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A Fair Country Hardcover – Sep 16 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (Sept. 16 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670068047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670068043
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #268,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Quill & Quire

The title of John Ralston Saul’s newest book, A Fair Country, sounds like a rejected Liberal Party campaign slogan, but its contents are much more combative, provocative, and stimulating than anything likely to be uttered during an election campaign. The book is divided into four parts, the fourth of which attempts to tie the first three together. However, the individual sections work better as standalone essays. In the first, “A Métis Civilization,” Saul makes a strong (if counterintuitive) case that Canadian culture owes more to its native roots than to the European settlers and their Judeo-Christian belief system. He even says the idea of multiculturalism was alive and well centuries ago among the First Nations, where communities with different languages and traditions co-operated with one another and lived side by side. In the second essay, Saul argues that if certain lawmakers and thinkers of the time had prevailed, the British North America Act’s famous phrase – “peace, order, and good government” – would have read “peace, fairness, and good government.” That simple switch, Saul contends, affected Canada’s image of itself and, in more concrete terms, created “a growing confusion as to the purpose of the state.” But Saul’s examples of this triumph of form and process over the best interests of the citizenry aren’t entirely persuasive. Saul is far more convincing – and confrontational – in the third part of the book, “The Castrati,” about how Canada’s elite have failed the country. Saul takes dead aim at business leaders, bureaucrats, and politicians for their general inaction, claiming that their unwillingness to take risks or think independently and creatively is hurting the country. Over the course of the chapter, Saul eviscerates a litany of elites who have failed the country in one way or another – Ministry of Finance economists and other bureaucrats, Air Canada CEO Robert Milton, convict Conrad Black (“he has only created one thing – one newspaper”), the RCMP, and even Ontario’s teachers for their silence in the face of the BCE sell-off. In a nation with a more vital public sphere, A Fair Country would, if nothing else, stimulate further discussion about our relationship with our elites and incite more interest in the intellectual underpinnings of the polity. But given the debased state of Canadian public discourse, the closest thing to a public reaction we can likely expect is some snarking in the right-wing press about the irony of Saul, a bestselling author and former resident of Rideau Hall, taking on the elite.


"A plain but telling litmus test of the impact of a new book is whether you find yourself acting by it. Already, having read A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada, John Ralston Saul's argument for Canada as an aboriginal-minded society, I find myself talking more easily about the colonial encumbrance and the influence of first nations on our national consciousness. A Fair Country may be wishful thinking; it plays conjurer's tricks with history and, quite deliberately, creates new founding myths. But it is also a brilliant and timely argument about Canada's complex nature and our country's best future course." - The Globe and Mail

"What a relief it is to read something so observant about Canada. Here we are in the throes of an election, when ideas about our history and identity should matter enormously, but you will find no such acknowledgment in the discourse of our politicians. They would do well to read this book. They would learn, for instance, that the contempt our governing lot has shown toward the previous idea Canadians had of the country - as a fair, multicultural and peacekeeping one - even as they demonstrate a craven deference toward the military and economic imperatives of the United States, is a symptom of minds still, in effect, colonized." - The Globe and Mail

"Saul's "truths about Canada" include a damning exposition of our postcolonial shackles, a detailed historical case for the reversion of our national credo to "peace, welfare and good government," and a condemnation of Canadian business as mediocre, uninspired and wanting. All of these arguments are derived from the core idea of A Fair Country, which is that Canada is a polity fashioned in neither the European nor the American mould. Consequently, Saul argues, we should not be imagining ourselves in the tradition of either, but instead recognize the country's distinct nature, born of this land, and the integration, not just interaction, of settler and aboriginal life." - The Globe and Mail

"…the inversion of attitudes Saul is attempting through his reconfiguring of history is a welcome, necessary step toward Canada's better realization. It is high time that some of our dominant founding myths - such as Canadians being, ever since the days of the United Empire Loyalists, the (cowardly) progeny of people in flight - were revised, and this cannot be done without the telling of a story that, at first listening, shocks. Joseph Boyden, one of the few novelists Saul cites, did this with Three Day Road, in which Cree snipers fight alongside other Canadians at Ypres. For any who have read that extraordinary book, it is subsequently impossible to consider either founding story - of the nation formed through Canadians' discovery of each other in the trenches, or of our aboriginal pedigree - in isolation. After Boyden, the two were inextricably intertwined." - The Globe and Mail

"we are a Métis nation, certainly, and it has never been so eloquently said." - The Globe and Mail

"A Fair Country has the potential to change the way Canadians see themselves forever." - Winnipeg Free Press

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