on July 31, 2009
This is a highly nuanced, insightful, and beautifully written account of Trudeau. Ricci draws on the standard Trudeau scholarship, but also deftly and at times movingly brings his own personal experiences and insights into the story. Ricci does not proceed chronologically, but rather begins in 1968 with Trudeau's election before backtracking to his youth and working forward again. This could easily result in a confusing narrative for a biography, but in fact the ploy works beautifully. In part this is thanks to Ricci's graceful and highly entertaining writing style. Even the chapter on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the patriation of the Constitution (potentially pretty dull stuff, let's be honest) is told in a lively and engaging manner. The chapters on Trudeau's love life, his youth (drawing on recent scholarship showing that he was anything but open-minded before leaving Quebec for studies at Harvard), and the October Crisis are spellbindingly good. Ricci was in Grade Two when Trudeau was elected, and was only ever in the same room as him once, and at that long after Trudeau's sun had set, but he understands the chameleon-like qualities of the man and portrays in vivid detail how Trudeau put his mark on his times and, in effect, really did create modern-day Canada (unlike the other subjects in the Extraordinary Canadians series). To date I have only read the Norman Bethune and part of the Big Bear biographies in this series; the Trudeau biography is by far the best of the three and I cannot imagine any of the other books in the series surpassing it in quality. I read this book in two sittings and immediately began re-reading it, I enjoyed the opening chapters so much!
on May 26, 2009
Having only read the first two chapters I won't give 5 stars at this time, but I can anticipate doing so. Nino Ricci's engagemnt and prose are a winning combination, inviting readers into a personal recollection and re-evaluation of Trudeau's legacy for us as citizens and for us as country, that is at once retospective and an illuimination of the people and country we have been and hope to be. Trudeau as presented by Ricci gives us pause to ponder what it means to be Canadian at home and abroad, and what it means to come to understand and enflesh the essential Canadian spirit which found expresson in Trudeau's charisma.
on October 15, 2010
In the American Southwest, the term for politicians such as Pierre Elliott Trudeau is "all hat and no cows;" or as I once wrote in describing a political wannabe in New Mexico, "a few cows short of a full herd."
What's the Canadian version? A few pennies short of a loonie? All hoot and no loon? This brief but very readable analysis of the politics of Trudeau struggles vainly to come to terms with a man Canadians wanted to love but eventually -- along with the rest of the world -- saw as a joke. Trudeau, like John Diefenbaker, are the Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber of the last 50 years. Both men were initially loved by Canadians who eventually learned their Prince Charmings were really merely two slippery poliwogs grasping for power.
To love Canada is to love diversity; the politician's love of power is to love oneself. Trudeau was the Jimmy Carter of Canada, but without the vision or intellect.
Instead of biography, Ricci perceptively analyzes of Trudeau's political highlights, a man who was clever by too far and deeply in love with his own cleverness. Trudeau was blind to the desire of Canadians who want a nationalistic definition of why they are not Americans, Englishmen, French or others -- but are united as separatists. It's not a nationalism of smug superiority, empire, wealth or a right to rule lesser folks. For a century after the War of 1812, we were "not Americans." For the past century, nationalism in Canada asks, "Okay, then who are we?"
Ricci details how Trudeau grew up with this sentiment, a natural youthful rebel against any and all outside domination. Then Trudeau went to Harvard, the elite finishing school for American politicians, and returned as an eventual Liberal Party apparatchik and loyal supporter of the Ogdensburg Agreement. Trudeau's insouciant nationalism sums up the frustration of Canada.
Diefenbaker never got beyond "My fellow Canadians." Pearson never got beyond his flag. Trudeau, as Ricci makes clear -- whether he meant to or not -- simply never "got it." Just as he was made into an international joke by Margaret, he was likewise seduced by his desperate passion for power.
Ricci is an astute and perceptive analyst of Trudeaumania, which makes this book a gem in understanding this toothless lapdog of Canadian identity. Maybe it's the role of a writer, not a politician, to clearly define a nation's unique and clearly distinct identity. If so, the opening chapters are an ideal place to start; the rest of the book explains what goes wrong when the task is entrusted to a politician -- as it has been since 1957.
Perhaps Ricci can so define Canada; if not, the person who does will likely have started with this book. It's that good in its portrayal of a frustrating politician.