Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Francois Perrault, "Inside Gomery" (2006)

Perrault, a long-time reporter on Canadian politics, was hired as the Media Spokesperson for the Canadian Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities. His book offers an "insider" view of Justice Gomery as a focused, ethical, and driven man with a strong commitment to public service.

While the book does provide some intriguing insights into the evolution of a commission of inquiry, and touches on some of the core concerns that governed this particular commission's activities, the book comes across as particularly lacking in critical objectivity. Considered as a type of memoir, it is interesting. For critical analysis of the commission's activities, readers are best advised to look elsewhere.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Adam Dodek, "Canada's Constitution" (2013)

Dodek has written a concise, informative, thought-provoking introduction to Canada's Constitution

The text captures some of the key moments in the developmental trajectory of Canadian constitutional thought, touching on the evolution from pre-Canadian documents such as the Royal Proclamation of 1793, Quebec Act, and Act of Union. Of course, he gives the BNA Act and Constitution Acts significant attention. To his credit, he also explores amendments to these acts, as well as related legislation such as the Statute of Westminster and the Bill of Rights.

The text includes a solid consideration of the role of the judiciary in considering Canadian constitutional laws, and handy charts outlining the basic dates related to Canadian constitutional thought, and highlighting the importance of each event.

On the whole, a great little reference book that should only encourage readers to seek out more in-depth, nuanced, and challenging analysis.

Lauren B. Davis, "The Empty Room" (2013)

This is a fascinating consideration of adult female alcoholism.

Davis writes writes with the sympathetic and yet firm knowledge of addicted thinking gained during her own time as an alcoholic. With decades of sobriety, this book is a reflection on what her life might have been like had she not found sobriety. It is insightful. It is frightening. It is humble.

Addicts will find this book particularly compelling, as they are sure to see elements of their own experience described. They will likely see their own flawed thinking, their own rationalizing, their own desires and shortcomings. They will see parallels for the depths they have sunk to and likely kept secret, if they could. They might also read some of the same fears they have felt about admitting to their own addiction, and starting a program of recovery.

My only complaint is that this book ends too quickly. I rarely find fiction to be "page turning." Perhaps I had a particular and special interest in this book, but I finished it in about 24 hours.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Chester Brown, "Ed the Happy Clown: A Graphic Novel" (1980s)

I've reviewed several Chester Brown works on this blog. The early elements of the Ed story were contained in Brown's Yummy Fur mini-comics. An ex-girlfriend bought me a few in... 1986? I LOVED THEM. They mixed scatological humour ("The Man Who Couldn't Stop", about a man who could not stop defecating) with a rather straight take on the Gospel of Matthew. I was hooked, but could never find the rest. This anthology brings the run of Yummy Fur together, without the Gospel of Matthew material.

More later.

For my review of Brown's Paying for It, go here.

For my review of Brown's Louis Riel, go here.

Edward Bellamy, "Looking Backward: 2000-1887" (1888)

Comparable in many ways to Atwood's Handmaid's Tale and Case's Silence Descends. A clever, although bit plodding, exploration of an alternate socio-economic organization of society seen through the eyes of a man who inadvertently and mysteriously slept for 113 years, re-awakening in the year 2000.

More later.

Anthony Burgess, "A Clockwork Orange" (1962)

A delicious read that is more rewarding... or perhaps, surprisingly as rewarding due to its differences... than Kubrick's film adaptation.

More later.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Thomas King, "The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America" (2013)

At times humorous, at times bitter, King's exploration of the history of indigenous North American's struggle to co-exist with European settlers up to the 21st-century is concurrently pleasurable and disturbing read.

More to follow.

James DeMille, "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder" (1888)

De Mille is a Canadian classical historian, teacher, and perhaps most famously, a fiction author who focused particularly on adventure stories. His biography is available at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

This particular story of De Mille's is enjoyable, although sometimes seems a bit heavy compared to contemporary work. Essentially, the plot of A Strange Manuscript... runs thusly: A seagoing ship of educated and leisured men - prone to rather annoying preaching and showy displays of arcane knowledge - discovers a copper cylinder in which is sealed a lengthy manuscript detailing a fantastical story of a man's adventure in a previously undiscovered region of the world that seems to be hidden somewhere in the vicinity of the South Pole. The narrative of the manuscript is occasionally interrupted by the crew of men debating the merits of the story, the veracity of the tale, and the perspective of the storyteller.

The story within the discovered narrative offers an intriguing critique of capitalist society, and the morals such a system is based on. The lost seaman, who is at first adrift with a shipmate, encounters adversities posed by nature - from storms to volcanoes - as well as hostile indigenous peoples who seem bent on eating him and his partner. Only one escapes these pursuers, and ends up in a verdant, productive society hidden within a ring of mountains at the South Pole. The society operates according to values completely contrary to those that seem to operate in the rest of the world, however, idealizing poverty, death, suffering, and servitude as the greatest good for all individuals and society as a whole. Within this world, the paupers, the jailed, those about to be sacrificed are the highest figures, and those to be punished are the wealthy, the selfish, and those who live in the sunlight. Unsurprisingly, our discoverer/narrator struggles to learn about and understand this society, falls in love, confuses his hosts, and seeks to arrange his escape from their overly helpful hands that aim to do him the highest honour of sacrifice and cannibalism.

