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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real pleasure to read on Macdonald, the man who made us!, Nov. 12 2011
By 
C. Smedmor "Avid reader" (Toronto Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
Sir John A Macdonald did something amazing. In 1867, he and his fellow Fathers of Confederation knit together four separate British colonies into the Dominion of Canada.

That in itself was an exceptional accomplishment, as detailed in Volume 1 - "The Man Who Made Us" by Richard Gwyn.

Gwyn's second volume, "Nation Builder" is even better. Gwyn is able to show us the steps that Macdonald, an outstanding negotiator and very clever builder, undertook to turn Canada from four provinces in eastern North America into a nation from sea to sea and north to the Arctic Ocean.

There were bumps along the way: the Pacific Scandal that put Macdonald into opposition for 5 years; Macdonald's troubled home life; his regrettable addiction to alcohol; his decision to execute Louis Riel after the second Riel rebellion.

However, Macdonald drove the agenda that saw the CPR finished in 1885 with an all-Canadian route; developed the manufacturing and the settlement policies that provided the foundations; and steadily built the foundations for Canada's eventual independence from Great Britain.

I have previously read Donald Creighton's two volumes on Macdonald ("The Young Politician" and "The Old Chieftain" and they were good. However, Richard Gwyn, with a wonderful style and a great storyteller's knack for planning and referencing his tale, makes Sir John A., nation builder; stand out as an individual to whom all Canadians owe a debt of gratitude.

What is certainly interesting is that Macdonald accomplished so much with his skills in persuasion, his intellect and his ability to form coalitions that were willing to work together. He wa, except for George Brown, founder of "the Globe" newspaper, rarely vengeful. It was not war that built Canada, a nation of peace, order and good government, but an amazing combination of the right ideas, at the right time, in the right circumstances, diplomatically proposed and implemented.

In such troubled times, when Canada is seen as a beacon to the world, this biography tells us about Macdonald, the man who conceived and coordinated the foundations of the Canada we know.

I treated myself to this book as an early birthday present, and have given it as a gift. My only suggestion for future editions is that Random House consider including more large illustrations, given there is such a treasure trove of available material.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Detailed, Acount of Canada's First (and arguably, finest) Prime Minister, Oct. 3 2011
By 
B. Keith (Kingston, Ontario) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
Richard Gwyn has written a well-researched and detailed, yet engaging, biography of Sir John A. that is a treasure to our relatively young nation. Stereotypes about Canadian history being boring, incrimental, lacking great individuals, etc, fall by the wayside while reading this wonderful book.

As historial Michael Bliss wrote, "Thanks to him (Mr. Gwyn) we now have a John A. Macdonald for twenty-first century Canada." Vital, detailed, and engaging... enough to make modest Canadians nationalistic, but in a good way...and non-Canadians better appreciate our roots.

Bravo!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sir John A: His life, our times, March 18 2014
By 
Gerrit Bilkes (Maple Ridge, BC, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
This book and its companion volume ought to be ready by every Canadian. It instills confidence in our nation and its history. It is possible for a great diversity of human beings and groups to live together in one nation with a common purpose.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, March 24 2013
By 
Cattieluver (Ottawa, Ontario) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
An excellent read. Make sure you get both parts of this biography. It's very well written and quite fascinating, as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars About the early years before throughout and anf after 1867, Jan. 21 2013
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This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
Canadian history and how one mans vision and determination changed history through his wit .charm and political skills forged the way to Canadas confederation through the national dream of a railway system jioning west and eastern canada through his vision
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5.0 out of 5 stars alchemist of the Canadian amalgam, April 24 2012
By 
karl b. (Fraser Valley, BC, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
Nation Maker is an excellent look at the man and the times. It is 'moist' book, personal and colloquial rather than a dry and analytical historical survey. With Volume 1, it provides a sprawling epic of Canada's founding.

John A. was a flawed man, at times a drunkard, erratic, melancholic, politically unscrupulous, who greased the machinery of governance with patronage. He was, however, a man who could get things done. From disparate ethnic and religious groups, he cobbled together a national consensus that flew in the face of the overwhelming logic of Canada's annexation to the U.S.; of those whose sole common goal was the avoidance of that fate.

Fractious from the start these groups were motivated by allegiances (as British or French, Protestant or Catholic), most of whom were far more bitter towards their confreres than to an anomalous American threat.. and whose motives, fears, and prejudices were not easily reconciled. The era was marked by tension between radical religious polarities, notably the Ultramontane and Orange Order. The virulently anti-British Fenians represented an external and internal threat to Canada, and produced Canada's first and only political assassination, of D'Arcy McGee, the poet laureate of Canada's founding.

