Velshi at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., in 2016, when he received an honorary degree. Photo: Lars Hagberg/ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo
Ali Velshi on African-American History, Charles Dickens and Pandemic Reading
The Toronto-raised MSNBC news anchor and columnist would love to invite Margaret Atwood on his show – and to dinner / BY Shinan Govani / November 4th, 2021
Ali Velshi has seen it all. One of the most influential TV journalists in America, the Kenyan-born, Toronto-raised newsman — who got his start at CTV and was hired as the business anchor for CablePulse24 and Citytv in 1997 — has battled waist-level waters covering Hurricane Sandy for CNN, was the first on-air anchor for the now-defunct Al Jazeera America and reported from the front lines of the Trump years. Based in New York, the 50-year-old MSNBC anchor writes business and economics columns for its wsite, hosts The Last
Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on Friday nights and helms his weekend news program, Velshi.
> What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. Starting in the famous year of 1619, when the first ship carrying slaves landed in America, Four Hundred Souls is a compendium of essays, each written by a different person, each looking at a specific period of American history. A timely and important book, it introduced me to some of the most profound Black American thinkers, writers and creatives alive today.
> What book can’t you wait to dive into and why?
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. Ironic that an actual deadly pandemic has kept me too busy to read the best book about how history has repeated itself: Back then, people resisted masking, people tried to minimize the threat, and authorities didn’t want to put a damper on people’s moods or the economy. Once I’m done with that, I can’t wait to read about the Roaring Twenties so I have some sense of what we have
to look forward to.
> What’s your favourite book of all time?
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. There’s nothing much original to say about Dickens. From the time I read Great Expectations as a kid, to when my daughter studied it in university, the novel transcends time and place. But what I’ve come to appreciate over time in my role as a business/economics journalist is how central a role finances, economy, business and empire play in shaping not only the world of the characters, but also the characters themselves.
> What book completely changed your perspective?
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. I’ve read it before, but re-read it after the killing of George Floyd. It fills in some important gaps in American history between slavery and the civil rights movement and examines threads of Black lives and family histories as they paralleled political events.
> If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
Unquestionably Margaret Atwood. Somehow Atwood was prescient enough to predict the rise of Trumpism and fascism before it was on any politician’s radar, a dystopian future made present. Plus, she was one of the world’s most influential writers when I was a kid! How does that math work? Beyond recruiting her as a regular commentator on my show, I would want to ask her where do we go from here?
This article appeared in the Oct/Nov 2021 issue with the headline “Zoom In Etc: Shelf Life” p. 18.
To join Zed, The Zoomer Book Club, go to everythingzoomer.com/zed-book-club.