The entirety of the story can be read and/or downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.

Friday, 15 November 2013

John Clearwater, "Canada's Nuclear Weapons" (1998)

Subtitle: "The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Weapons."

More to follow.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Mary Janigan, "Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark" (2013)

The subtitle of this book is: "The West versus the rest since Confederation."

The "West" Janigan refers to here is essentially Canada west of Kenora, and south of Great Slave Lake. This history she tells, somewhat surprisingly, does not focus on the National Energy Plan, or even the resource control crisis of the 1970s. What she narrates is the lesser-known foundation for these two conflicts: the struggle between the federal and Western provincial governments over with whom should reside the right to control (and ideally to benefit from) the natural resources within the provinces' boundaries.

Janigan's narrative begins with the Metis rebellions of the 1870s and 1880s, which essentially led to Manitoba's creation and entry into Confederation, and closes with the 1930 Constitutional amendments that granted resource control to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Discussion of the 1970s and 1980s conflicts is included as a rather brief epilogue.

She has managed to weave a compelling story, tying together long-overlooked or under-studied events. She pays due attention to archival documents, publicly available information as well as personal correspondence. She creates a fulsome sense of the persons involved, with consideration for their professional and individual personal lives. Unfortunately, this degree of detail sometimes drives the momentum of the story - a story that due to its often legalistic intricacy is prone to lose readers anyway - off into unproductive and questionably helpful lay-bys. For instance, discussion of the travails of settlers learning to build sod houses is no doubt interesting, and provides some context for Western development, but is hard to fit against the intricate and looping to-and-fro of federal-provincial policy negotiations.

Additionally, the book would have greatly benefitted from a closer connection between what was presented as the critical 1918 Dominion-provincial conference, the 1930 Constitutional amendment, and the conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s. I think that the author's intention was likely to focus on the first two, but the addition of the latter was included in part as a means to "sexy up" the book for a wider audience. If this was the case, more was needed for the discussion to not come across as an afterthought. Given the importance of Janigan's story for rethinking the more recent conflicts, the book seems to have missed a really important opportunity.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Jon Atack, "A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed" (pub. 1990, rev. 2013)

After reading Jenna Miscavige Hill's memoir of her time spent as an adherent of Scientology, I wanted to know more about the 'theological' and administrative details of the organization. (See my earlier review of Hill's book here.)

Atack's book is well-regarded, and was written long before the recent spate of bad publicity for Scientology that followed the high-profile departures of ex-pat Canadian turned Hollywood director, Paul Haggis, followed by television actress Leah Rimini. Perhaps worst of all for Scientology was/is the split between long-time Scientologist and public advocate Tom Cruise and his third wife, allegedly over concerns related to how to incorporate Scientological principles into their family life.

Keeping in mind that it was not written by a professional author or journalist, A Piece of Blue Sky does an impressive job in difficult conditions, of raising some fundamental doubts regarding many of the claims offered by the Church of Scientology about its own history, practices, and values. Unlike Hill's book, Atack's deals less with personal experiences than it does try to use Scientology's documents, supplemented by interview and correspondence materials with other formerly high-ranking Scientologists, as well as court records produced from relevant cases concerned with Scientology, to establish an institutional timeline and expose of the Church's structure, operational values, and 'theology'. (I use theology in marks due to the fact that Scientology does not worship a higher power, as do many other religions, but believes that aspects of this higher power need to be 'freed' from within ourselves.)

Generally speaking, Atack's book is excellent. It certainly could benefit from the help of a good editor, but the impressive work Atack has done in providing an initial exposure of Scientology is admirable and informative.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Brereton Greenhous, "The Making of Billy Bishop" (2002)

Greenhous has written a fascinating analysis of Bishop's war record, comparing the Canadian First World War aviator's claims about his battle successes against available Allied and German war records, personal correspondence by Bishop, his friends, and his military peers and superiors, to propose a significant falsification has become rooted into Canadian history.

Greenhous presents a compelling case to indicate that much of Bishop's record of kills may have been fabricated. To his credit, Greenhous establishes the compelling reasons which may have led many within the military to seek to create a 'hero', leading to the inflation or exaggeration of Bishop's exploits, as a propagandistic necessity. He supports this analysis with a careful and thorough assessment of documents that might be used to understand or clarify Bishop's claims. His work reveals many holes in Bishop's stories, as well as those offered by superiors to explain their recommendations for Bishop to be provided with honours, as well as occasional falsehoods.

I highly-recommended this book that will leave most readers shaking their heads at how our understanding of the history of almost century-old events can be so fundamentally shaken.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Max Brooks, "World War Z" (2006)

Full title: "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War."

Not particularly compelling. Not particularly cohesive narrative.

More someday.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Matthew Bowman, "The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith" (2012)

Bowman offers a generally 'soft' but not unreservedly sympathetic record of the evolution of the Latter Day Saints.

The New York Times has already run a review of this book that pretty much sums up my take.

