John A: The Man Who Made Us

John A: The Man Who Made Us

by Richard Gwyn

The first full-scale biography of Canadas first prime minister in half a century by one of our best-known and most highly regarded political writers.The first volume of Richard Gwyns definitive biography of John A.

Macdonald follows his life from his birth in Scotland in 1815 to his emigration with his family to Kingston, Ontario, to his days as a young, rising lawyer, to his tragedy-ridden first marriage, to the birth of his political ambitions, to his commitment to the all-but-impossible challenge of achieving Confederation, to his presiding, with his second wife Agnes, over the first Canada Day of the new Dominion in 1867.

Colourful, intensely human and with a full measure of human frailties, Macdonald was beyond question Canadas most important prime minister.

This volume describes how Macdonald developed Canadas first true national political party, encompassing French and English and occupying the centre of the political spectrum.

Gwyn judges that Macdonald, if operating on a small stage, possessed political skillsof manipulation and deception as well as an extraordinary grasp of human natureof the same calibre as the greats of his time, such as Disraeli and Lincoln.

Macdonald saw Confederation as a means to an end, its purpose being to serve as a loud and clear demonstration of the existence of a national will to survive.

Gwyn describes Macdonald as Canadas first anti-American.

And in pages brimming with anecdote, insight, detail and originality, he has created an indelible portrait of the irreplaceable man,the man who made us.Macdonald hadnt so much created a nation as manipulated and seduced and connived and bullied it into existence against the wishes of most of its own citizens.

Now that Confederation was done, Macdonald would have to do it all over again: having conjured up a child-nation he would have to nurture it through adolescence towards adulthood.

What People Think about "John A: The Man Who Made Us"

Gwyn uses Volume One to give the great story of Macdonalds life and how he came to be titled the first Prime Minister of the new Dominion of Canada. From his immigration to Upper Canada at age five to the establishment of a law firm and eventual marriage, Gwyn personifies Macdonalds story, which is more complex that either the deity or a drunkard complex presented to many who have opened a Canadian history textbook. History comes to life at Gwyns light-hearted retelling of numerous tales and the narrative remains highly neutral, giving the reins of decision over to the reader, where they may decide in which camp to place Macdonald on the Canadian history spectrum.

He comes through as an enigmatic but fascinating and likable character.

I intended to get it, and its sequel Nation Maker, read last year for Canadas 150th birthday, but life had other plans so Im getting them done now.

Initially Macdonald started as a lawyer and entered politics much later.In Nineteenth century writer shows how difficult it was for immigrants to survive in Canada compared to the immigrants of the later years. Recent immigrants have it far easier life.

I made the mistake of partially reading Vol. II before I read Vol I of this 2 volume set of books by Richard Gwyn.

I bought this book based on positive reviews I had read and I was looking forward to gaining some more insight into the life of our notoriously fun-loving first PM.

It reminds readers how attitudes and public life differed in the mid-1800s (the popularity of public hangings; the lack of a piped supply of fresh water in Ottawa even in 1867; the restriction of voting rights to perhaps 15% of the male population; the naked use of political patronage; etc.). And while the story, intended as popular history, is rich in well presented fact, it generally lacks the vigour and drive that a Pierre Berton would have brought to it; Macdonald himself flares to life on a number of the pages but sinks back almost to the level of boring textbook name on others.

This book is not just about the man but about why Canada is the way it is. Having recently read The Return of George Washington and the drafting of the US constitution, it is interesting to contrast the process in each country. The book is also about the man.

The longer I think about Confederation, the more I agree with the author that Canadians may not have avoided American annexation without an extraordinary leader like Macdonald.