The Best Reads From 2012

OpenCanada’s Rapid Responders and Roundtablers share their favourite non-fiction reads from the past year.

By: /
20 December, 2012
By: OpenCanada Staff

We asked OpenCanada’s experts to share their favourite non-fiction reads over the past year. The result is an eclectic and inspiring list of history, memoir, and social and political science – there’s even a dash of fiction. Scroll through to see the books our Rapid Responders and Roundtablers felt were deserving of special mention in 2012.

Why Nations Fail

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

Chosen by both Jack Austin and Jeremy Kinsman

Says Kinsman: “It should be memorized.”

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet

By Julian Assange with Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann 

Chosen by Kris Kotarski

Says Kotarski: “A captivating look at mass surveillance, encryption and power, and a handbook for anyone who wishes to maintain some privacy in the database age. Published in December 2012, a couple of months too late for General Petraeus.”

Strategic Vision

By Zbigniew Brezinzki

Time to Start Thinking

By Edward Luce

Both chosen by Don Newman

Says Newman: “Both deal with the changing world order and America’s response.”

Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict

By Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan

Chosen by Stephen Saideman

Says Saideman: “It changes the way people think about political change – not only that non-violence might be morally preferable but that civil resistance actually works better than violent efforts. It simply is going to be the most influential piece of political science for the next couple of decades, and it is accessible to non-academics.”

Bazaar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afghan Market Town

By Noah Coburn

Chosen by Matthieu Aikins

Says Aikins: “This finely wrought, multi-year anthropological study of an Afghan town north of Kabul is just the kind of “lived-in” scholarship that the country has missed out on due to decades of war and the instrumentalization of most contemporary Western research for military and political ends.”

Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent

By E.J. Dionne

Chosen by Pierre Martin

Says Martin: “From a liberal who understands and respects the conservative tradition in the United States, a thoughtful and comprehensive historical account of how American conservatism has drifted away from its communitarian roots and contributed to the current climate of political polarization in Washington and beyond.”

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

By Paul French

Chosen by Wenran Jiang

Says Wenran: “This is simply one of the best non-fiction reads, with or without any China related interests.”

The Embers of war

By Frederik Logevall

Chosen by Daryl Copeland

The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East

By Marc Lynch

Chosen by Bessma Momani

Says Momani: “In his book, Marc Lynch attempts to provide context to the dramatic changes that have unsettled so many assumptions and certainties in the Middle East. Although the causes and determinants of the political revolution sweeping through the Arab world are far too complex to define through academic analysis, this book is a great read, which offers a foundation to better understand the Arab Uprisings.”


By Rachel Maddow 

Chosen by John McArthur

Says McArthur: “An insightful and witty review of the how the world’s most powerful military has been structurally transformed in its relationship with its citizenry.”

It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Chosen by Paul Quirk

Governing the World: The History of an Idea

By Mark Mazower.

Chosen by Jennifer Welsh

Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius

By Silvia Nasar

Chosen by Danielle Goldfarb

Says Goldfarb: “I found this to be a really engaging primer on the major economic thinkers, which helped put today’s US, European, and global economic policy debates in context.”

A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran

By Trita Parsi

Chosen by Tony Burman

Says Burman: “Brilliant and ground-breaking examination by a respected Iranian-American scholar of why a grand bargain between the U.S. and Iran is still possible if Obama’s early efforts to make peace are resumed.”

Joseph Anton

By Salman Rushdie

Chosen by both Stephanie Nolen and Samatha Nutt

Sussex Drive

By Linda Sevenson

Chosen by Mark Fried

Says Fried: “A brilliant over-the-top satire of Stephen Harper’s Ottawa. It isn’t non-fiction, but it is by far the best book about Canadian politics this year.”

House of Stone

By Anthony Shadid

Chosen by Nahlah Ayed

Says Ayed: “I met Shadid in Lebanon a few years ago, and ran into him often on the road – the last time would have been Libya in the spring of 2011. I was always a big fan of his writing and his deep (and rare) understanding of the minutiae of the region. I was anxiously awaiting his newest book when we heard the crushing news he had passed away in Syria. The book was a fitting punctuation to his passionate work as a journalist.”

The Signal and the Noise

By Nate Silver

Chosen by Gordon Smith

All Hell Let Loose by Max Hastings and Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin

By Timonthy Snyder

Chosen by John Hancock

Says Hancock: “Reminded me of the immense importance of history – and that history is not something that can be grasped a decade or even a century after the events. It’s now almost 70 years since the Second World War ended. But Hastings and especially Snyder forced me to look at it through a new lens – as if I were examining an entirely different conflict than the one I’d been taught in school. In an ahistorical age – when we’re convinced that everything today is unprecedented – and when commentators feel compelled to deliver instantaneous verdicts on world-changing events – it’s edifying to be reminded of the invaluable perspective that comes with patient research, intellectual modesty, and the passage of time.”

Bismarck: A Life

By Jonathan Steinberg

Chosen by John Curtis

The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society

By Frans de Waal

Chosen by Maxwell Cameron

Before you click away, we’d like to ask you for a favour … 


Open Canada is published by the Canadian International Council, but that’s only the beginning of what the CIC does. Through its research and live events hosted by its 18 branches across the country, the CIC is dedicated to engaging Canadians from all walks of life in an ongoing conversation about Canada’s place in the world.

By becoming a member, you’ll be joining a community of Canadians who seek to shape Canada’s role in the world, and you’ll help Open Canada continue to publish thoughtful and provocative reporting and analysis.

Join us