10 Leaders in Business, Politics and Arts Share Their Favorite Books of 2019 - The Wall Street Journal - Canada News Media
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10 Leaders in Business, Politics and Arts Share Their Favorite Books of 2019 – The Wall Street Journal



Flea, Zadie Smith and Robert Iger

Each year we ask more than 50 leaders and luminaries from literature, business, politics and the arts to name the best books they’ve read during the year. You could spend all day reading the full list—and all year reading the books.

Robert Iger

Ta-Nehisi Coates has become one of my favorite authors—he also writes the “Black Panther” comics—and his searing debut novel, “The Water Dancer,” will stay with me forever. I’m fortunate to work with some supremely talented writers and I certainly appreciate the immense power their stories have to develop empathy and an appreciation for the human condition. Our world needs great storytellers to teach us, to enlighten us and to open our minds to our differences. “The Water Dancer” is such a story and solidifies Mr. Coates as one of our great storytellers. The historian Yuval Noah Harari’s profound books have allowed me to consider the state of our world through the prism of the past. But in “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” Mr. Harari uses history to explore what our future may hold—and makes the case that we should not be afraid of change or disruption, but should rather embrace its inevitability and use it to move us forward. In a business as dynamic as ours, this is a vital lesson.

— Mr. Iger is the CEO of the Walt Disney Co. and the author of “The Ride of a Lifetime.”

Téa Obreht

In preparation for 2019 I found it necessary to break my lifelong habit of reading at bedtime. (It had grown troublesome as I became someone who works way too late and doesn’t realize she’s drifted off, then half-dreams her way through intricate plots at the disastrous pace of one chapter a night.) The rewards have been glorious: My afternoons were spent with Kathleen Alcott’s daringly inventive “America Was Hard to Find” and Karen Russell’s wild and wonderful “Orange World” and Lauren Wilkinson’s genre-bending “American Spy.” I was blown away, too, by

Salvatore Scibona’s

“The Volunteer,” which might be the first book I’ve ever read whose beginning made me cry. It starts with a tiny, desperate boy found at the Hamburg airport speaking an unknown language, and leads us from Latvia to Vietnam, New Mexico and Cambodia, through lifetimes and family myths, memories, upheavals and betrayals of mind and body.

— Ms. Obreht is the author of “Inland.”

Marc Benioff

This year, three extraordinary leaders remind us that we can all be a platform for change. In “The Ride of a Lifetime,” Robert Iger chronicles his amazing career—including his 15 years leading Disney. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes stories illustrating key moments that shaped Disney’s history and Bob’s 45-year career. His “Lessons to Lead By” will help everyone, from new hires to chief executives. My good friend David Rubenstein brings us “The American Story,” applying his incredible interviewing skills to draw out deep insights from our nation’s top presidential historians. David’s book shows us how the past informs our understanding of the present and can shape our future. Roger McNamee’s “Zucked” captures the disastrous consequences of one of our most powerful companies not making trust its No. 1 value. Every page is a reminder that businesses can do more than make a profit; it should be a corporate responsibility to serve stakeholders as well as shareholders and improve the state of the world.

— Mr. Benioff is chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce and co-author, with Monica Langley, of “Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change.”

Zadie Smith

I reread “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and reremembered it’s a masterpiece. I read “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” by

Shoshana Zuboff

and “Re-engineering Humanity” by Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger and wished everyone would read both before the re-engineering is total. I read “Potiki” by the Maori author Patricia Grace and thought she should get the Nobel. I read “Voices From Chernobyl” by Svetlana Alexievich and was glad she already has one. I read “Fleishman Is in Trouble” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner on a plane to Australia: I laughed and cried. The flight was so long I also read “A Month in Siena” by Hisham Matar. Everybody should get to spend a month with Mr. Matar, looking at paintings. I read “Black Lives: W.E.B. Du Bois at the Paris Exposition 1900,” edited by Julian Rothenstein, and felt thankful for Du Bois. I read “The Politics of Pain: Postwar England and the Rise of Nationalism” by Fintan O’Toole and wished I’d written it. I read “The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes”—that 16th-century servant who revealed the corruption of all masters—and marveled at how a long-departed consciousness could still feel present. I read “Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing” and wished that particular consciousness had not departed. I read “Out of Darkness, Shining Light” by Petina Gappah and “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang and felt delighted by fiction. I read “Feel Free” by Nick Laird and felt lucky to have a poet in the house.

— Ms. Smith is the author of “Grand Union.”