In short, Bowman details the stories of the early years of the church, examining accounts of how Joseph Smith came to present himself as a prophet and recipient of the updated Word of God. The author offers a general account of the theological pillars of 'Mormonism', giving close attention to the emergence of values such as communalism, polygamy, and the importance of genealogical research to the faith. The book pays attention to a number of challenges that adherents to the religion encountered during the late 19th and early 20th-centuries, from state persecution of polygamy, rejection of communal ownership, and concerns regarding anti-feminist and racist positions regarding the hierarchy of the church.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Gregory Fremont-Barnes, "The Soviet-Afghan War, 1979-1989" (2012)

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Jenna Miscavige Hill, "Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology..." (2013)

The full title of this book is "Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape." It is co-authored with Lisa Pulitzer.

Although Hill's book has received voluminous attention, likely reflecting current high-profile scandals in the 'Church', it is certainly nowhere near the best-written or most informative text available regarding Scientology. Written by someone who was 'bred into' the organization (by which I mean she was a member from a young age, with a long-family tradition of belonging to Scientology) her perspective is derived from her own experiences. She makes no to little effort to contextualize her observations and understandings outside of her own life. This is understandable, and does not come as a surprise given the book's title.

What I found most disappointing in Beyond Belief is that it is exactly what it claims to be. The recollected childhood memories of someone who grew up in a repressive, alienating environment based on confusing, illogical precepts. There is little deeper reflection on the philosophical values of the experience, analysis of the events, or an effort to establish a more profound message than 'this organization did bad things to me.' I have no quibble with Hill's right (and perhaps need) to publicize these reflections. I'm just not sure what I might take away from reading them other than to be grateful that I didn't share her experience.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Tim Reiterman, "Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People" (1982)

A compelling and detailed examination of a strangely overlooked event in recent American social history.

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

John Holmes, "Porn King: The Autobiography..." (2012)

The book was written/dictated by Holmes before his death, but Holmes added a preface and published the work posthumously.

As with many autobiographies by former porn stars, Holmes tells a tale of degradation and depredation. While he first enjoyed the opportunity to have sex for money (both the physical pleasure and economic perks), the opportunities being a porn actor opened up for him - both positive and negative - eventually led Holmes down paths of consumption and behaviour that would eventually lead to his demise from AIDS-related causes.

His story is simple and compelling. He makes little effort to glorify his work, or to romanticize the life it led him into. He also does not vilify his work or personal associates. Instead, his autobiography seems like a quiet reflection offered by a man who knows the end of his days are near, and merely want to leave some more meaningful or fuller record of his experience than pictures of himself having sex.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Case of Wagner" (1888). Translated by Anthony M. Ludovici (1911).

Nietzsche essentially recognizes Wagner's skill at evocative, indulgent histrionics. This is, however, a skill that Nietzsche sees as indicative of a weak and unmanly approach to art.

Notes of interest to possibly no one else but me (page numbers correspond to my digital edition):
- “And let it be said en passant that if Wagner’s theory was ‘drama is the object, music is only a means’ – his practice was from beginning to end ‘the attitude is the end, drama and even music can never be anything else than means.” p. 47
- “In the theatre, no one brings the finest senses of his art with him, and least of all the artist who works for the theatre, - for here loneliness is lacking; everything perfect does not suffer a witness… In the theatre one becomes mob, herd, woman, Pharisee, electing cattle, patron, idiot – Wagnerite: there, the most personal conscience is bound to submit to the leveling charm of the great multitude, there the neighbour rules, there one becomes a neighbour.” P. 47/48
- “In the solemn, or fiery, swinging movement, first slow and then quick, of old music – one had to do something quite different; one had to dance. The measure which was required for this and the control of certain balanced degrees of time and energy, forced the soul of the listener to continual sobriety of thought. – Upon the counterplay of the cooler currents of air which came from this sobriety, and from the warmer breath of enthusiasm, the charm of all good music rested – Richard Wagner wanted another kind of movement, - he overthrew the physiological first principle of all music before his time. It was no longer a matter of walking or dancing, - we must swim, we must hover…” p. 48
- “…there are two kinds of sufferers: - those that suffer from overflowing vitality, who need Dionysian art and require a tragic insight into, and a tragic outlook upon, the phenomenon life, - and there are those who suffer from reduced vitality, and who crave for repose, quietness, calm seas, or else the intoxication, the spasm, the bewilderment which art and philosophy provide.” p. 51
- “I began to understand Epicurus, the opposite of a Dionysian Greek, and also the Christian who in fact is only a kind of Epicurean, and who, with his belief that ‘faith saves,’ carries the principle of Hedonism as far as possible – far beyond all intellectural honesty…” p. 51

Ben Klassen, "The Klassen Letters, Vol. 1" (1969-1976) [1988] & "Vol. 2" (1976-1981) [1989]

Ben Klassen was a prolific proponent of ‘White’ racial supremacy. In the early 1970s, he founded the Church of the Creator, a US-based organization devoted to establishing exclusive ‘white’ population of the globe, as well as elimination of Christianity and Judaism. Klassen also identified “Jews” as a ‘race’, and hoped for their elimination as well.

The stated purpose for this collection was to provide a record of the evolution in Klassen’s thinking, from the period where he first considered establishing a racially-oriented ‘religion’ through to the establishment of a World Headquarters for the group. During this period, he authored two books that outlined the Church’s philosophy, Nature’s Eternal Religion and The White Man’s Bible.

