Photo: Courtesy of Globe and Mail
Tony Keller’s Must-Read Books are Tailor-Made for History Buffs
The Globe and Mail editorial page editor favours titles with fresh perspectives on everything from art to Canadian nationalism to the Nazi economy / BY Shinan Govani / March 11th, 2022
Opinions? He’s drowning in them! As the editorial page editor of The Globe and Mail, it is Tony Keller’s job to ride the current of news and prognoses. That’s why he appreciates taking the long view, and often turns to books about the past.
With a journalism career spanning more than 25 years – he was editor of The Financial Post Magazine, managing editor of Maclean’s and joined The Globe as an editorial writer in 1991 – Keller keeps up. When he’s not reading, this Yale law school grad is playing hockey. But mostly he’s reading.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
I read mostly history, and recently I’ve been reading a lot of books that are themselves history. The best I’ve read this year is George Grant’s Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. When it came out in 1965, it was a national sensation. It’s brilliant but crazy; hopelessly dated yet totally relevant. Grant was both a conservative and a socialist – once a perfectly respectable combo in Canada! – who believed Canadians were doomed to abandon their own unique history and identity for the siren song of the United States.
What book can’t you wait to dive into?
The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow. This much talked-about history of early human civilization challenges conventional stories of how humans first organized into societies, such as the one told in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. I’m looking forward to having my beliefs questioned.
What’s your favourite book of all time?
You never really get over your first literary love and mine was The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read and re-read it repeatedly between ages 11 and 15. Influenced by everything from the Old Testament to Anglo-Saxon mythic poetry, the Oxford professor created his own fairy tale world of imaginary civilizations, creatures and languages, spanning thousands of years, and powered by magic.
What book completely changed your perspective?
The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change by Robert Hughes. When I was 13, excerpts from this book appeared in the newspaper, and a mini-series was on TV. It’s a history of modern art, but really it’s a brilliant history of the 20th century. It blew my young mind.
Honourable mention goes to The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze. I’m a Second World War history buff; if you are, too, read this book, immediately.
If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
Philip Roth. I haven’t read all of his novels, but every one I have read, from American Pastoral to The Human Stain, is a gem of clear writing and fearless thinking.