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John A: The Man Who Made Us Hardcover – Sep 25 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Canada; 1 edition (Sept. 25 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067931475X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679314752
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 4.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 794 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #235,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mj Perry on July 31 2011
Format: Paperback
I just finished this book. Although not a great academic read, there are several things to recommend it.

1. It's interesting for anyone who likes history, biographies or politics, and is very well researched.

2. It portrays Macdonald as very human. Not only does it point out his weaknesses (all too well known and discussed) but points out the reasons for his successes and offers reasons that he suffered.

3. It reminds me of Canadian history that I had forgotten and it helps explain why some of the current political events feel like they're going against the grain.

4. It is so clearly written that it can be put down for a while if work or life gets in the way, and then picked up again when time allows, and continued without too much difficulty.

Canada was unique and continues to be unique. It is sometimes a good thing to be remind of how good it is.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John F. Brinckman on June 27 2013
Format: Paperback
Gwyn gives his opinion of events and omits important background. I could give numerous examples but have selected only one.
He describes the Privy Council's rulings in favour of the Provinces after Confederation on constitutional matters as 'quirky'.
In fact the rulings were guided by the arguments of Edward Blake, leader of the Liberal Party after Confederation, the man who would have been our second Prime Minister, had he not resigned the leadership in favour of his lieutenant, Alexander Mackenzie.
The Privy Council was the highest court in Canadian jurisprudence for a very long time; it has now been replaced by the Supreme Court, members of which are appointed by the federal government, which of course does not want interpretations of the BNA Act which favour the Provinces.
In fact it was a Canadian lawyer - a man, who, unlike Gwyn, was Canadian born - Edward Blake, who persuaded the Council in favour of the Provinces. Below is a passage from one of his speeches to it. Blake was perhaps the greatest orator in the English language in our history. Macdonald was afraid of him. He is mentioned only once, briefly, by Gwyn.

Read it and ask yourself: should a decision influenced by such a speech be fairly described as 'quirky'?

Edward Blake to the Privy Council, 1888

"The word federal is the key which unlocks the clauses and reveals their contents. It is the glass that enables us to discern what is written. By its light the Act must be construed. What then was the general scheme of this Act ? First of all, as I suggest, it was to create a federal as distinguished from a legislative union, but a union composed of several existing and continuing entities.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Russell Hillier on Oct. 13 2012
Format: Paperback
Vision, principle, honesty, integrity. These are the qualities of virtuous men and the epithets of political losers. Just ask author Richard Gwyn. In John A MacDonald: The Man Who Made Us, Gwyn provides the reader with the historical context and honesty to paint a realistic picture of MacDonald's early life and rise to power.

This isn't a heroic story of one man's will and passion to build a nation. Rather, it's a story of crass political expediency to obtain power. Forget about principles, ideology and vision...as John A demonstrates, these things are merely impediments to Canadian statesmen.

John A: The Man Who Made Us, shows the real formula for power is having the political savvy to see shifts in public attitude and opinion and knowing the right time to adopt the cause. Once again, Richard Gwyn does an excellent job of highlighting the very practical nature of John A's political modus operandi and the wheeling and dealing amongst provincial politicians, businessmen and colonial officials in Britain, that brought about the Dominion of Canada.

This is a great read for anyone wishing to have a deeper understanding of Canada's history and of our first Prime Minister.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Foxtrot on June 26 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a great up-to-date biography of John A Macdonald. It follows Macdonald from when his family first moved to Upper Canada to when Canada achieved Confederation in 1867. It gives a great account of all aspects of Macdonald's life: his family and early years, his first marriage, his law career, his political career, his second marriage, and the Confederation conferences. The book also explores what early Canada was like, and Gwyn also accounts for the other personalities of the time; these personalities include people like George Brown and George Etienne Cartier. The book is very readable and some illustrations are included. I think the most difficult aspect of the book was trying to understand how the political system worked in pre-Confederation Canada; Gwyn does a good job of explaining a complicated system. Overall, this is a great book, and I learned a lot about Macdonald and pre-Confederation Canada. I look forward to reading Gwyn's follow-up which is about Macdonald's life after Confederation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By RHR on Jan. 19 2012
Format: Paperback
An absolutely intriguing book. Anyone with an interest in the Canadian history and culture will find this a must read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Judith Johnston on April 14 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is the first of a two-volume biography. This book recently won the Charles Taylor prize for literary non-fiction in Canada. I scuttled down to the library I patronize in a town south of here and was pleased to find they had a copy. It was terrific, although Gwyn has an unfortunate writing style of frequently inserting commas to isolate one word or setting bits of a sentence apart in em dashes that I felt interrupts the flow.

He manages to make pre-Confederation parliament interesting. Usually in books about this time we get a lot about the Family Compact, but Gwyn has kept the focus on developments and personalities that I do not remember being featured in other Canadian history books.

I found the book bogged down slightly during the pages about Confederation which is why I only gave it 4 stars. It's hard to make political wrangling interesting, although I did find it fascinating that we were not quite the valued colony I had thought; Britain was pretty happy to let us go. Anti-Americanism literally made Canada a country but our fear of the American military after the U.S. Civil War never came to fruition. I have a keen interest in the U.S. Civil War so appreciated some analysis of how that affected Canada.

I can't wait for volume two!!! I'll be interested to compare Pierre Berton's writing about Macdonald in The National Dream and The Last Spike to what Richard Gwyn has to say about those times. This is an excellent book and it's wonderful to see a fresh treatment of this period in Canadian history.
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