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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing Perspective on Canada
I have seen two commentaries on John Ralston Saul's "A Fair Country", both of which make me wonder whether the authors actually read the book. The first was from Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail, who claimed that Saul's book creates a romanticized myth of strength and sophistication for Canadian aboriginals, with no proof for his arguments. In fact, Saul provides...
Published on Dec 14 2008 by David Reddoch

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars My last JR Saul book
This is the third book by John Ralston Saul that I've read. The first was Voltaire's Bastards. I remember taking it on a beach holiday and struggling with it daily. Every few pages there was a bit of a pearl but it was at least a half dozen pages of slogging to get to that pearl.
One of the themes of that book was how important it was for authors to be accessible to...
Published on April 25 2012 by fredf


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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing Perspective on Canada, Dec 14 2008
By 
David Reddoch (Toronto, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Fair Country (Hardcover)
I have seen two commentaries on John Ralston Saul's "A Fair Country", both of which make me wonder whether the authors actually read the book. The first was from Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail, who claimed that Saul's book creates a romanticized myth of strength and sophistication for Canadian aboriginals, with no proof for his arguments. In fact, Saul provides plenty of proof, discussing aboriginal strength and their influence on Canadian society through 100 pages of historical references and insight.

The second review is right here on amazon.ca by "Book Reader" of Vancouver BC. Book Reader accuses Saul of glorifying Canada as morally superior while conveniently ignoring the truth of aboriginal residential schools. Not true. On page 32, Saul writes "I sense that the evil perpetrated in the residential schools -- the deadly health conditions, the banning of language and culture, the sexual degradation and physical violence, the disruption of families -- was the expression of a deep and growing Euro-Canadian anger at the refusal of the noble ancestor to reach for his full apotheosis by disappearing." This is a full and brutal acknowledgment of residential school truth. Far from glorification, Saul exposes and decries Canada's track record in dealing with aboriginals.

Book Reader also claims that Saul attempts to steal aboriginal cultural identity, which is also incorrect. Saul argues that Canada's true identity has been shaped by profound influences of aboriginal society, not by a monolithic European heritage as is taught in our schools today. In other words, Saul doesn't steal aboriginal cultural identity but rather reinforces it by giving our aboriginal ancestors full credit for what is good in Canada. Book Reader is correct that much has been stolen from Canada's aboriginals, but incorrectly directs his/her vitriol at this book.

I have just finished A Fair Country, and I believe Saul has discovered something important about Canadian identity, and how we can realize a fuller destiny as a nation by coming to terms with that identity and its true origins.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where do I begin?, July 9 2009
By 
Schmadrian - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Fair Country (Hardcover)
Startling. Provocative. Depressing. Stirring. Confounding. Rage-inducing. Bewildering. Inspiring.

All of these adjectives are befitting 'A Fair Country'. And more. (In its own bizarre way, it's a love letter to the nation.)

When I lived in the UK, I would often be called upon to answer the question 'So; Canadians and Americans... What's the difference?' Having been born and raised in Canada, having lived in the US, having half my family there as residents, I felt eminently qualified to provide a fairly cogent answer.

After reading Saul's book, I humbly confess that I'd been wrong.

Turns out I didn't really understand much at all about Canada, its history, what it means to be a Canadian...not even how it all relates to the U.S., to being 'not American'.

I won't belabour the point here by rehashing what's in the tome. My copy was dog-footed to the extreme, there were so many bits that I just had to go back to, or excerpt for friends. Suffice it to say that 'A Fair Country' is by far the most important book I've read this year, and as a Canadian, one the most important ever. It's unsettled me, forced me to look at elements of Life in Canada in entirely different ways, compelled me to re-examine my perspective. (As a screenwriter, it's even given me pause to consider Canadian history as source material, no mean feat.)

'A Fair Country' should be required reading for all Canadians. The resulting dialogue might get us up off our collective apathetic arses and into action, at long last creating the nation we're capable of realizing.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fair is Fantastic, July 22 2009
By 
Bernie Koenig (London, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Fair Country (Hardcover)
Natural Law, Science, and the Social Construction of Reality
Art Matters: The Art of Knowledge/The Knowledge of Art

There is so much I want to say about this book that I am not sure where to start.
First, even though I have been here longer than my country of origin (U.S.A.)
I am an immigrant. I came with no intention of staying and I am not only still here 40 years later, I have been a citizen for 35 of those years.