HR McMaster

It is difficult to overstate the threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea. Not only as a direct threat to humanity, but also because a nuclear-armed North Korea would lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If

Kim Jong Un

gets them, who doesn’t? The Kim family has never built a weapon it did not try to sell. As North Korea’s third-generation dictator threatens a “Christmas present” if the U.S. doesn’t accede to his latest demands, we would do well to understand better the emotions, ideology and worldview that drive and constrain his behavior. A great starting point is Anna Fifield’s “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.” The book is impeccably researched. The prose is lively. Ms. Fifield writes with wit and dark humor about a murderous and increasingly dangerous dictator. Through first- and secondhand accounts, she fills in the gaps of Mr. Kim’s life to paint a less-unfinished portrait of the man. He is smarter and more calculating than anyone gives him credit for, securing power by ramping up the nuclear and missile programs started by his predecessors. This book provides a valuable perspective on this formidable adversary and one of our most vexing foreign-policy challenges.

— Mr. McMaster is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Susan Packard

As I turned the final pages of Patti Callahan’s novel “Becoming Mrs. Lewis,” I couldn’t believe the two main characters had only known each other for a decade. The victim of an abusive husband, Joy Davidman flees America with her two small sons and sets up life in England. She becomes a writer and takes the chance to correspond with

C.S. Lewis,

author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” novels. Davidman wants to know more about Lewis’s conversion to Christianity from atheism. She, too, is a convert, from Judaism. Lewis writes her back, and the two become friends. Over the decade of their fierce and growing love, Davidman’s spirit and self-worth grow: “It wasn’t until England I saw who I could be: a brilliant light, cherished for who I was.” Her love in turn transforms Lewis from a man living only in his intellect. “Logic takes no account for the heart,” she tells Lewis. “How can you tell a heart what to do?” She opens him up to the grace of living fully and vulnerably, and changes this brilliant writer forever.

— Ms. Packard is a co-founder of HGTV and the author of “Fully Human.”

Andrew Yang

Artificial intelligence and other new technologies have the potential to change our economy and society in unpredictable ways. Even techies don’t know what’s going to happen. Kai-Fu Lee’s “AI Superpowers” recognizes the power that will come from these technologies and the dangers of falling behind other countries, especially China. The book has shown itself to be particularly relevant and prescient. Few observers, even two or three years ago, could have predicted the current state of U.S.-China relations. The U.S. needs to invest in these areas to catch up, while also bringing the world together in an organization like the WTO for data.

— Mr. Yang is the founder of Venture for America and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate


Despite my dismay around the dystopian takeover of science fiction and the loss of hope, optimism and fascination that buoyed my Ray Bradbury childhood, I set my petty whining aside to tell you that Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” is a stunner. It’s a terrifying vision of a dismal future brought on by the willful ignorance, racism and greed of human beings, and an eerily dangerous parallel to our present path. Ms. Butler gives us a satisfying protagonist in the hypersensitive teenager Lauren, whose courage and wits are an infinite source of inspiration. Paulette Jiles’s “News of the World” is the only book I’ve read that caused me to yell out loud in the solitude of my bedroom. Young Johanna, displaced by the wildly shifting world around her, shows courage and spiritual depth beyond her years and filled my heart with purpose. It’s a history book and the most profound love story between Johanna and an elderly man named Capt. Kidd. Toni Morrison’s “Sula,” the first book I read together with my then-fiancée in our two-person book club, is an absolute epic. Love and yearning, pathos and racism, a deep friendship connection forged in secret trauma, it was the last Morrison book I read before her passing and must be held in the highest esteem.

— Flea plays bass for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and is the author of “Acid for the Children.”

Twyla Tharp

Three books recently gave me hope that consensus can be reached in our radically divided culture, emphasizing the optimism and courage to be had when we debate our differences. John Sexton’s “Standing for Reason” demonstrates the commitment needed from adults to support the development of knowledgeable and inquisitive young thinkers. Mr. Sexton, a former president of New York University, insists on the power of logic in dialogue to weld the silos of a large urban university into one force. It can be done. In “A Month in Siena,” Hisham Matar’s study of paintings found in this Italian city help transform the brutal loss of his father into a rebirth of faith. The iconography of three Sienese painters gives Mr. Matar his metaphor. In the first half of the 14th century, Ambrogio Lorenzetti portrayed a democratic Siena ruled through individual civic responsibility. In the latter half of that century, following the Plague, Bartolo Battiloro showed Siena’s community spirit deteriorating; its collective guilt and terror made the city susceptible to a hegemonic ruler. Then a century after the plague, Giovanni di Paolo represented individuals once again capable of communicating directly, without intermediaries, in a work appropriately titled “Paradise.” Józef Czapski’s “Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp” is just that. Czapski, a Polish officer, was captured during World War II and taken to a Russian hard-labor camp. At the end of each harsh day, the prisoners maintained their sanity by giving one another lectures on the subjects they knew best. As there were no written documents allowed, these recitations were entirely from memory. Czapski’s almost literal recall of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” is incredible in its detail; yet even more impressive is his insistence that we can maintain humanity through communication with one another. May we all so triumph in the New Year.

