With admirable insouciance, Cohen offers a charming sketch of Canada's very own 'Forrest Gump' politician, a man with a smile as bright and relevant as his bow ties who rose to preside over one of the most ineffective spasms of Canadian government.
Pearson was as dull as his predecessor was visionary; his talent was an ability to mediate passionate issues which came to define a vision of Canada that ultimately became real. He's the mirror image to John Diefenbaker, who inspired people with glowing visions of a rugged Canadismo but wasn't organized enough to get a cup of coffee and do-nut from a free lunch counter.
Cohen presents a masterful sketch of Pearson's career and achievements; yet, he fails to understand why Diefenbaker/Pearson duality is as significant as John A. Macdonald in the 1860s. Significantly, neither Macdonald nor Diefenbaker are included in this series.
In 1957, Diefenbaker lit the fuse of Canadian nationalism. In 1963, Pearson became the conciliator in the delicate art of statecraft who blended those surging nationalist passions into one nation. Had any prime minister of recent times been in office instead of Pearson, Canada might have been Balkanized into its five constituent parts.
Like Forrest Gump, Pearson was the right man in the right place at the right time with the right sense of compromise. After a cabal of vain hotheads launched the Suez crisis of 1956, and within days realized their mega-blunder, Pearson was the one whom all respected enough to accept his all-around face-saving solution. It was diplomacy at its finest, the most astute resolution of an international crisis since the United Nations was founded.
Pearson used the same Forrest Gump blandness to defuse the errant passions of Diefenbaker's "I am a Canadian" nationalism and craft it into a nation united in its diversity and proud of that heritage. One of the finest sequences is Cohen's vivid description of Pearson's encounter with President Lyndon Johnson; even though he blustered at his best, LBJ failed utterly to bully Pearson as he always managed to intimidate so many Americans.
American politics still suffers from the brutal impacts of LBJ's tough shod manners; Canada's stature to this day benefits from Pearson's calm demeanor and faith in the Canadian values of moderation, pragmatism and ambiguity. For LBJ, only LBJ mattered; for Pearson, only Canada mattered.
Cohen does an admirable job in summarizing Pearson's career; but, like the 'Extraordinary Canadians' series of books itself, he knows much but fails to understand even more. It's nice scholarship, lacking only insight, understanding and vision.