The children in Shawinigan called him "crooked face" when he was growing up. He liked street fighting and felt more comfortable in a pool hall than the classroom. He was the eighteenth of 19 children in a small Quebec town where a job at the paper mill was the height of ambition. And he was also the most successful Liberal vote-getter in Canadian history. Jean Chrétien was an unlikely prime minister who clawed his way to the top and behaved like an insecure, power-hungry autocrat once there, writes journalist Lawrence Martin in Iron Man. Chrétien constantly measured himself against his arch-enemy, Finance Minister Paul Martin (no relation to the author). When the two worked at Power Corp. in Montreal, Chrétien liked to play golf against Martin because he could beat him. When Chrétien ran for the Liberal leadership against Martin, he boasted to an assistant, "My suit is more expensive than Paul Martin's." In 2000, he ran for a third term in office largely to spite Martin.
Chrétien's petty rivalry with Martin is at the heart of Iron Man, the book that completes Lawrence Martin's two-volume biography of the "Little Guy from Shawinigan." The Globe and Mail columnist went directly to Chrétien, Martin, and over a 100 other officials for their accounts and came up with an engrossing story about the prime minister's 10-year reign. The book does a great job showing what a head-strong oddball Chrétien really is. As a young lad, he "loved to be outside the rules" and was expelled from seminary college. When he first ran for election as an MP, he lined up a friend to run as an opposing candidate to split the vote on the right. The book chronicles many of the memorable episodes of Chrétien's time in office, including the "Shawinigate" scandal that threatened to destroy his government and the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum (in which Chrétien was apparently prepared to repudiate a "yes" vote and send in the army). The book's strength is also, however, its weakness. Based largely on the views of Ottawa insiders, it often comes off as gossipy and navel-gazing. Some key issues--like Chrétien's cuts to unemployment insurance--go virtually unmentioned. But overall, it's an absorbing read, especially for those fascinated by tales of Parliament Hill intrigue. --Alex Roslin
"Iron Man will survive the enduring test of time as the definitive biography of a prime minister Canadians love to loathe and cant help but like." -- Calgary Herald
"A lively, comprehensive, intelligent, and fair account ... laced with frank, insightful quotes from informed insiders..." -- The Globe and Mail
"Brimming with tantalizing new stories about the Prime Ministers last thirteen years in politics..." -- Hill Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.