— Ms. Tharp is a choreographer and the author of “Keep It Moving.”

Will Hurd

In “American Carnage,” Tim Alberta explains why our political system is where it is. He illuminates how trends like a widening chasm in incomes, a shredded national identity and a dissipating sense of societal cohesiveness have blurred together into an expression of outrage and how politicians have responded to these changes. He details how “elections in modern America are won principally by mobilizing the base, not persuading the middle.” This is dangerous: The only way we have solved problems in this country is by working together. “American Carnage” helps us understand how and why we’ve forgotten the basic truth that way more unites us than divides us.

— Mr. Hurd is a congressman from Texas.

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Jean Charest, Jean Chrétien and other political throwbacks in the news – Maclean's



Welcome to a sneak peek of the Maclean’s Politics Insider newsletter. Sign-up at the bottom of the page to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

How did VW avoid criminal charges in Canada over its emissions cheating? Stephen Maher writes in Maclean’s that Volkswagen, which will plead guilty to illegally importing cars that were rigged to beat emissions tests, was never charged criminally, unlike in the U.S.—and there’s no evidence, he writes, that the Mounties even investigated the company.

Maher also raises questions about a meeting between a Volkswagen lobbyist and the prime minister’s office. He received varying descriptions of the meeting from Volkswagen, the PMO, and the former PMO official in the room, Mathieu Bouchard. Whatever happened behind closed doors, the automaker will likely pay the biggest environmental fine in Canadian history. But don’t celebrate just yet, writes Maher.

Before anyone pops any bubbly, there are a series of unpleasant questions that should be answered, ideally by officials testifying in parliamentary hearings, because otherwise we will likely never learn why Canadians are so much worse than the Americans at investigating and prosecuting this kind of terrible crime.

Indigenous people are now over-represented in Canada’s prison system at historically high levels. Dr. Ivan Zinger, the correctional investigator of Canada, announced the alarming stats yesterday. When Zinger’s term started four years ago, Indigenous people represented 25 per cent of inmates. That number has since jumped to 30 per cent—and could rise to 33 per cent in three years. Indigenous people make up five per cent of Canada’s population. Zinger called the trend a “national travesty.” [APTN News]

“Checkmate,” says Stephen Harper, presumably. Former Quebec premier Jean Charest told Radio-Canada he will not pursue the federal Tory leadership. Last week, Maclean’s reported Harper stepped down from the party’s fundraising arm so he’d be freed up to quash a potential Charest bid. Well, that was fast. (Charest’s statement said he wasn’t running because the contest rules don’t favour “external” candidates and the party has “undergone deep changes,” including on social issues, since he was a Progressive Conservative.)

Every so often, a prominent political player, reliably from decades past, will pipe up about how Canada should be dealing with China. More than a year ago, Paul Wells wrote presciently about that particular brand of advocacy. Eddie Goldenberg, once the right-hand man to former prime minister Jean Chrétien, made the rounds last week to urge a “prisoner exchange.” Canada would trade Meng Wanzhou for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. At the end of his three-day cabinet retreat, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau firmly rejected the idea. On this, Wells sides with the PM.

I find myself wondering why logic that is so obvious to the Chrétien wing of the party is so unpersuasive to Justin Trudeau’s government. (I’m often nostalgic for Chrétien’s government these days, but on this case I disagree wholly with the Chrétien claque and hope Trudeau’s stubbornness endures.)

Best for last? Trudeau told reporters that ratifying the “new NAFTA” is a parliamentary priority for Liberals. The U.S. and Mexico have already signed on the dotted line, and the PM says Canada will follow suit in short order. Kudos to Trudeau for ditching the nomenclatural tussling over CUSMA/USMCA/ACEUM and reverting to terms everyone understands. There once was an old NAFTA. Now there’s a new one.