One of the things I saw immediately in Canada, as opposed to the United States is a high degree of tolerance, especially of things different. I saw this not only in day to day life, but in our political system.
But, over the years, things have changed. Two of the reasons for the change were obvious: subservience to Washington and an acceptance of neo-con economics, both of which have certainly led to the decline of what can be considered Canadian values.

As a philosopher I have written about the cultural foundation of values. What Canadian governments have done in the past twenty five years has been to forget about what it means to be Canadian and to employ artificial policies, which have had the result of our loss of our cultural identity.
We not have known where that identity came from, but we were aware of it.

Voter turnouts have declined. Our leaders blame the electorate. But the real reason, as Saul so eloquently shows, is that very leadership. Our leaders do represent us and so we stay away from the polls. Of course, most of us have known that our political leaders have not represented the people ever since Michael Adams' Fire and Ice. And, all too often, those of us who do vote, do not vote for people who actually reflect our views.

In this book Saul gives a good explanation as to why this is so. We not only lost touch with our values, but we have lost touch with the origin of those values.

When Europeans came here they relied on the native populations to survive and in so doing, absorbed native values. But as we became more urban, we lost sight of the source of our values and of our identity with the land.

Read any good Canadian novel and you will find the land is at the center of the story. At least that was the case until recently. And in school we still learn that geography has been the number one factor in developing our culture.

Yet, by adhering to out-moded economic views, and by looking south, we are forgetting this.
We must return to our Metis roots and look North again through Northern, not Southern eyes, and we must return to what Saul calls our welfare concerns, not our concerns for order.

Indeed, that issue is really the heart of the book. Saul shows how, historically, the Canadian motto was "Peace, Welfare, and Good Government."
he shows how it got subverted and how the concept of 'order' transformed how we thought about ourselves and the roll of government. Now we have a government and a civil service more concerned with keeping order, even if that order is self destructive, than in providing good government.

So let us all read this book, and get back to what it means to be Canadian.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unvarnished Truth, Nov. 27 2008
By 
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Fair Country (Hardcover)
John Ralston Saul, Canada's self-declared iconclast and demythasizer, has produced another humdinger of a study to challenge Canadians to come to grips with their true potential as a nation. His advice in this book is for us to stop seeing ourselves as stereotypically passive, ordinary, and statically cultured. To prove his point, Saul does an in depth review of the so-called truth of those historical issues that seem to set the tone as to how we perceived our place in the modern world. First, the author tackles the view that we are predominately a distinct culture based on the true-and-tried principles of western democracy. While this idea may be somewhat true, accepting it has lulled us into a sense of complacency that doesn't respond well to the forces of global change. Historically, our culture heritage is founded in a history of interracial marriages that brings with it a sense of great adventure, tolerance, and enrichment. Second, Saul takes dead aim at how Canadians view the process of government. Focusing on the concept of peace, order and good government, many Canadians may have been lulled into thinking that personal security rather general well-being is the essence of their existence. A law and order approach does not, in Saul's estimation, lead to a greater realization of justice. Saul finishes off his book with a review of the historical record as to the forces of these past two centuries that have made Canada timid in its international stature. One area that comes in for attack is the prevailing belief that contemporary provinces like Ontario and Quebec develop and protect their own economies like they did back in pre-Confederation days. Canadians still tend to see ourselves as drawers of water and hewers of wood within the colonial context. The challenge for us Canadians in the 21st century is to start seeing ourselves more in terms of what we might become rather than who we think we are.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every Canadian Should Read this Book, Jan. 2 2010
By 
BookWorm8 (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Fair Country (Hardcover)
This was the best non-fiction book I read in 2009. I found the author's writing style very enjoyable to read and his arguments to be very insightful and thought provoking. This would be a great book for students to read to see their nation from a different perspective. Truthfully, after reading it I felt very proud to be a Canadian. It helps Canadians appreciate our heritage and strengths. I get tired of hearing Canada been criticized for being too polite or too modest or bland or just northern copies of Americans, etc. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Everyone else I know who has read it has found it an interesting and valuable contribution to the dialogue on what it means to be Canadian and where Canada should concentrate its efforts to ensure future success and a thriving society.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seriously Angry, Analytical and Informative, Nov. 26 2009
By 
Monika Ullmann "Wordslinger" (Vancouver, BC, Canada) - See all my reviews
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Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A Fair Country (Hardcover)
I have read just about everything this author has ever published and to me this one is the best yet.
The reasons are quite simple: while JRS can be difficult to read and makes demands on his reader, in this book he is so angry that his sentences are shorter and the message more pointed. I've never seen him so emotionally engaged, and that is what makes this book so readable. Aside from that, the content is riveting. He manages to develop a coherent and unusual theory about what makes Canada tick; how that happened and why it's important. It's an engaging mix of history, theory and just plain finger pointing at the failures of our dear leaders. A must read for anyone who wants to get a handle on what it means to be Canadian, now, in the past and into the future. If we want to have one, that is.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read, March 16 2010
By 
C. Lauffer (Canada) - See all my reviews
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I had already read the book once before. It is a well thought-through analysis of the Canadian political system and its history. It was interesting to read how idealism and pragmatism were combined to create a tolerant and inclusive society which we can never take for granted. As Canadian citizens we have to be involved in the political process if we want to make sure that we become even more accepting and inclusive without losing our Canadian identity.
I ordered the book as a gift
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars My last JR Saul book, April 25 2012
This review is from: A Fair Country (Hardcover)
This is the third book by John Ralston Saul that I've read. The first was Voltaire's Bastards. I remember taking it on a beach holiday and struggling with it daily. Every few pages there was a bit of a pearl but it was at least a half dozen pages of slogging to get to that pearl.
One of the themes of that book was how important it was for authors to be accessible to readers. I groaned through much of the book at the irony of his repeated themes and round about style of writing. Accessible? Certainly not.

