Get to know the Top 40: Battle scars

War: what is it good for? If nothing else, a great read. 

Today we examine the books on the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 40 list that are about war zones, both historical and contemporary. We've got Farley Mowat's classic war memoir, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire's account of the complications of peacekeeping, Carmen Aguirre's early adolescence as a South American revolutionary, Margaret MacMillan's history of the peace talks following the First World War and Scott Chantler's graphic memoir retelling of his grandfather's experiences during the Second World War.

The Book: And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat

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What's it about? Though Farley Mowat is most often associated with books about animals and nature, his 1979 memoir And No Birds Sang is a sobering reflection on fighting in the Canadian infantry in the Second World War.

Did the critics like it? Yes. Though Mowat is better know for his nature writing and advocacy, this book is a classic hidden gem.

What else do I need to know? Nature-loving national treasure Farley Mowat has written more than one of this country's most iconic books about animals, from The Dog Who Wouldn't Be to Never Cry Wolf. He's a world-renowned conservationist, a member of the Order of Canada and the only author on our list with both a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame and a ship named after him (the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's RV Farley Mowat).

The Book: Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan

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What's it about? The international peace talks following the First World War, when American president Woodrow Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George and French premier Georges Clemenceau met in Paris for six months. Margaret MacMillan's chronicle of these tense days is "a blueprint of the political and social upheavals bedeviling the planet now," according to the New York Times.

Did the critics like it? And how. Paris 1919 was received as an incredibly important piece of historical writing by papers including the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

What else do I need to know? Paris 1919 won a number of major awards, including the Governor General's Award for non-fiction in 2003 and the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2002. The book also inspired a documentary co-produced by the National Film Board.

The Book: Shake Hands with the Devil by Roméo Dallaire


What's it about? Genocide, powerlessness, and dissillusionment. In 1993, Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire went to Rwanda on what he thought would be a straightforward peacekeeping mission. He returned home a year later, shattered by his team's failure to stop the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans. His book is an account of the events that turned him from a confident military leader into a man plagued by uncertainty after witnessing the worst of humanity.

Did the critics like it? Yes. Shake Hands With the Devil was hailed as an incredibly important piece of writing about international relations and warfare. More than one paper declared it the most important book published in 2003.

What else do I need to know? The book won the 2004 Governor General's Award for non-fiction as well as the 2003 Shaughnessy Cohen Award for political writing. Dallaire's book was also adapted into a film directed by Roger Spottiswoode and starring Quebec actor Roy Dupuis as Dallaire.

The Book: Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre

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What's it about? Carmen Aguirre's life was more eventful before she hit puberty than most people's lives ever get. Her family fled to Vancouver from Pinochet's regime in Chile when she was five, and only six years later, her mother moved Aguirre and her sister back to South America to join the resistance.

Did the critics like it? Yes. Since the book came out this past spring, it's been praised by all the major papers for its insight and humour into a courageous life.

What else do I need to know? Aguirre, who is based in Vancouver, is also an award-winning playwright.



The Book: Two Generals by Scott Chantler


What's it about? Chantler's retells his grandfather's experiences as a soldier in the Second World War in a graphic novel format.

Did the critics like it? Yes. Chantler has been praised for his sensitivity and attention to detail by both the National Post and the Toronto Star.

What else do I need to know? The book was recently nominated for the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading White Pine Award for non-fiction, which is an award for books that are suitable for high school-aged readers, and Two Generals is actually being included in the curriculum for several Ontario high schools.


That's it, folks! You can vote for these titles (or any of the other 35 books) in our Canada Reads: True Stories vote for the Top 10 contest! To cast your vote, head over to the poll. You can vote for up to five titles. Doing so will help these books move one step closer to being contenders in this year's battle of the books.

The Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10 will be revealed on Tuesday, November 1, on Q and right here on CBC Books.

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