The Inside Story of the Political Battle for BC by Rob Shaw and Richard Zussman.
So I'm not going to be so presumptuous as to say the following titles are the "best local nonfiction books" of the year by B.C. writers.
I will say this: I enjoyed them.
It's a bit of a cliché to come up with a Top 10 list at this time of year, so just to be a little different, I prepared my Top 11 list, in no particular order.
This is one of the most compelling and infuriating books published this year in Canada. And it stands as a devastating indictment to any politician who tries to defend the decision to build the $10.7-billion Site C hydroelectric project in northeastern B.C.
Sarah Cox, a veteran environmental writer living in Victoria, delves into the unique ecosystem of the Peace River Valley, revealing how it's become a northern home to several species commonly found much farther south.
She also does the math, demonstrating that B.C. Hydro didn't need to dam the Peace River a third time because there simply isn't the demand for more power.
And she describes the heartbreak that the B.C. government's decision to complete the project has inflicted on Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of the region.
In the end, nobody in the B.C. legislature truly spoke up for the Peace—the B.C. Greens gave it away as a bargaining chip in an elusive quest for proportional representation; the NDP cabinet capitulated to building-trades unions; and the B.C. Liberals were captured by the hydroelectric industry, which advanced an argument that an unnecessary dam would stave off climate change.
Breaching the Peace explains why public fury over this won't likely subside anytime soon.
Take the Torch: A Political Memoir (by Ian Waddell)
This autobiography by a former NDP provincial cabinet minister and ex-MP is both fun and informative.
There are colourful stories about Ian Waddell's associations with a long list of high-profile New Democrats, including Tom Berger, Adrian Dix, Glen Clark, Ed Broadbent, Svend Robinson, Fin Donnelly, and others.
In the book, Waddell describes the role he played in writing section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and treaty rights.
He also reveals how B.C. might have developed a legal-heroin program had Dave Barrett's NDP government been reelected in 1975.
The retired SFU communications prof is one of B.C.'s all-time great researchers and in his newest book, he connects the dots between the federal Liberal government's energy policies and big business.
Readers learn how future Liberal heavyweights like cabinet minister Jim Carr and top advisers to Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna were cozying up with oil-industry officials many years ago to cook up a national carbon tax. A key figure was former Liberal foreign affairs minister John Manley, who was groomed to become the CEOs' voice in Ottawa.
Donald Gutstein points out that a carbon tax wasn't going to achieve the types of greenhouse-gas emissions that would be necessary to stave off climate disaster. But it would offer the Liberals a good story to tell to Canadians and achieve the "big stall".
This would allow Big Oil to continue profiting as the cost of climate-related floods, forest fires, and windstorms escalated. In short, the prime minister and his finance minister have been captured by the Business Council of Canada.
Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival (by Peter D. Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth)
The good news is that this book by two Gulf Islands writers explains what can be done to avert a climate catastrophe.
But that comes in the second half, after the depth of the crisis is spelled out in ways that few have ever done before. Peter D. Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth understood—well ahead of the media—that greenhouse-gas emissions are rising more rapidly than many expected.
In fact, they're on track with the worst-case scenarios offered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, creating the need for urgent action.
And the authors see the media and politicians as partners in a crime of unprecedented proportions, which is covering up the magnitude of the threat to humanity posed by the fossil-fuel industry.
Read this book and then ask yourself: should Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau be indicted for using tax dollars to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline system for $4.5 billion? And what about all those editorial writers who thought it was a good idea to spend another $9.3 billion completing a pipeline expansion project?
An Uncommon Road: How Sikhs Struggled Out of the Fringes and Into the Mainstream (by Gian Singh Sandhu)
The founder of the World Sikh Organization and retired businessman's erudite memoir not only tells his life story, but also captures the struggles faced by so many other Sikhs trying to gain acceptance and respect in Canada.
Sandhu spent much of his life in Williams Lake, building a successful lumber mill, only to see it destroyed by fire. It's inspiring to read how he recovered from this setback.
But some of the most memorable parts of the book deal with his efforts to remove the stigma that descended on Sikhs in the wake of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985. In these sections, he suggests that the Conservative government of that time wasn't interested in learning the truth—it was too busy cozying up to the Indian government.