The Klassen Letters are, at their most basic, a project of blind hubris. Setting aside the philosophic and logical arguments that might be raised against Klassen’s ideology contained therein, the letters – as a collection of texts – are morbidly tedious. An editor could have trimmed the collection down to about a third of the 300 pages, eliminating the frequent repetition of whole paragraphs from letter to letter, which it appears Klassen adopted as almost stock descriptions of his beliefs. Additionally, Klassen includes his frequent solicitations to correspondents to distribute more of his books, as well as the minutiae of pricing and postage costs and procedures. From a social history perspective these details might be of some interest, but as a summary of a leader’s philosophical development they are distracting, at best.

The Klassen Letters do offer some useful information. Although more widely distributed, Klassen’s writing in the Church’s newspaper, Racial Loyalty, leaves some unanswered questions that the Letters resolve.

While Klassen never provides his readers with a clear, definition of who qualifies as ‘White’, in some of the letters he outlines why he is being evasive on this question. He notes (much to my surprise) that establishing a clear line between someone who is ‘white’ and someone who is not is difficult, due to ‘race-mixing.’ He suggests, however, that those who are ‘white’ know this fact incontrovertibly. He also suggests that details of who is ‘white’ can be resolved later, once the more immediate goal of overcoming global Jewish/Judaic dominance is achieved.

In the later letters, Klassen also advances an intriguing position with regard to self-education. Although a proponent of research and critical thinking (at least with regard to information gathered through the ‘mainstream media’), and as an author attempting to ‘educate’ his readers towards adopting a new point of view, Klassen recommends that readers must at a certain point arrive at a position and stop researching it – particularly if that research merely expands or supports the position already established – and move into action.

Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry, "Helter Skelter" (1974; with new Afterword, 1994)

Although the cover proclaims it as the best-selling true crime book (ever!), Helter Skelter exhausts the reader with overabundant detail, particularly when relating the step-by-step development of the prosecutorial arguments and approach.

I’m sure a large part of the book’s allure is the topic it concerns, the spectacular, shocking, and senseless 1970 slaughter of two houses of people in California, including famous personalities such as actress Sharon Tate, hairdresser to the stars Jay Sebring, and heiress to a coffee business empire Abigail Folger.

The book is somewhat similar in tone to Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History (written much later, and which I reviewed here), and exhibits some of the same weaknesses. Bugliosi does not spare the feelings of those he feels have failed in fulfilling their responsibilities, in this case, several police officers, investigators, and members of the judiciary.
He does offer insights into the case that trial transcripts and journalistic accounts missed, such as aspects of the case that were not pursued in court, evidence that was not heard/seen, or avenues of investigation that did not produce leads. For instance, at the end of the book, Bugliosi discusses a number of murders that investigators suspect might be associated with the Manson group, but that for various reasons could not be conclusively tied to them. He also analyses how some information covered by court-ordered publication bans might have leaked to the media, and considerations regarding treatment of the jury.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Anna Bramwell, "Blood and Soil: Walther Darre & Hitler's 'Green Party'" (1985)

This book is certainly challenging, in that it presents both a significant 'rewriting' of the history of Nazi Germany, an intensive analysis of ideological clashes within German National Socialism, and a troubling apparent sympathy for some aspects of that movement.

Bramwell offers two core theses:
1) Walther Darre was found guilty of war crimes that he should not have been.
2) Echoes of Darre’s philosophies can be found in contemporary Europe, if not globally, thus suggesting that they cannot be regarded as intrinsic to fascistic/national socialist ideology.

Bramwell explores the evolution of Darre’s thought through his pre-Nazi era writings, the policies and pronouncements of the Nazi era, as well as his post-Nazi writing. She notes that Darre’s anti-semitism, given the absence of this position in his pre-Nazi writing, may have been adopted merely as a pragmatic attempt to curry favour with powerful anti-semitic Nazis such as Hitler. She spends a significant amount of effort exploring Darre’s interests in the peasantry, and how his aims for preserving and strengthening Germany’s peasant class did not include the claiming of substantial new lebensraum in the East, nor the use of a vast number of non-German forced labourers for the purposes of maintaining or increasing agricultural output.

You can read it for yourself, if you go to:

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Marquis de Sade, "Philosophy in the Bedroom" (1795)

Philosophy... reminds me of the kind of book that Anton LaVey might have written in another era.

I am surprised by how much of this book deals with politics. The popular understanding of de Sade's writing focuses on his sexual "libertinage." The book does contain a significant and frank discussion of sexuality, and works to 'shock' the reader with both the acts described and the logic behind these acts. The logic, however, is what is by far the most interesting.

De Sade's characters argue for a multitude of sexual acts that might still be regarded as immoral by many today (sodomy, homosexuality, group sex, etc.). The occasion of all of these acts within the book is explained, however, as political resistance to the established order of post-revolutionary France. Philosophy..., in short, is a somewhat far-fetched argument for a form of liberal republicanism taken to its extreme. Murder and rape are explained as necessary to be permitted out of respect for 'natural laws' and individual rights to pursue whatever actions one is able.

In its focus on political argument and philosophic approach to sexuality, Philosophy... is less pornographic than politicized sex. Discussions of sexual congress are presented more as lists of actions than lovingly dwelt upon or fetishized as might be expected.

