Once again, Tim Cook, Canada's eminent war historian, has written an excellent account of the inner workings of World War I. This time, he has chosen to see this enormous world conflict through the eyes and ideals of two very prominent Canadian military figures of the day: Sir Sam Hughes, Canada's Minister of Militia and General Arthur Currie, Commander of the Canadian Corps. While it would seem that both men were constantly at each other's throats in an attempt to assert their influence on the Canadian war effort, both strangely shared a common identity that few historians have been unable to identify with till now. What makes this book such a magnificent study is that as Cook examines these two lives as virtual polar opposites or character foils in an attempt to demonstrate the dynamics of an ongoing conflict within a conflict, something amazing emerges. Both Hughes and Currie, though they had very little time for each other, deeply cared for the Canadian soldier and were prepared to take practical steps to insure their success. While Hughes has been fully vilified as an indomitable madman who constantly pushed his way to the front of the line to get his views heard and accepted, Currie chose the less assuming way of working quietly behind the scenes to make sure the battle plan worked out best for the common soldier. As Cook points out, there were many times when Currie's quiet demeanor would give way to stridency as he stood up to his superiors over gross deficiencies in the field. The fact that Hughes was forever promoting the need for a stronger Canadian army in a war that constantly threatened to minimize its gallantry was not lost on Currie. Unlike his mentor Hughes, Currie was a general from humble beginnings who believed in the chain of command and was determined to speak out only when the need arose. So why the growing animosity between two people who knew each other well enough to share a common goal of solidifying the Canadian identity in the killing fields of Flanders? Cook's assessment seems to suggest that there were quirks in both men's personalities that made them vulnerable to attacks from each other as well as the public at large. Hughes' maniacal need to be calling the shots, whether it be with appointments of officers, the tendering of military contracts or the recruitment of soldiers, often clashed with Currie's views when it came to the actual conducting of battle. Currie is portrayed as the general who would not tolerate any outside advice from Ottawa that would jeopardize the efforts of his troops to achieve victory in a very difficult war theatre. Ultimately, Hughes overreached his position of authority to the point of alienating the military establishment before being publicly disgraced by being fired. By contrast, Currie, the least presumptive of the two, finished the war as Canada's senior general and survived numerous subsequent attacks on his character for barbarically exposing his men to unnecessary danger in the closing days of the war. Reading this study should allow the reader a decent chance to understand why two closely related persons eventually went in opposite directions with respect to their historical significance. Cook's nimble and in-depth analysis on this issue alone makes the book a great read.
At the core of this thoroughly engaging history is the fact that in the last 96 days of World War 1, Canada experienced 46,000 killed and maimed casualties. Given the country had been at a war for four years that would result in a conflict total of 241,000 casualties (67,000 killed and 173,000 maimed/injured), the numbers are inordinately high for that period of time. These statistics provide the backdrop for a conflict of another sort - a war of personality and reputation between Sam Hughes, Canada's War Minister and Arthur Currie, the Canadian Corps Commander.
Both men are fascinating. The colorful characterizations of Hughes are consistent including: erratic, a fighter, coarse, fearless, profane, unstable, ignorant, vindictive, bitter, bizarre, driven, arrogant, and hard-driving. Juxtapose Hughes with Currie who is appreciated as thoughtful, intelligent, brave, moral, detailed, inclusive but decisive, innovative, and haunted. It is then not hard to see that the men were vastly different and not a surprise in hindsight to think that their personalities would clash.
The First World War churned through a generation of fine, young men. All combatants lost unfathomable casualties. While Canada celebrated the war's end, it did not come to grips with the losses. The range of emotions and nagging questions regarding the human cost manifested itself in the unfortunate public war between Hughes and Currie. What makes this fascinating are the circumstances that make the two men's pros and cons so pronounced eventually leading them to a highly personal conflict.
Hughes and Currie were both men of contradictions. Both largely performed brilliantly under an avalanche of conditions and responsibilities new to Canada and to the world. And both advanced Canadian nationalism. Author Cook is correct when he says "Canadians are generally wary of labeling their own as heroes or villains, leaving them instead in some kind of historical purgatory shaped by indifference or amnesia". We certainly have historical amnesia in Canada but in terms of these two gentlemen there is no black and white allowing us to simply label either hero or villain. What we should be is grateful that these two Canadians rose to incredible challenges in a time of need and that Cook has provided the means to appreciate their complexity and their contribution.
on April 21, 2011
"The Madman and the Butcher," by Tim Cook, is a good insight into the politics of Canada, in the late 1800's, and early 1900's. It analysis the personalities of two major figures from this era. Sir Sam Hughes, the Conservative Politician who assembled a huge Canadian army, and instituted a major war effort, all in a relatively short period of time. And, Sir Arthur Currie the farm boy, who with only high school education, worked his way up through the militia to become the "Leader Supreme" of this Canadian army.....Probably the two most important Canadian figures during World War I. Also the attitudes of the population in general, their call to duty, loyalty to country, acceptance of death.
