2011 International Book List

By: /
January 2, 2012

Questions for Author Jonathan F. Vance:

1. What is the best international affairs book you have read in 2011 (Canadian or otherwise?)

As a historian, I’m obviously partial to history, so I’d have to say Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. I came to it with high hopes after enjoying King Leopold’s Ghost, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s not really that there’s much new detail in the book – more that he tells the story so compelling and with such verve. He paints the picture of a continent whose people and ruling elites were very closely tied together before 1914, in every respect, and yet whose various countries managed to go to war, splitting friends and families in the process. It’s a corrective to the old chestnut that the better countries know each other, the less likely they are to fear and distrust each other.

2. What was the biggest international event of 2011?

I thought there were two main contenders here: the Arab Spring and the euro crisis. Ultimately, I had to opt for the euro crisis. Neither of these events is fully played out yet, but my feeling is that the situation in Europe will have more significant ramifications in the long term. Quite apart from the specifically financial/economic impacts, it seems to me that the episode is causing many people to rethink, not only the euro experiment, but the notion of European integration generally. This is clearly the biggest challenge to the idea since the common market was first conceived, and if the euro crisis can’t be satisfactorily resolved, it may well mean the end of other Europe-wide initiatives as well – or at the very least, it will make it very difficult for new measures to go forward.

3. Who was the biggest international influencer of 2011?

Angela Merkel, for the same reasons. On her so much depends, both in getting other nations to accept bailouts and in getting the German Parliament to back them. It’s terribly difficult for a leader to appease people domestically and internationally at the same time, but to my mind she has done a remarkable job so far.

4. Who was the biggest Canadian international influencer of 2011?

Mark Carney. Obviously he wasn’t the author of the economic and banking policies that allowed Canada to escape the worst of the global financial meltdown – for that, much credit must go to his predecessors – but he has proven to be a steady hand on the tiller at just the right time. It may sound a bit pat, but if the world financial system listens to Carney in his new role, it can only be a good thing.

5. What was Canada's best international moment of 2011?

Oddly enough, I would have to say the royal tour. We frequently underestimate the impact of symbolic events like that, both internally and externally. But the fact that it was a feel-good story at just the right time, was very positive for Canada and may well pay dividends in relations with Britain as well.

6. What was Canada's worst international moment of 2011?

I was tempted to say Canada’s loss to Russia at the world juniors, but that would just be picking at old wounds. Instead, I’d have to say the Vancouver riots – for me, that was the feel-bad story of the year. The riots were profoundly embarrassing to our national psyche, and the fact that they made it into the news around the world really gave us a black eye. In many countries, I imagine that would have been the only news story to mention Canada that was heard over those months.