De Sade takes up a number of challenging arguments that will not, in some respects, appear unfamiliar to a modern reader. He emphasizes libertarianism, suggesting that females should be free of artificial constraints to pursue pleasure, as should be men. His characters recognize that this is impossible within their times, however, so advocates subversion from within accepted contracts, behind closed doors, through paid relationships with servants, etc.

Using inexorable, though troubling argument, De Sade valourizes homosexuality, incest, sodomy, and crossing gender roles (e.g., women anally penetrating men with dildos). For instance, De Sade's characters argue for anal sex as a wise and pleasurable means to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Additionally, with the reproductive element removed, producing pleasurable sensations, and allowed by nature (if not invited by it through the physically complementary traits of the anal sphincter and phallus), de Sade's characters suggest there is every reason for men to copulate with men (and that this might even be more honourable than heterosexual copulation, in that it is more 'liberated' from conventional morality).

His characters deride charity of any kind, as they feel it diminishes the individual’s will to power. They similarly attack state charity as attracting the poor and removing their desire to succeed.

They suggest murder and violence are useful, admirable, and natural, but recommend that such pursuits (particularly the former) be carried out without aid from assistants, as these open oneself to increased risk.

Perhaps most surprising in a book that I suspected to be full of lewd, and quaintly shocking Enlightenment-era pornography was the inclusion of lengthy ‘text within a text’, elaborating an extensive argument for a kind of extreme republicanism, wherein the rights of the individual to practice any act must be allowed, and indeed, in many cases, facilitated.

This text suggests that society must allow individuals to act on their ‘natural’ desires, and that these desires left free to play themselves out will act as a kind of self-regulation. With regard to murder, offers a quotation from a Cologne ruler who judged a murderer, saying: “I absolve you of killing, and I also absolve the person who will kill you.”

Ross Stein has written a clear, concise, and pretty accurate summation of this book at Examiner.com.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Ursula LeGuin, "The Dispossessed" (1974)

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Geoffrey Reaume, Remembrance of Patients Past (2000, rep. 2009)

The sub-title for this book is: "Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940."

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

York University (Toronto, ON) published an article discussing the book.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Guy St-Denis, "Tecumseh's Bones" (2010)

St-Denis writes a fascinating genealogy of speculation and claims regarding the final resting place of the remains of Shawnee chief Tecumseh, whose contributions to Canada's defence during the War of 1812 was a critical contribution. He died in 1813, during the Battle of the Thames. His archival scholarship is wide-ranging and apparently meticulous.

Tecumseh's Bones does suffer from some weaknesses, however, that are a little surprising within a book from an academic press. Noting them is invaluable for me, however, as they relate mostly to lessons for my own history writing. (St-Denis has attempted a study similar to one I am undertaking on another topic.)

1) The book does not place its discussion within any sort of academic framework or context, either regarding historiographic practice, public history, etc. Without any consideration of what the state of academic research regarding Tecumseh and his final resting place was at the point this book was written, it is difficult to understand what compelled St-Denis to undertake his effort, or to gauge his success in contributing something new to our understanding of this issue. Additionally, I believe St-Denis has 'missed the train' when he opted to not consider how his research might compel us to think differently about myth-making's relationship to public history, whether within southern Ontario, Canada, or globally. This concern is certainly popular, the relevant materials are not particularly onerous to read, and if the concern was that these considerations would not have been of interest to a wider audience, they could have easily been hived off into a separate chapter.

2) The sheer density of information - the detailed tracking of the to'ing and fro'ing of correspondence, conversations, and letters to the editor - quickly becomes mentally exhausting. Without some effort to 'pack' his work within some kind of organizational framework, with signposts provided to help orient the reader, this book quickly gains the feel of a laundry list of documents, references, ideas, and claims. There is certainly nothing wrong with that kind of information processing. I would hope, however, that the author would be able to provide the reader with the benefit of his long-term engagement with the material, and to provide larger proposals of meaning-making for the reader. For instance, what is significant about some new proposal for where Tecumseh's bones laid? If discussion of a new claim is the focus of a chapter, how does that information fundamentally change what we already know and believe? If the information is essentially the shuffling of details within an already detailed spectrum of information, perhaps the degree of detail provided was not necessary.

3) The book is short. That is not a problem, but I wonder if perhaps this was closer to an essay that was exaggerated into a book. The provision of a lengthy chronology (representing in a more clearly organized fashion what was included in the body of the book) suggests 'padding'. On the other hand, provision of some academic context and weight would have helped to expand the importance the book could play in our understanding of history writing, as well as the events and issues St-Denis discusses.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Sarban, "Sound of his Horn" (1952)

A fun little bit of fantasy/sci-fi from the 1950s.

The book tells the story of a British POW who, waking from a medical trauma, finds himself an inmate within a strange Nazi hunting camp, where the prisoners are hunted, assaulted, and killed for the pleasures of the flabby and sadistic Nazi officer class. Stereotypes abound: the Nazi overseer indulges medieval predilections, the camp is populated by the products of Nazi genetic engineering, and technological advances (such as a kind of hyper-electrified fence) are employed side-by-side with throwbacks to the 19th-century (horse-drawn carriages).