Don't let any one tell you Canadian Politics is dull. The story takes place in an era when `Political Correctness" was only a vague notion, way in the distant future. I got a chuckle the other day reading about A Councillor getting a reprimand from a fellow councillor, when he used the term "Jewish Lightening," in a casual manner during a Council meeting,to describe a possible situation that might occur. The fellow was correct.....But still forced to make a formal apology for using such an expression. There would be no reprimands or apologies in Sir Sam Hughes day! It was "bare knuckle" politics supreme!
Above all, the book does exactly what a good book was intended to do........Entertain!
on February 21, 2014
I had been both looking forward to and dreading reading this book. Dreading it because sometimes history books fail to engage the reader, wanting to only get the facts and numbers onto the page. I looked forward to it because while I had read books and seen documentaries on Sam Hughes, I knew very little about General Currie and wanted to learn more. I found myself pleasantly surprised by this book. Every spare moment I had in the day, lunch break at work, a day off, I would immediately grab this book and start reading again. The scenes of battle are so well told you almost felt you were on the front lines with the soldiers. It was difficult to put down and even though we know how the story ends, I know I wanted to see it through to the end. I think that this book captured the good and the bad sides of both men, neither was perfect, mistakes were made by both, but they also both had moments of brilliance as well. As I said it was an engaging book, one of the better books on military history or even Canadian history that I have read and I would recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about Canada's role in the First World War.
on September 9, 2014
A dynamic account that helps you get behind the motivations, objectives, thoughts and outlooks of two of Canada's most important military leaders. I have often read of these men in other works, but this is the first time I can say I've learned something of the men themselves and one feels that you've come to know something of them through this story. Also important in how the author has helped understand the times and the influences on these individuals. A thoroughly well researched and very well written history that truly helps one discover a key period in Canada's development.
This book outlines, the Canadian political backdrop of WW I. Sam Hughs was the Minister in charge of Canada`s war effort. Arthur Currie was the Canadian general, in charge of fighting the war. There is also a lot of details, outlining the political intrigues of the Canadian Parliament.
It seems Sam Hughs, really was a madman. It was hard to believe, such a character actually exisited in Canadian politics. I was shocked, at some of the behaviour Hughs exhibited. Currie on the other hand, takes a professional approach to his military duties. He quickly rises in the ranks and becames Canada`s top general. Currie also managed to wade his way through, all the political backroom dramas. Currie had to balance off the British approach to the war, and the wild rodeo of Canadian politics.
This book is targeted towards the politically interested reader. I would have enjoyed, a wider expansion of Currie`s military procedures.
on June 11, 2014
Loved reading the story and history of these two famous Canadians and how their lives intertwined one another during the Great War and even after. Great read, I highly recommend.
on February 2, 2013
Compared to British, German and French forces not many books can be found in Europe on the CEF and it's CIC, general Currie. This book combined the political view and the military view in a vivid way. Especially the role of Sam Hughes brings the story to life as the unbalanced factor. Only remark is that many facts keep returning again and again in the story, but this could very well be a personal thing. Tim Cook's background and aftermath of the CEF and it's commander reads like a filmscript and who knows..
on November 27, 2014
This is a very well written book and real page turner. Was Currie a butcher or just following the orders of a superior officer? That becomes obvious throughout the story. The true butcher was Haig who had minimal respect for the life of his soldiers. Hughes should be acknowledged for his efforts in Canada's war effort. However he is remembered for vindictiveness towards Currie.
on August 30, 2011
An fascinating account that sheds light on a mostly forgotten part of Canadian history. The stories of Sir Arthur Currie and Sam Hughes are presented, highlighting their conflicts during and after the first World War. We get the chance to follow Canadian wartime politics through the many exploits of Mr. Hughes. We also follow through the experiences of Canada at war, from raising the first Contingent, to the events on the battlefields. Lastly, we learn why Sir Arthur Currie's contribution was initially questioned. Well recommended and difficult to put down!