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Memoirs [Paperback]

Pierre Trudeau
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 15 1995
Pierre Trudeau was prime minister of Canada from 1968 to 1979 and from 1980 to 1984. This is his story, told in his own words.

Take a look through the book. When you do, you will find that this remarkable memoir has many qualities. It is:

As if he were sitting across the table from you, Pierre Trudeau reminisces about his life in an informal, direct way. He starts with his memories of his family, especially his mother and father, to whom the book is dedicated. There are memorable events from childhood here, such as a visit to complain to the principal on his second day at school. Later there is a lunchroom encounter with a high school bully and then, at the age of fifteen, real tragedy.

“Aroused by the ringing of the telephone, I came out of my room to go downstairs and find out what was happening. But I froze on the landing when I heard the awful words: ‘Your father is dead, Pierre.’”

After an extensive education in Montreal, Boston, London, and Paris, Trudeau set off with a backpack to travel around the world. He tells how he went through one war zone after another, encountering armed bandits and being arrested in wartime Jordan as a Jewish spy. These adventures and further travels through India and war-torn China left with him a deep belief in the rights of the individual and the vital role of government in protecting these rights. He tells how his hatred of narrow nationalism reinforced his stand against requests for special treatment by successive Quebec governments.

From the day he decided to go to Ottawa as a Liberal MP in 1965, Trudeau was clearly on a fast track. After becoming minister of justice in 1967 and tackling very controversial law reforms, he ran for the leadership and became prime minister in 1968 – the first Canadian leader born in the twentieth century. He talks about his use of “the Liberal machine” and all the electoral fights that followed over the year, providing interesting insights into his contests with national opponents such as Robert Stanfield, David Lewis, Joe Clark (a tougher opponent than the man who deposed him), Ed Broadbent, and Brian Mulroney, about whose virtues he is eloquently silent.

As a leader whose time in office ran from the fall of Charles de Gaulle to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, Pierre Trudeau was able to exert his influence to break down the Cold War mentality. He enjoyed good personal rapport with such different leaders as Chou Enlai, Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro, Helmut Schmidt, and François Mitterand. His relations with Richard Nixon and Margaret Thatcher were less warm, and he was less impressed by Ronald Reagan’s intellect than by the wisdom of the Queen.

Whether they loved him or hated him, Canadians knew that in Pierre Trudeau’s time, the government stood up for Canada. He stood up to the domestic terrorism of the FLQ – and he makes no apologies here for his tough response to the October Crisis in 1970 – just as he stood up to the provincial premiers (including Réné Lévesque) who he believed were blocking the patriation of Canada’s constitution ten years later.

The author’s preface ends with a word to you, the reader. “Whether you were a Liberal Cabinet colleague, a Canadian voter whose support we sought, or a young Canadian whose future we tried to improve, you are a part of this book.”

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Will Canada ever see another leader like Pierre Elliott Trudeau? Unlikely. Trudeau was very much a product of his time and place. At the time of his rise in the ranks of the Liberal party, the country was in dire need of a leader with a vision. Too, the political machine wasn't yet so well ordered and set in its ways that there was no room for a maverick like the Montreal-born politician. Memoirs is Trudeau's quite readable account of his life from his humble beginnings in "a neighbourhood of modest means" until his retirement from the prime minister's office in 1984, with a brief chapter touching on his life after politics. Those hoping for gossipy details about bedroom dalliances with classical guitarist Liona Boyd or the party years of wife Margaret will come away disappointed. Of his marriage, Trudeau writes only, "1970 was also the year I fell in love with a beautiful girl, Margaret Sinclair. ... The romance took the press by surprise, which is how we wanted it." The divorce is also barely touched upon. Instead, Trudeau spills much ink on his triumphs, failures, and machinations while in office. Occasionally this results in some breast-beating that is almost charming in its shamelessness, especially in captions for some of the book's many photographs. In text accompanying a picture with several high-ranking Russians, he quotes Andrei Gromyko, from the Russian foreign secretary's own memoirs. "'Nevertheless, in international affairs, he [Trudeau] stood head and shoulders above statesmen of other NATO countries who are blinded by their hostility to socialism and either cannot or will not recognize the situation as it is.'" At times, such as his invoking of the War Measures Act during the October Crisis, Trudeau is understandably quite defensive. He is almost always gracious, however, and has few unkind things to say about anyone, even staunch opponents like René Lévesque. He does get in a jab at Ronald Reagan, though, who at an economic summit meeting relates a story about his days as president of Actors' Equity that has little to do with matters at hand.