A fluffy little bit of allohistory.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Bart Ehrman, "The New Testament: A Historical Introduction..." (2003)

The full subtitle of this text is: "A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings."

I've temporarily discontinued reading this book, but fully intend to return to it. Sorry!http://www.bartdehrman.com/books/nt_early_writingsR4.htm

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Candida Moss, "The Myth of Persecution" (2013)

The subtitle of this book is, "How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom."

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

In the interim, some positive reviews (with links to other reviews) can be found at the Unreasonable Faith blog

and Salon.com.

For some balance, I've also included a negative review from First Things.

Monday, 6 May 2013

J.T. Patterson, "The Eve of Destruction" (2012)

The subtitle of this book is, " How 1965 Transformed America."

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

You can listen to/watch the author give a talk on the book at the University of Virginia's Miller Centre (Jan. 2013).

A discussion with the author is available via BookTV.

Some reviews of the book are linked here:
John Wilson, Books & Culture.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

David Irving, "Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich" (1996)

Irving is, and this is a generous assessment, one of the most controversial aspirants to the title of 'historian' to address the Second World War era. He has been described as a 'revisionist', and a 'denier'. His work appears, at first glance, as impressive; full of lengthy citations of archival and interview sources, criticism of scholarly work, and distinctions that to a casual reader seem to suggest an encyclopedic knowledge of relevant material. As Irving's increasingly erratic and extreme pronouncements indicate a wilder and ever-more problematic approach to history, politics, and professionalism, however, most of his writing has come under criticism. Despite the appearance of meeting scholarly standards, many of his books have been revealed as poorly-founded revisions of commonly accepted and better researched work. Having found Irving's Hitler's War an entertaining read as a teenager, and discovering that Irving had made 'author-approved' versions of many of his works available freely online, I decided that they might merit a new assessment from a more critical perspective.

Irving finished his draft of Goebbels in September of 1994, and duly submitted it to St. Martin's Press for review. While the Press made revisions, and did not offer the book for sale in North America, Irving offered the original to readers for free via his website.

There is a short assessment in the Kirkus Review that rings pretty true. If you can't be bothered to follow the link, the review can be summarized as calling the book, "ponderous, tedious, and scurrilously misleading."

The same year that Goebbels was published, Irving lodged a libel suit in the United Kingdom against Deborah Lipstadt, a United States university professor and author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1993). As part of the evidence in the Irving v Lipstadt case, Richard Evans offered an assessment of Irving's manipulation of historical records.

All of this being said, a few themes emerged from my reading of Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich (that at over 900 pages - could easily be argued is too long for its own good). I list them below:

1) Irving's sometimes subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) anti-semitism.
For instance, on pg. 195, Irving offers the rather florid sentence: "The government’s Shylocks were determined to eviscerate him now… The hundred pound Dr. Goebbels was equally determined to keep his flesh intact.” Of course, this allusion to the 'vengeful Jew' in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice plays on a common anti-semitic stereotype while symbolically equating the level of risk Goebbel faced to physical death.

2) Goebbels was a virulent anti-semite who pushed Hitler further than Hitler would have gone on his own
Several times during the book, Irving notes that Goebbels was either pleading with Hitler to take a stronger anti-semitic stance, or that Goebbels was - through independent decisions - compelling stronger actions against Jews from Hitler. This is not a position that Irving attempts to hide. Describing the situation in 1934, on pg. 376, Irving bluntly states, "For the next nine years, Goebbels was the motor, goading his reluctant Fuhrer into ever more radical actions against the Jews.” Similarly, on pg. 656, Irving opines, "For Goebbels there were two problems. Neither the broad German public nor their Fuhrer shared his satanic antisemitism.” Additionally, on pg. 693, Irving suggests, "Hitler told Hans Lammers categorically that he wanted the solution of the Jewish problem postponed until after the war was over—a ruling that re-markably few historians now seem disposed to quote." Ironically, Irving includes the following in the footnote appended to the preceding sentence: "At about the same time [Goebbels] noted [in his diary] that Hitler was relentless on the Jewish question: ‘The Jews must get out of Europe, if necessary by applying the most brutal means.'"

In somewhat more subtle terms, on pg. 369, Irving writes, "[Hitler listens to]… Goebbel’s litanies against their turbulent priests and their arrogant Jews. Hitler finds it hard to get worked up about the Jews, now that he is in power.” With regard to the pogroms of Kristallnacht, Irving suggests Goebbels acted independently of Hitler's directions in bringing about violent anti-semitic actions, "It is plain that [JG] had consulted neither the party’s gauleiters nor the S.A. chief of staff before issuing these instructions.”

Irving has difficulty incorporating some historical realities into his version of history, however. He includes, but seems to miss the obvious contradiction to his claims that statements such as the following pose: "…the Reichstag that September 1936 passed a set of laws circumscribing the rights of Jews and half-Jews in Germany. Goebbels took no part in their drafting…” (pg. 376). If in fall 1936 the Reichstag was passing laws limiting the rights of Jews and those the Nazi regime identified as 'half-Jews', it would suggest that these laws were passed with Hitler's implicit support or at least lack of objection, and that Goebbels could not be identified as a solitary, driven, or exceptional anti-semitic leader within the regime.

