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John A: The Man Who Made Us Hardcover – Sep 25 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Canada; 1 edition (Sept. 25 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067931475X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679314752
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.8 x 24.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 794 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #290,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“Judging by the first half, his two-volume biography will no doubt be ranked with Donald Creighton’s two-book landmark from the 1950s…Gwyn provides a more dispassionate analysis of this complicated man and his times…A welcome addition to the national library.” -The National Post

“Gwyn has performed a service to 21st-century Canadians by recreating a man of the 19th so well…This is a book that [Donald] Creighton, and perhaps even Sir John A. himself, could pick up and learn something.” -Winnipeg Free Press

“A vivid, multi-dimensional portrait of a fascinating character and his times…Gwyn, his trademark wry wit enlivening his text, brings a lifetime of political punditry to bear on his subject, surely one of the most intriguing political figures Canada even produced” -Montreal Gazette

“Gwyn’s book is also a hymn of praise to what he sees as a miraculous country, miraculous in its peacefulness, its diversity, its tolerance and its determined un-Americanness…Those positive national qualities can be traced back unmistakably to its first leader. This is the personal and contemporary insight that distinguishes this biography.”- Toronto Star

“Through historical documents, Gwyn gives great insight into this complicated character and his turbulent life… John A comes alive in these pages on many levels, including his most fallible.”HaH - Halifax Chronicle-Herald

“In a lively but thorough biography of John A. Macdonald up to the day of Confederation in 1867, Richard Gwyn brings to life the young Scottish-born lawyer who found himself unexpectedly entering politics in Kingston in 1844. Gwyn writes from a twenty-first century perspective while painting for his readers a vivid image of nineteenth century Canada: its society, customs, characters and politics. Gwyn helps us understand Macdonald’s genius and vision, which would shape the nation that grew to the north of the United States."
- Charles Taylor Prize Jury

About the Author

Richard Gwyn is an award-winning author and political columnist. He is widely known as a commentator for the Toronto Star on national and international affairs and as a frequent contributor to television and radio programs. His books include two highly praised biographies, The Unlikely Revolutionary on Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood, and The Northern Magus on Pierre Elliot Trudeau. His most recent book, Nationalism Without Walls: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Canadian, was selected by The Literary Review of Canada as one of the 100 most important books published in Canada. Volume two of Gwyn’s biography of Macdonald will be published in 2009.

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4.4 out of 5 stars
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By J J TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 14 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is the first of a two-volume biography. This book recently won the Charles Taylor prize for literary non-fiction in Canada. I scuttled down to the library I patronize in a town south of here and was pleased to find they had a copy. It was terrific, although Gwyn has an unfortunate writing style of frequently inserting commas to isolate one word or setting bits of a sentence apart in em dashes that I felt interrupts the flow.

He manages to make pre-Confederation parliament interesting. Usually in books about this time we get a lot about the Family Compact, but Gwyn has kept the focus on developments and personalities that I do not remember being featured in other Canadian history books.

I found the book bogged down slightly during the pages about Confederation which is why I only gave it 4 stars. It's hard to make political wrangling interesting, although I did find it fascinating that we were not quite the valued colony I had thought; Britain was pretty happy to let us go. Anti-Americanism literally made Canada a country but our fear of the American military after the U.S. Civil War never came to fruition. I have a keen interest in the U.S. Civil War so appreciated some analysis of how that affected Canada.

I can't wait for volume two!!! I'll be interested to compare Pierre Berton's writing about Macdonald in The National Dream and The Last Spike to what Richard Gwyn has to say about those times. This is an excellent book and it's wonderful to see a fresh treatment of this period in Canadian history.
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Format: Paperback
I just finished this book. Although not a great academic read, there are several things to recommend it.

1. It's interesting for anyone who likes history, biographies or politics, and is very well researched.

2. It portrays Macdonald as very human. Not only does it point out his weaknesses (all too well known and discussed) but points out the reasons for his successes and offers reasons that he suffered.

3. It reminds me of Canadian history that I had forgotten and it helps explain why some of the current political events feel like they're going against the grain.

4. It is so clearly written that it can be put down for a while if work or life gets in the way, and then picked up again when time allows, and continued without too much difficulty.

Canada was unique and continues to be unique. It is sometimes a good thing to be remind of how good it is.
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Format: Paperback
Gwyn gives his opinion of events and omits important background. I could give numerous examples but have selected only one.
He describes the Privy Council's rulings in favour of the Provinces after Confederation on constitutional matters as 'quirky'.
In fact the rulings were guided by the arguments of Edward Blake, leader of the Liberal Party after Confederation, the man who would have been our second Prime Minister, had he not resigned the leadership in favour of his lieutenant, Alexander Mackenzie.
The Privy Council was the highest court in Canadian jurisprudence for a very long time; it has now been replaced by the Supreme Court, members of which are appointed by the federal government, which of course does not want interpretations of the BNA Act which favour the Provinces.
In fact it was a Canadian lawyer - a man, who, unlike Gwyn, was Canadian born - Edward Blake, who persuaded the Council in favour of the Provinces. Below is a passage from one of his speeches to it. Blake was perhaps the greatest orator in the English language in our history. Macdonald was afraid of him. He is mentioned only once, briefly, by Gwyn.

Read it and ask yourself: should a decision influenced by such a speech be fairly described as 'quirky'?

Edward Blake to the Privy Council, 1888

"The word federal is the key which unlocks the clauses and reveals their contents. It is the glass that enables us to discern what is written. By its light the Act must be construed. What then was the general scheme of this Act ? First of all, as I suggest, it was to create a federal as distinguished from a legislative union, but a union composed of several existing and continuing entities.
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Format: Paperback
Vision, principle, honesty, integrity. These are the qualities of virtuous men and the epithets of political losers. Just ask author Richard Gwyn. In John A MacDonald: The Man Who Made Us, Gwyn provides the reader with the historical context and honesty to paint a realistic picture of MacDonald's early life and rise to power.

This isn't a heroic story of one man's will and passion to build a nation. Rather, it's a story of crass political expediency to obtain power. Forget about principles, ideology and John A demonstrates, these things are merely impediments to Canadian statesmen.

John A: The Man Who Made Us, shows the real formula for power is having the political savvy to see shifts in public attitude and opinion and knowing the right time to adopt the cause. Once again, Richard Gwyn does an excellent job of highlighting the very practical nature of John A's political modus operandi and the wheeling and dealing amongst provincial politicians, businessmen and colonial officials in Britain, that brought about the Dominion of Canada.

This is a great read for anyone wishing to have a deeper understanding of Canada's history and of our first Prime Minister.
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