Photo: Tom Sandler
There’s No Debating Rudyard Griffiths Likes to Read, With Titles Examining the State of the Modern World Topping His List
The author, television broadcaster and philanthropic adviser who has played a large role in shaping Canadian political discourse, tells us what books line his shelves and why he wants to have a face to face with Vladimir Putin / BY Shinan Govani / May 30th, 2023
Heady discourse. It’s all in a day’s work for Rudyard Griffiths. As the co-founder, chair and moderator of the Munk Debates — Canada’s premier international debate series — there is no subject hot enough, and no line of dialogue circuitous enough, that he isn’t willing to engage. After all, to read well is to think well as this dashing egghead surely knows. Ahead of the June 22 debate at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall (“Be it resolved, AI research and development poses an existential threat”), Griffiths gave us a glimpse into his reading life. The vigorously old-school kind!
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
Wow, this is a tough one as I have read a lot of great books so far in 2023. Can readers indulge me with a fiction and non-fiction choice? For the former, I would hands down recommend Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor. It is a wonderful combination of family saga, crime novel and sociology of India’s flight headlong into the maelstrom of forces that is the 21st century. My favorite non-fiction read of late is Geography Is Destiny by Ian Morris. He is my favorite rock star historian who doesn’t shy away from the grand thesis that explains everything. This is a wonderful read of the major trends that made the Britain we know and love (before Brexit).
What book can’t you wait to dive into?
I am looking forward to digging into some AI-related books as part of my debate prep for our big event at Roy Thomson Hall this June. These include The Alignment Problem by Brian Christian, A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind and Genius Makers by Cade Metz.
What’s your favourite book of all time?
That is a super hard question. Yikes! I think one of the books that had the biggest impact on me is All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity by Marshall Berman. It was written in the ’70s and in my mind still provides one of the best and most accessible philosophical understandings of what it means to live in the modern world, warts and all. It is beautifully written.
What book completely changed your perspective?
Recently, my head was turned by We Need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent by Nesrine Malik. It’s one of the most thoughtful and powerful defences of political correctness that I have read. It made me rethink some of my own knee-jerk assumptions about contemporary social justice movements and the ends to which they are dedicated. Very smart book.
If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
I was fascinated with Russian history in university and have continued over the years reading contemporary Russian history and political analysis. Putin would be my choice. Not for dinner but an uncomfortable interrogation about what he thinks Russia in fact is and its role in the world. These are the geopolitical questions of our time and the answers the Russian leadership formulates will determine much of how the next decade or so of Western history plays out. I can’t recommend enough Tim Snyder’s books on Russian and Eastern Europe in this regard. His book The Road to Unfreedom is a must read for anyone interested in the current conflict and its historical antecedents.