3) Practical need dictated ant-semitic actions
While discussion of the early struggles of the Nazi Party is filled with fulminations against what Irving characterizes as the 'dirty tricks' of the Communist and Social Democratic opposition parties, he suggests that the Party's anti-semitism was grounded in the reality of a German society dominated for the worse by Jews (in terms of dominant ownership of key industries, wealth-holding, and occupation of government offices and the judiciary). Once the Party's anti-semitic policies had eliminated the possibility of Jews being able to meaningfully participate in German society, of course, a new threat could be rationalized, that of rebellion by the marginalized, disenfranchised, and victimized. As Irving indicates on pg. 706, "...Goebbels dictated that he saw a major danger in having forty thousand Jews ‘with nothing more to lose’ running loose in the Reich capital.”

4) Offering subtle counter-narratives to cremation as evidence of mass executions
Likely recognizing that his work would be under scrutiny, and yet widely read by less-than-critical readers with a casual interest in Nazi history, Irving inserts some subtle references that suggest attempts to destabilize, if not rewrite dominant historical interpretations based on overwhelming evidence. As indicated in a quotation above, his criticism for 'institutional/professional historians' who are too afraid to be objective about the history of the Nazi era is well-known.

For instance, on pg. 722, Irving states “...Himmler wrote to Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller that... given the high mortality rate in the camps; he ordered all the cadavers ‘of these deceased Jews’ cremated or interred.” On its face, the ambiguity of the quoted phrase ('of those deceased Jews') might be missed, but the implication that the deaths were somehow natural, caused by misfortune or disease, and certainly not part of a process of state-conducted slaughter, is an important re-interpretation of history that Irving is known for. That the Nazi state's laws created this situation in the first place is overlooked.

5) Irving offers subtle rehabilitation of Hitler's and Nazism's reputation
Near the closing of the book, on pg. 916, Irving includes one of Goebbels' last assessments of the efforts to which he had given his life's work. “‘If worse comes to worst,’ he mused, ‘and the Führer dies an honourable death in Berlin, and Europe goes bolshevik, then in five years at most the Führer will have come a legendary figure and national socialism a mythus sanctified by a last grand finale—and all of its mortal errors that are criticized today will have been expunged at one fell swoop.’“ That this statement would be offered without critical commentary or counter narrative implies a dangerously ambiguous re-statement of Goebbels ideas, and given Irving's history, suggests either a stiff middle-finger in the face of his critics and/or an affirmation that much of their criticism may be correct.

6) Irving occasionally lapses into petty, sometimes ridiculous nastiness
Describing one of Goebbel's children, Irving states, "Hellmut Goebbels grows to a solemn, slow-witted mutt of nine, 136 centimetres (four feet six inches) tall, with no greater recorded ambition than to become a Berlin subway driver.” Such an assessment of a boy who spent most of his short life (between the ages of 3 and 9 years old), living in Berlin during World War II seems rather unnecessarily harsh.

7) Irving's use of footnotes sometimes ignores the responsibilities of an historian
On pg. 299, Irving states that in 1933, "The world’s press greeted Goebbels’ crude but effective boycott with uproar (while ignoring the Jewish boycott which had triggered it.).” Such a statement, which Irving had to know would be controversial, and which given criticism that he was prone to play loose with the rules of historical evidence, would greatly benefit from citation to some kind of documentary proof, such as references to a few articles from the 'world's press' to support his claim. None are provided.

Similarly, on pg. 527, Irving states, "“In Rhodes [Goebbels] read that Mr Chamberlain had guaranteed Poland against any aggression.*” The asterisk leads the reader to the following note: "Except, it turned out, aggression by the Soviet Union; a secret addendum made this clear.—It was Ian Colvin of the News Chronicle, whom Goebbels expelled a few days later, who tilted the balance to war by telling Chamberlain, untruthfully, on March 29 that Hitler had already drawn up plans to destroy Poland. However the contingency plan (Hitler’s Case White) was now activated as a result of the British guarantee.”

This addendum is footnoted. The footnote, however, does not seem to relate to the claim regarding Chamberlain, the British guarantee, a secret addendum to said guarantee, Colvin, or Colvin’s conversation with Chamberlain. Instead, the footnotes states, “See the diaries of Bormann; Eberhard (IfZ, Irving collection); and Major Wilhelm Deyhle, Jodl’s staff officer (ND: 1796-PS); also a letter from Col Eduard Wagner to his wife, Mar 30 and Apr 1 (in which latter he wrote ‘gestern bei der Führerentscheidung...’—‘yesterday, when the Führer reached his decision...’). How Bormann, Eberhard, or Deyhle would know about secret addendums to British guarantees with Poland, or what a British journalist discussed with the British Prime Minister is incomprehensible. It is also difficult to understand why Irving would not direct his readers to particular entries in the diaries rather than to the entirety of the books is suspicious.

8) The book is desperately in need of an editor.
Like many self-published books, this text suffers from a multitude of egregious writing flaws and typographical errors that a critical, objective eye would have caught immediately. A few examples of the various types that are found in the book:

Pg. 206 - "With the political wind in Germany now beginning to blow Brown…”. Irving was referring to the colour of the Nazi uniform. Aside from the mixed metaphor, the scatological reading of this phrase gave me a surprised chuckle.