This book is the same. The overall theme of respect for the impact of Aboriginal culture on the make up of Canada is an interesting one. I don't know enough history to know if JR Saul over plays the point or not. Some of the other history I have read (eg: RIchard Gwynn's excellent two volume biography of John A MacDonald and others) would suggest otherwise or at least not as profoundly. I cannot help but think that there is a certain amount of redwashing going on in this book. All Aboriginal culture is apparently good and we ignore it at our peril.

While the book has worthwhile things to say, it is annoyingly poorly edited. What Saul needs more than anything is an editor who makes him stick to a theme and develop it in some sort of linear fashion. He goes around and around in circles repeating the same thing over and over. While there is wisdom in this book it should not be so hard to get at.

This should be a 60 page pamphlet or a long magazine article. It's not a book of this size. He rambles to fill the pages.

At points I wanted to put the book away but kept at it knowing there would be a good insight in the next chapter. I just don't think reading should be this much work. He isn't 'hard' to read intellectually. He's just a bit enamoured with his own verbiage I think. Having said that, there is some good progressive thinking contained herein.

This is going to be the last Saul volume I read.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Call to Arms, Jan. 4 2009
By 
This review is from: A Fair Country (Hardcover)
Saul provides us with a passionate call to arms. Multiple examples from present day mediocre political and corporate managers are breath-taking and at times discouraging - who knew that our government passed (in 2004) a reasonable law to allow the shipment of low cost drugs to third world countries and then shipped NOTHING in the first two years!! Quite revealing to me was the degree of detail about historical events that I knew nothing about - for instance the Great Peace of Montreal of 1701. How did the history of our country get so distorted and truncated as to "forget" such events, unless it was being first filtered through the lens of multiple colonial and imperial countries. Saul is eloquent as he presents the values of aboriginal peoples and links them to the growth of Canada. The only thing missing is a more open linkage of his descriptions of the aboriginal way of thinking with the concepts of systems thinking. Bravo! Do we have the courage to follow some of his suggestions and take back our destiny?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed But Stimulates Discussion, March 2 2009
By 
Coach C (Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Fair Country (Hardcover)
This latest book by Canadian intellectual John Ralston Saul is a philosophical study about Canada, its identity, and its place in the world. There is probably no better person to write a book like this than Saul and the the boldness with which he writes and argues is certainly to be commended.

The best parts of the book are Saul's polemic on the enduring myths and legacies of Canadian history which have to some extent limited the cultural development of Canadian nationalism. Once Saul tackles all that is wrong with Canada, he attempts to develop an alternative blueprint for how Canada ought to be constructed socially and culturally. This is where he veers off the deep end. Saul decries the use of populism as a rhetorical tool whose sole purpose is manipulation of fear as an empty signifier. Yet Saul is guilty of the same manipulation he so critiques through his perpetuation of an imagined "aboriginal heritage" as an empty signifier to stand for a uniquely Canadian identity that values of fairness, good governance, and inclusion. This is not in any way directed as a criticism of First Nations, but certainly Canada in the postmodern age is far beyond a singular definition of an essentialized Canadianness built on an invented tradition.

Though I disagree completely with Saul's vision of what Canada "is," the book is most definitely thought-provoking and on that purpose alone the book is worth reading for any Canadian who has pondered these very same questions of identity.
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A Fair Country
A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul (Hardcover - Sept. 16 2008)
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