by Angus MacCaull

Sometimes a detail changes everything. Did you know that there’s a unicorn on the Nova Scotia Coat of Arms? Or that Canso is the namesake of a crater on Mars? Nova Scotia Book of Everything by John MacIntyre and Martha Walls is based on the idea that “a place is revealed not by a government slogan or a tourism pitch but by the accumulation of detail.” MacIntyre and Walls aim to provide a picture of the province that is genuinely interesting and diverse. Their book is not a guide for tourists. There are no hotel recommendations or maps. It is a book primarily for people who are curious about the peninsula that they call home, or for others around the world who are looking for insights into what it’s like to live here.

Nova Scotia Book of Everything was a national bestseller. It was the first in what has become an expanding series. There are now books in the same format for places like Manitoba, PEI and Toronto. There is even a spin off series for the US. The authors seem to have picked a refreshing approach to exploring a city or a region. While co-author Walls has since gone on to become a history professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, MacIntyre has built a growing publishing company, MacIntyre Purcell, off of the success of their original publication.

The facts and stories in Nova Scotia Book of Everything are grouped thematically. There are chapters with headings such as “Slang”, “Crime and Punishment”, and “Politics”. In the chapter “Place Names”, we learn that the Mi’kmaq originally referred to Dartmouth as Boonamoogwaddy, which means “tomcod ground”. And in the chapter “Weather”, we learn that the last major tornado in the province occurred in Liverpool on January 30th, 1954. The story of the Bluenose is told in a chapter called “Then and Now”. And Frank Sobey is quoted in the chapter “Economy” as saying that he learned more about sound business practices from Pictou County farmers than he could have from any other place.

The final chapter of the book is called “Take Five”. In this chapter, Nova Scotians offer lists for things like their top five sporting activities (by curler Colleen Jones) or their five favourite Halifax hang-outs (by musician Joel Plaskett). I like that the book ends with these personal and contemporary perspectives.

MacIntyre and Walls have written a concise insiders’ guide to the province that is easy to read. It is fun to dip in occasionally for a new fact or to study a chapter at length in order to gain a better understanding of an aspect of Nova Scotian culture. There are certainly some good conversation starters in the book. My only real criticism is that I was left after reading it twice somehow still wanting more, if only a section on further recommended reading. While there are weblinks provided at the ends of some chapters, I found that some of the links are already out of date from the edition published in 2013. All the same it seems like a good book to have around the house or the office and I would recommend it for your shelf or coffee table, or even to tuck somewhere in the bathroom.

Out of five stars, I give Nova Scotia Book of Everything a solid four.