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on May 19, 2015
Absolutely a must read for Canadian history buffs and newbies. Learn the quirks of Canada from the man who helped found it.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon February 2, 2015
This second volume of Macdonald's biography is every bit as worthwhile as the first, maybe more so. The second volume starts in 1867 immediately following Confederation, so in focus are the years Macdonald spent as prime minister. Gwyn builds a pretty convincing case for the importance and the overall success of those years, particularly in giving Canada a chance to become a nation. There were certainly failures as well - activist British judges set in motion a process of decentralization of power, and Macdonald was overmatched by the challenges of western natives - he did not always try to understand them as well as he should have. Nonetheless this biography certainly fills the hole in terms of recent biographies of Macdonald. Hopefully we don't need to wait another 50 years for the next one.
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on October 26, 2014
Super, again, just what I needed for my work.aej
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on March 18, 2014
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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on March 24, 2013
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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on January 21, 2013
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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on April 24, 2012
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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on February 2, 2012
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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on December 31, 2011
This book of Richard Gwyn is incredible by the details and insight it gives into the life and accomplishments of Sir John A, Macdonald. I could not put it down, a real page turner. If you want to understand how Canada came into being and why we are the way we are today, this book will help you understand our country.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2011
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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