Memoirs is not an exceptionally well-written piece of work, and large chunks of it might be dull to those uninterested in, say, the political manoeuvrings behind the Charter of Rights and the Charlottetown Accord. But what makes the book fascinating isn't the prose but the life revealed. World traveller, enthusiastic kayaker, cunning politician, and charismatic leader—it's no wonder "Trudeaumania" swept Canada when he first ran for office. --Shawn Conner


“A highly readable and entertaining book. Vintage Trudeau indeed.”
–Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

“Pure Trudeau – witty, arrogant, intelligent and partisan…a must read for anyone interested in this country.”
Calgary Sun

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment Sept. 18 2005
By A Customer
I used to really like Trudeau when I was a student, and I eagerly waited for this book to arrive on the shelves. I was sorely disappointed, even for a former fan. Its all self-congratulatory chapters, and very little on details or anaylysis. We never really get an idea of what Trudeau thought - just the standard lines one would read in any newspaper. So save your money and watch the CBC television documentary for the propaganda. The CBC is good at this stuff and Trudeau is their hero.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The dao that can be said is not the dao..." July 21 2002
This is as fine a memoir as one could expect from a man who kept his secret self so distant from others that one suspects he sometimes found the line difficult to cross himself. Trudeau was not only the most intelligent prime minister Canada ever had, but probably the most brilliant statesman any nation ever had. However, his mind went to places that were not always to do with the ebb & flow of politics. It is unfortunate that this memoire does not tell us more about the man's secret self. I don't mean just gossip column things, I refer to his thoughts on life, literature, & art: topics on which anyone who knew him recognized his mastery. The book is brilliant too, but I suggest that it requires some reading between the lines to catch at what Monsieur Trudeau only hints. It's his truth from the inside, after all, so he shouldn't be expected to see himself "objectively" & account for the way he was seen by others. This can be uncomfortable sometimes. For example, when he was nearly defeated in the first election after "Trudeaumania" in 1972 because he attempted to be straight, true, & honest with the Canadian public, he roared back playing the "promise'em the world" consumate politician in 1974 to a majority government. I would have wished for more third person objectivity here. Still Trudeau was a giant mind & giant will amongst mental idiots & usual politicoes during his tenure. I believe he has the right to do just what he did in this magnificent memoire: Speak from the heights & tell it as he alone saw it. Bravo! We'll not see his like again.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A dreadful, shallow mess Aug. 17 2011
Obviously ghost-written, the book treats the reader like a simpleton. It is an awful failure of a book. It's too bad Trudeau was too lazy to write a proper autobiography.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Sept. 27 2004
By A Customer
No doubt a real memoir from Pierre Trudeau would have been greatly interesting. All he left was a sloppy collection of miscellaneous writings. Richard Gwyn's biography, "The Prince", provides a better portrait.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Trudeau: As Arrogant as Ever Feb. 10 1997
By A Customer
It has been said of Pierre Trudeau that he was Canada's most influential Prime Minister. After reading his Memoirs, it is fair to say that he certainly thinks so. This book was little more than Trudeau deciding to tell his readers how great he was and continues to be. Mr. Trudeau did not add any significant information to his already credible biographies that had been written, such as Trudeau and His Times Volume One and Two. It is also striking that Mr. Trudeau avoided discussion of his years of marriage with Margaret Trudeau in any great detail. When one writes memoirs, it seems reasonable to expect that more than just a review of public life would be put on display. Pierre Trudeau certainly was an interesting character in a country that has had too few interesting characters in its history. Overall, however, Memoirs failed to provide any material of substance, except perhaps those readers who wanted glossy photographs of Pierre Trudeau
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