Trudeau also addressed another matter of grave importance that’s gripped the nation for weeks. Alas, he had no update on just who would end up paying for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s security costs when they live in Canada. British tabloids, which certainly think they know better, say the PM has already agreed to foot the bill. They say he “privately assured the Queen.” He says he hasn’t talked to her. The drama endures.

Only a day after the Public Health Agency of Canada’s reassurance that coronavirus would likely not appear in Canada, the United States confirmed its first case. And that patient is in the border state of Washington, no less. [New York Times]

Partying with plutocrats: Finance Minister Bill Morneau is in Davos, where the annual World Economic Forum confab is coalescing around a “manifesto” brimming with corporate bafflegab about social responsibility. Morneau joins a panel tomorrow on “shaping the global growth agenda.” The minister’s opposition back home will surely listen to his response to the panel’s central question: “What level of debt, inflation and interest rates are healthy for economies to grow?”

Lucky number 13: The Canada Border Services Agency says just 13 out of every 100,000 travellers into Canada have their digital devices examined by border agents. CBSA says 27,405 people had their phones, tablets or laptops looked at between Nov. 20, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2019—and 40 per cent of examinations led to customs-related offences. Of course, that means 16,443 examinations were fruitless. The agency admits Canada’s privacy commissioner found two breaches of privacy. (Earlier this month, the commissioner had a variety of complaints about the CBSA’s conduct.)

Also, #doughnutgate happened yesterday. If you missed it, consider yourself lucky. But if you want unrelated doughnut journalism, we have doughnut journalism.

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Manera: To tackle climate change, take the politics out of it – Ottawa Citizen



It’s time we accept, and politicians admit, that fighting climate change is not going to be painless.

A wind turbine is seen at the Pickering Nuclear Power Generating Station near Toronto.


It’s time we accept, and politicians admit, that fighting climate change is not going to be painless. There will be costs to individuals, businesses and governments. While Canada’s contribution to overall planetary climate change is very small, we have a responsibility to address it by doing not just our share, but more than our share. That’s because, by world standards, we’re a rich country.

Unfortunately, too much of the debate about tackling climate change has focused on how high a carbon tax has to be to achieve a specific reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This is the wrong way to tackle the issue. Its premise is that human behaviour can be predicted by economic models. But economics is not an exact science, and human behaviour is fiendishly complicated. That’s why it’s impossible to predict the stock market, interest rates, GDP, inflation and a host of other economic measures. There are just too many variables at play. We don’t know how to quantify them all and we don’t fully understand the complex relationships among them.

So the notion that a reliable relationship can be established between a specific level of carbon tax and a consequent greenhouse gas emission reduction is questionable at best. Rebating the tax seems counterproductive. It undermines the premise that it’s intended to discourage fossil fuel consumption when the optics imply that, for most people, the tax is revenue-neutral or something close to it. This doesn’t make a carbon tax a bad idea; it only means that we need to think very carefully about how it’s levied and to what use the revenue it generates is put.

Too much of the debate about tackling climate change has focused on how high a carbon tax has to be to achieve a specific reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

We know that a big part of the climate change problem is emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Hence, it appears logical that we should reduce those emissions as much as possible. Carbon sequestration and more efficient combustion can play a role. Alternative, clean and renewable energy sources can play a larger role. Canada is blessed with far more hydro, wind and solar energy than we can possibly use.

No scientific breakthrough is needed to harness hydro, and it makes sense to maximize its use wherever possible. Nuclear produces no greenhouse gas emissions, but is costly and suffers from the problem of what to do with its radioactive waste. Wind and solar offer the best prospects for the rest, but their intermittent nature poses challenges. What we really need are better ways to store such energy until it is required.

Energy extracted from the sun and wind can be stored in batteries, pumped hydro and hydrogen. We should look for ways to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of these storage techniques. We must also build the required infrastructure, such as smart grids and refuelling stations. This calls for a massive engineering undertaking. Revenue from a carbon tax to complement private capital dedicated to these types of projects would make a logical investment by government.

One approach would be to establish a panel largely made up of engineers, technologists, physicists, chemists, agricultural and forestry experts. Such a panel would oversee the allocation of revenue from a carbon tax to projects most likely to help us achieve our emission reduction targets. Its work and conclusions should take place in a transparent fashion. In other words, take the politics out of it.

Tony Manera is a retired professional engineer.


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Blood and politics in India – MIT News



Mahatma Gandhi, an icon of nonviolent resistance who helped lead India to independence by force of will and strength of mind, rather than physical power, might not seem like a person preoccupied with corporeal matters.

