Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Pierre Berton, "Vimy" (1986)

Pierre Berton, Vimy (1986, Anchor Books, rep. 2001).

Berton’s books are popular history, but certainly not only of interest to generalists. His historical works are generally short, pithy, focused on interesting events and character-driven. They certainly do not suffer from overdependency on theoretical jargon or post-modern self-reflection. Vimy, in particular, was a strong example of his work at its best.

Ironically, Vimy is so well-laden with interesting anecdotes and useful information, that as a ‘trained historian’ I wish Berton had used more footnotes and references.

In the early 2000s, Anchor released redesigned paperback versions of some of Berton’s most popular works. The covers are gorgeous, and look great on any shelf; Vimy, in particular, would make a great addition to any Canadianist’s or World War One historian’s collection.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Michael Bliss, "Northern Enterprise: Five Centuries of Canadian Business" (1987)

Michael Bliss, Northern Enterprise: Five Centuries of Canadian Business (1987).

As much as I wanted to gain a fuller, better understanding of Canada’s economic and business history, I’m not sure that Five Centuries of Canadian Business was the best choice to satisfy this need.

While the level of detail in this lengthy tome was sometimes appreciated, combined with the dull writing style and often times sacrifice of clarity for inclusion of what can only be remembered as lists of names or businesses, it was difficult to get through. The length of the text obscured the overall thematic development of the book, which only seemed to gather some consistency and clarity of thought when covering the decades following the Second World War. Unfortunately, Bliss’ book remains one of few available options to familiarize yourself with the larger trends and personalities of Canadian business history.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Pierre Vallieres, "Choose!" (1971, trans. 1972)

Having read Vallieres earlier Negres blanc…. I approached Choose! with some trepidation. The first half of Negres blanc… was highly entertaining, with a thought-provoking mix of autobiographical detail and Marxist theory. The second half, however, I recall as a bit overwhelming and indulgent.

Choose is very short… less than 200 pages. Essentially, Vallieres uses Choose! to suggest that the FLQ, which he valourizes in Negres blanc, has lost its ability to rescue the Quebecois, and may in fact serve to complicate, challenge, and dimish the Quebecois’ need for independence. Arranged into three chapters, Vallieres explains what he sees the political, economic, social and cultural situation being in Quebec, then explains why the FLQ cannot positively and meaningful contribute to the deliverance of the Quebecois from these problems. The third part explains how the Parti Quebecois is the only route through which the Quebecois, if they choose to unify behind and support it, holds the ability to meaningful contribute to the capacity of the Quebecois to build their own revolution through independence.

Perhaps even more than he did in Negres blanc…, Vallieres manages to explain the relationship between the Quebecois’ struggle for independence and Marxist theory in an eminently readable way. His thinking is clear, cogent, and convincing.