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The Madman And The Butcher [Hardcover]

Tim Cook
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 28 2010

Based on newly uncovered sources, The Madman and the Butcher is a powerful double biography of Sam Hughes and Arthur Currie and the story of one of the most shocking and highly publicized libel trials in Canadian history.

Sir Arthur Currie achieved international fame as Canadian Corps commander during the Great War. He was recognized as a brilliant general, morally brave, and with a keen eye for solving the challenges of trench warfare. But wars were not won without lives lost. Who was to blame for Canada's 60,000 dead?

Sir Sam Hughes, Canada's war minister during the first two and a half years of the conflict, was erratic, outspoken, and regarded by many as insane. Yet he was an expert on the war. He attacked Currie's reputation in the war's aftermath, accusing him of being a butcher, a callous murderer of his own men.

Set against the backdrop of Canadians fighting in the Great War, this engaging narrative explores questions of Canada's role in the war, the need to place blame for the terrible blood loss, the nation's discomfort with heroes, and the very public war of reputations that raged on after the guns fell silent.


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The Madman And The Butcher + Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King and Canada's World Wars
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Product Description

Quill & Quire

Sir Sam Hughes and Sir Arthur Currie, lifted out of obscurity by the First World War, occupy very different places in the pantheon of great Canadians. Hughes – the abrasive, unstable Minister of Militia and Defence from 1911 until his dismissal in 1916 – is remembered as a caricature of the louche early 20th-century political brawler. Currie, a mediocre real estate speculator and part-time soldier who rose to command the Canadian Corps in France and Belgium, is remembered as one of the most effective generals of the war and a national hero.

But their reputations were not always thus. We have forgotten Hughes’s enormous contribution early in the war, driving a bewildered nation toward a war footing and fighting to keep Canadian troops from being parcelled out to the British. We have also forgotten that Currie embezzled regimental funds to cover a debt, never connected with his soldiers, and was accused by Hughes and others of wantonly squandering the lives of 60,000 Canadians on the road to victory.

Tim Cook, best known for his acclaimed First World War histories At the Sharp End and Shock Troops, reminds us of these facts in The Madman and the Butcher, a double biography that takes a close look at Hughes and Currie, and the evolution of their legacies.

The book is engagingly written, and for those inclined to the arcana of Canadian history, it will shed light on the making of reputations following the war. For those inclined to biography, the book provides sufficient detail about the two men to warrant reading, despite the existence of more complete biographies, such as Ronald Haycock’s Sam Hughes (1986) and A.M.J. Hyatt’s General Sir Arthur Currie (1987). In any case, Cook has done a masterful job of setting the historical context and peeling back 90 years of anachronistic or erroneous judgments.

Although perhaps outside the purview of the historian, it is a shame that Cook did not also look forward in time. As we approach the conclusion of the first round of Canada’s 21st-century wars, what do the stories of Hughes and Currie suggest about reputations currently in the making?

About the Author

TIM COOK is the Great War historian at the Canadian War Museum, as well as an adjunct professor at Carleton University. His books have won numerous awards, including the 2008 J.W. Dafoe Prize for At the Sharp End and the 2009 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction for Shock Troops. In 2013, he received the Pierre Berton Award for popularizing Canadian history. He lives in Ottawa with his family.


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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Through the Minds of Two Giants Nov. 4 2010
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Once again, Tim Cook, Canada's eminent war historian, has written an excellent account of the inner workings of World War I. This time, he has chosen to see this enormous world conflict through the eyes and ideals of two very prominent Canadian military figures of the day: Sir Sam Hughes, Canada's Minister of Militia and General Arthur Currie, Commander of the Canadian Corps. While it would seem that both men were constantly at each other's throats in an attempt to assert their influence on the Canadian war effort, both strangely shared a common identity that few historians have been unable to identify with till now. What makes this book such a magnificent study is that as Cook examines these two lives as virtual polar opposites or character foils in an attempt to demonstrate the dynamics of an ongoing conflict within a conflict, something amazing emerges. Both Hughes and Currie, though they had very little time for each other, deeply cared for the Canadian soldier and were prepared to take practical steps to insure their success. While Hughes has been fully vilified as an indomitable madman who constantly pushed his way to the front of the line to get his views heard and accepted, Currie chose the less assuming way of working quietly behind the scenes to make sure the battle plan worked out best for the common soldier. As Cook points out, there were many times when Currie's quiet demeanor would give way to stridency as he stood up to his superiors over gross deficiencies in the field. The fact that Hughes was forever promoting the need for a stronger Canadian army in a war that constantly threatened to minimize its gallantry was not lost on Currie. Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A War of Reputation Dec 7 2011
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
At the core of this thoroughly engaging history is the fact that in the last 96 days of World War 1, Canada experienced 46,000 killed and maimed casualties. Given the country had been at a war for four years that would result in a conflict total of 241,000 casualties (67,000 killed and 173,000 maimed/injured), the numbers are inordinately high for that period of time. These statistics provide the backdrop for a conflict of another sort - a war of personality and reputation between Sam Hughes, Canada's War Minister and Arthur Currie, the Canadian Corps Commander.

Both men are fascinating. The colorful characterizations of Hughes are consistent including: erratic, a fighter, coarse, fearless, profane, unstable, ignorant, vindictive, bitter, bizarre, driven, arrogant, and hard-driving. Juxtapose Hughes with Currie who is appreciated as thoughtful, intelligent, brave, moral, detailed, inclusive but decisive, innovative, and haunted. It is then not hard to see that the men were vastly different and not a surprise in hindsight to think that their personalities would clash.

The First World War churned through a generation of fine, young men. All combatants lost unfathomable casualties. While Canada celebrated the war's end, it did not come to grips with the losses. The range of emotions and nagging questions regarding the human cost manifested itself in the unfortunate public war between Hughes and Currie. What makes this fascinating are the circumstances that make the two men's pros and cons so pronounced eventually leading them to a highly personal conflict.

Hughes and Currie were both men of contradictions. Both largely performed brilliantly under an avalanche of conditions and responsibilities new to Canada and to the world. And both advanced Canadian nationalism.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great story June 11 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Loved reading the story and history of these two famous Canadians and how their lives intertwined one another during the Great War and even after. Great read, I highly recommend.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Read Feb. 21 2014
By Leigh TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I had been both looking forward to and dreading reading this book. Dreading it because sometimes history books fail to engage the reader, wanting to only get the facts and numbers onto the page. I looked forward to it because while I had read books and seen documentaries on Sam Hughes, I knew very little about General Currie and wanted to learn more. I found myself pleasantly surprised by this book. Every spare moment I had in the day, lunch break at work, a day off, I would immediately grab this book and start reading again. The scenes of battle are so well told you almost felt you were on the front lines with the soldiers. It was difficult to put down and even though we know how the story ends, I know I wanted to see it through to the end. I think that this book captured the good and the bad sides of both men, neither was perfect, mistakes were made by both, but they also both had moments of brilliance as well. As I said it was an engaging book, one of the better books on military history or even Canadian history that I have read and I would recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about Canada's role in the First World War.
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