In fact, Gandhi endlessly monitored his own blood pressure and had a “preoccupation with blood,” as MIT scholar Dwai Banerjee and co-author Jacob Copeman write in “Hematologies,” a new book about blood and politics in India.

Gandhi believed the quality of his own blood indicated his body’s “capacity for self-purification,” the authors write, and he hoped that other dissidents would also possess “blood that could withstand the corruption and poison of colonial violence.” Ultimately, they add, Gandhi’s “single-minded focus on the substance was remarkable in its omission of other available foci of symbolization.”

If India’s most famous ascetic and pacifist was actually busy thinking about politics in terms of blood, then almost anyone could have been doing the same. And many people have. Now Banerjee, an assistant professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and Copeman, a senior lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, look broadly at the links between blood and politics in “Hematologies,” recently published by Cornell University Press.

The book encompasses topics as diverse as the rhetoric of blood in political discourse, the politics of blood drives, the uses of blood in protests, and the imagery used by leaders, including Gandhi. Ultimately, the scholars use the topic to explore the many — and seemingly unavoidable — divisions in Indian politics and society.

For progressives wanting a pluralistic society, the rhetoric of blood has often been used to claim that people are essentially alike, no matter their religious or social differences. The notion is that “if you bleed and I bleed, we bleed the same color,” Banerjee says. “In the first few decades after India’s independence [in 1948], there was this idea that blood would unite all different kinds of Indians, and all these years of caste discrimination and colonial rule that had divided us and pitted us against each other would now be fixed.”

But the idea that different groups in society are divided by blood is also a powerful one, as Banerjee and Copeman note, and as India has moved away from pluralism in recent years, a very different rhetoric of blood has regained popularity. In this vision, different ethnic or religious groups are separated by their blood — and bloodshed may be the price for disrupting this supposed order.

“What’s become clear in the last five years is that this other valence of blood, that it divides us [and has] more violent connotations, is becoming much more inescapable now,” Banerjee says.

That is not what many expected in an age of technocratic and globally integrated economics, but it is a reminder of the power of narrow forms of nationalism. 

“The whole idea of modern politics is supposed to be this transcending of blood [and] ethnic religious nationalisms, and that modern contractual politics is based on less biologically based forms of cohabitation,” Banerjee says. “That never seems to work out.”

Focused on Northern India, where Banerjee and Copeman did their fieldwork over several years, “Hematologies” explores these issues in everyday life and with fine-grained detail. As they examine in the book, for instance, political protesters sometimes use their own blood as a medium of expression, to signal both their own commitment and the serious of the issues at hand.

The authors look closely at an advocacy group for survivors of (and residents near) the site of 1984’s Bhopal chemical plant disaster, which wrote a letter in blood — collected from young adults — to the prime minister, asking for a meeting. Somewhat similarly, Indian women have gained attention using blood in the imagery they have created to accompany campaigns against sexual violence and gender discrimination. In so doing, “they deploy the substance as a medium of truth and a mechanism of exposure,” Banerjee and Copeman write.

Even blood drives and blood donations have intricate political implications that the authors explore. While supposed to be separated from politics, some blood drives are de facto rallying points in campaigns and expressions of political solidarity. Blood drives also serve to highlight a tension between science and politics; some medical experts might prefer a more steady flow of donated blood, while a politically prompted donor drive can produce an unnecessary surge of blood.

“Educational campaigns talk very strategically about this,” Banerjee says.

While writing the book together, Banerjee and Copeman initially had slightly different research areas of interest, but before long both discovered they were fully engaged with a whole range of connections between blood and politics.

“To me, it seemed we found this synergy in the way we worked and thought, and I can’t think of a moment where we ever significantly doubted the process we were going through,” says Banerjee. “Constantly bouncing ideas off another person keeps it interesting.”

“Hematologies” has drawn praise from other scholars in the field. Emily Martin, an anthropologist at New York University, has called it “an extraordinary exploration of the multitudes of meanings and uses of blood in northern India.” 

Banerjee notes that India is hardly unique in the way the rhetoric of blood spills into politics. “There is a global similarity in which blood is always a political substance,” he notes, while adding that India’s own unique history gives the subject “its own flavor” in the country.

Ultimately the story of blood being traced in “Hematologies” represents a distinctive way of examining divisions, conflicts, and tensions — the very stuff of contested politics and power.

“Again and again we see that blood always gets caught up with division and divisive politics,” Banerjee says. “It never escapes politics in the way that reformist and secular imaginations hope it will.”

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