Sandhu also makes a strong case that tenets of the Sikh faith closely align with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's one reason why he was an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage when many religious fundamentalists were opposed.
On the Line: A History of the British Columbia Labour Movement (by Rod Mickleburgh)
This is an ambitious look at the evolution of B.C.'s labour movement, telling the stories of giants in the union movement dating back to the late 19th century.
It's broad in scope yet full of anecdotes and lush photographs illustrating the battles that working people waged.
One of the most compelling sections covers the collapse of what's now known as the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing in 1958 while the bridge was under construction. Mickleburgh also covers the important role that women have played in advancing workers' rights, as well as the nastiness of the Dunsmuir coal empire.
It's the type of book that you can dip into repeatedly to gain a greater understanding of our history. There's a reason why B.C. has traditionally had a more polarized political climate than other provinces—the answer can be found in On the Line.
Memory (edited by Philippe Tortell, Mark Turin, and Margot Young)
The Peter Wall Institute became enmeshed in controversy when Philippe Tortell, its director, resigned on a point of principle.
This has perhaps overshadowed one of the institute's great achievements of 2018, which is this collection of essays from academics exploring memory from a multitude of perspectives.
Everything from colonialism to culture to computer science to genetics is covered by some of the leading minds at UBC and other academic institutions.
There are also illuminating insights into Indigenous memory from UBC education professor emeritus Jo-ann Archibald and Vancouver Island University adjunct professor Hilistis Pauline Waterfall.
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act (by Bob Joseph)
This straightforward idea—outlining discriminatory aspects of a federal law—turned into a publishing sensation as Bob Joseph's primer remained on bestsellers lists for months.
It speaks to the hunger for reconciliation among many bookish Canadians.
Joseph, founder and president of Port Coquitlam–based Indigenous Corporate Training, clearly demonstrates how the Indian Act has been a huge factor behind the impoverishment and political and cultural alienation of First Nations people.
It's shocking in its breadth. And it offers insights into why historical figures like former prime minister John A. Macdonald and poet and bureaucrat Duncan Campbell Scott attract so much controversy.
Let's Get Frank: Canada's Mad Man of Advertising (by Robin Brunet)
The ups and downs of the Vancouver advertising industry over the past half-century are captured in this biography of Frank Palmer.
Born into a working-class family on the West Side—at a time when working-class people could afford to live in that part of town—Palmer rose to become the most influential advertising and marketing executive of his generation.
Palmer's penchant for practical jokes makes him seem, at times, like an overgrown frat boy. But his ruthless determination to succeed turned him into a legend. He put B.C. on the map in Canada's hypercompetitive world of advertising, which is no small feat.
There are lessons here for anyone hoping to build a business: work bloody hard, hire smart people, and be as imaginative as you can. And when you lose, which happens from time to time, pick yourself up off the floor and try again.
That's the Palmer way.
Lively and colourful, Fighting for Space chronicles how a motley and courageous group of social and health activists transformed the public's perspective on how to address addiction to illicit drugs.
It's mostly told through the eyes of long-time Downtown Eastside rabble rousers Ann Livingston, Dean Wilson, Liz Evans, and Mark Townsend. And it earned author Travis Lupick the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.
“In 1998, the worst year of the overdose crisis that’s recounted in Fighting for Space, there were 400 drug-overdose deaths across B.C," Lupick said earlier this year. "It was a number so high that in response, Vancouver revolutionized how it responds to addiction. In 2017, there were 1,436 fatal overdoses across B.C. Something needs to change, and radically so.”
Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life (by Matt Hern and Am Johal)
Here's one thing that stands out in this book by two progressive Vancouver intellectuals: the remarkable degree of empathy shown toward oil-industry workers living in Fort McMurray.
Make no mistake—Matt Hern, a university lecturer, and Am Johal, who organizes public events at SFU Woodward's, are completely freaked out about climate change. But they also make the case that this issue is too often framed as requiring individuals to take responsibility. And it leads to stigmatizing oilsands workers when they're mere cogs in a much larger machine.
In fact, Hern and Johal argue that condemning average people for climate change is one of capitalism's "prime defensive strategies"—and it must be countered for real progress to be made.
“Blaming the choices individual people make in the context of highly limited options and grinding employment pressures is a fool’s errand,” they write.More