McGee and Georges Etienne Cartier provided a vital force of charismatic idealism that counterbalanced McDonald's acerbic expediency, and formed the foundation of a French, English political accord. It was MacDonald who provided the prose to this poetic idyll. By nature MacDonald was practical and flexible, not a visionary in the utopian sense or an ideologue. He might have been an ideal master of the intricate complexities of forming a nation of a sparse, heterogeneous population on a huge landmass in shadow of the great powers of the age, Britain and the U.S., beholden economically and culturally to both.. and yet in need of a self-sustaining, sovereign identity superseding that of a mere geographical expression.

His primary challenge was to forge that identity in the face of a fiercely acquisitive America, bent on realizing its Manifest Destiny of a continental dominion, centred in Washington. A complex and often contradictory character, he was egalitarian, possessing a common touch and affinity yet formed on deeply traditional values and morals. Although reliant on orthodox institutions and hierarchies, he assumed many progressive causes, in the support of unions and an equitable sharing of wealth and opportunity, over powerful commercial interests.

He tended to his crippled daughter, Mary, who was born with hydrocephalus, with extraordinary tenderness and devotion. But dispensed hard justice on the protagonists of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion, the death penalty for Louis Riel on the morally subjective charge of treason rather than murder, when more generous solutions were available. Riel, in and out of periods of religious messianic mania, also represented the legitimate grievances of Metis and Native people. The execution would transform Riel from rebel and madman into patriot and martyr and would polarize English and French relations for generations. Lost to history were eight Indians also executed, in less ambiguous circumstances.

The national railroad was born in scandal, in no small part due to MacDonald's constant dithering in playing off commercial and popular constituencies, for what he perceived to be the greater good, but failing to adequately supervise with clear ethical standards. At stake with the Canadian Pacific mission was the corporate integrity of the nation. The more sensible plan of making the CPR a branch line of the Northern Pacific would enmesh the West's economic future to that of the United States. The same can be said for his National Policy, which was a radical departure from the Free Trade principles of the British Empire. The impulse to economic nationalism remains stubbornly strong in the Canadian political dialogue, as the Global Free Market paradigm has devolved into disarray.

Many of his metaphors were couched in those of a developing human body, the CPR was to be the 'spine' of the country, he would turn 'gristle to bone' in political structure. To him, Canada was an organic, evolving destiny, carving out a life space in the cultural soil of a harsh wilderness. MacDonald traversed the explosive issues of distribution of powers with the provinces with considerable tact. He sequestered the role of guaranteeing Peace, Order and Good Government and that of overseer of statecraft for the Federal government.

This remarkably open proclamation allowed iteration and necessity to optimize, debatably, a balance over time. The provinces were to be responsible for domestic management of justice, education, resources, commerce and agriculture. It resulted in a highly decentralized structure in comparison to that of other modern nation states. Importantly he maintained the supremacy and sovereignty of Parliament by reserving the right to reverse Provincial legislation, and promoted a popular identification to Canada rather than the Provinces.

What emerges is a portrait of seething energy, stoked by a loosely articulated but passionate patriotism, and actuated by a sometimes ruthless pragmatism in pursuit of national unity.This is an engaging and comprehensive profile of the man who imprinted his own personality into Canada's constitutional DNA, and its self image. It provides a fertile and fascinating study of the historical forces that shaped Canada
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, Feb. 2 2012
By 
Roderick Benns (Toronto, ON) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
The finest biography of John A. Macdonald ever written, and likely not ever to be topped. Highly readable, well researched and even poignant, Richard Gwyn has created a true masterpiece of our most important prime minister. Nation Maker should be a must-read for every Canadian!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Creation of Canada., Nov. 4 2011
This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
I have just completed the reading of both volumes of Richard Gywn's biography of Sir John A. Macdonald. The reading of both volumes of this biography is necessary to understand the founding and creation of Canada. Every well-informed Canadian MUST read these books. Thanks to Macdonald and his confreres we have a unique country that is NOT American. These books will add to your pride in our national identity, and answer your questions as to why Canada is such a wonderful country, and to why we are fortunate to be citizens of Canada. Both books are a good read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, Oct. 26 2014
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This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
Super, again, just what I needed for my work.aej
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important part of our history., Dec 14 2011
This review is from: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Hardcover)
I never fully appreciated what a fine writer Richard Gwyn was. His biography of Sir John A. Macdonald is fascinating. The author has uncovered so many intriguing and appealing characteristics of this paragon of a true Canadian. Macdonald's humour, intelligence, tenacity and above all his devotion to his image of a future Canada that he determinedly struggled to fulfill has been written in a style that will appeal to all ages. Through many years of research Gwyn has given us a broader understanding of not only Macdonald, but of the times and the powerful and influential participants in the political environment
. He also manages to address current affairs in the UK and the USA which also resulted in significant repercussions for Canada which Macdonald dealt with judiciously.
I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who really wants to know how our country was born, and who made it so.
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Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times
Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times by Richard J. Gwyn (Hardcover - Sept. 27 2011)
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