Pg. 253 - "Two years later [Goebbels] published a popular edition of his diaries for the coming months…”. Why Irving phrased his sentence this way, instead of something much simpler and clearer, such as "Two years later, Goebbels would publish a popular edition of the diaries he wrote over the next few months," is baffling.

On pg. 672, clearly there has been a layout error that a fresh eye would have caught. The book states, "“The film pirated And apartments—supposedly for bombed-out Berliners, but the cream of these vacant buildings went to their closest cronies.” The portion following 'pirated' appears again lower on the same page.

Pg. 743: "“As Hitler reminded Goebbels before this speech, it was proper even now to compare Germany’s situation now with 1933.”
Pg. 860: "“Goebbels sent Hitler a telegram reporting the three hundred thousand new troops. ‘I intend,’ he dictated on the train, ‘to plead with the Führer not to let Speer pick the currents out of my cake.’”

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Sönke Neitzel, Harald Weitzer, "Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying" (2012)

Neitzel and Weitzer have written a fascinating analysis of two significant bodies of long-overlooked edited transcripts of conversations between German prisoners-of-war secretly recorded in the UK and US during the Second World War. The authors conduct a qualitative content analysis of the discussions, arriving at fascinating insights into how German soldiers, airman, and sailors understood their role in the war. Topics assessed range through obvious concerns such as the soldiers' sense-making regarding fighting and killing (as indicated in the book title), but also addresses their perspectives on less-often or indirectly explored issues such as soldiers' perspective on sexual violence, anti-semitism and racially-motivated violence, and the degree of soldiers' support for the Nazi regime.

The book offers a clear and important discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of content analysis, as well of these records. Any discussion of the records cannot be engaged in without the disclaimer that they are transcriptions of select portions of conversations, sometimes between German soldiers who did not know they were being recorded and sometimes between a German soldier and a British or American 'plant' who was seeking information. On the other hand, as the authors point out, the records does provide very unique perspectives from the point of view of 'regular' German soldiers recorded in informal conversations during the war; before the outcome of the war was obvious, and outside of the fear that any dissent or criticism might result in punishment from the regime.

The book offers intriguing insights that challenges some increasingly popular - although contentious - understandings of German society, such as advanced in Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners.

More later...

Sir Stephen King-Hall, "Diary of a U-Boat Commander" (1918)

This is a short book dating from the end of the First World War. While an entertaining read, the work is deceptive. It is written in the voice of a German naval officer, as a diary of his reflections. As a social elite, he expects - but at first must only aspire - to command his own Unterseeboot. With experience and attrition in the submarine officer-classes, his desire is eventually successful.

The 'diary' balances between gritty descriptions of life at/under the sea, and provides a convincing narrative of tense battles, fear of attack, and cramped, tense boredom between actions while at sea. While on land, the sailor pines for a distant, but teasingly interested female who is attached to an older, corpulent army officer.

It is the end of the story where the tension begins to fall apart - when it is revealed that the love interest is a Polish spy working for the British, and killed by the Germans for her activities. The 'diary' format begins to become suspect when the officer describes how his life radically changes upon the suspicions that he was complicit in her activities.

Certainly, as can be seen on sites such as Amazon, there are still some who believe that this book is actually a diary written by a German officer. It was, however, written by a British naval officer in 1918. In this respect, the book provides an intriguing view into a British man's view of German society, relationships between the officer class and others within the German navy, and the challenges war faced all men and women with. Of course, these views are all offered based on speculation, by an outsider, and placed within a narrative that is as much about the frustration of love as it is about life as a submariner during wartime.

You can read the entire work for free via the Internet Archive.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Howard Zinn, "A People's History of the United States" (1980)

Book in progress.

You, too, can read this book (for free, no less, online) via History Is A Weapon.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Fritz Kreisler, "Four Weeks in the Trenches" (1915)

Kreisler, a famous violinist, served for a short time on Austria-Hungary's Eastern front at the beginning of the First World War. This very short memoir of that experience does not describe a fundamentally unique perspective on war, or offer a soldier's perspective in a particularly novel fashion. The text, however, is intriguingly compelling in that it retains - although tempered by clear description of some of the early horrors of the war - some of the optimism, sense of élan, and bravado that so marked the entry of so many men into the fighting.

For instance, Kreisler writes:

"The very massing together of so many individuals, with every will merged into one that strives with gigantic effort toward a common end, and the consequent simplicity and directness of all purpose, seem to release and unhinge all the primitive, aboriginal forces stored in the human soul, and tend to create the indescribable atmosphere of exultation which envelopes everything and everybody as with a magic cloak."

While I know little about why this book was published, it strikes me that it would have found an eager audience in any country involved in the war in 1915. That it was published in the United States is more than a little curious. That it was acceptable to publish may in part be Kreisler's complete avoidance of talking about politics or attempting to justify, or even explain, the reasons for the war. In this book the war merely happens, and soldiers are expected to fight. Kreisler does, and never once seems to question why, challenge the sacrifices he sees, or is required to make.

The full text of this book is available through Project Gutenberg.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins, "Tribulation Force" (1996)

Subtitle: "The Continuing Drama of Those Left Behind."

Building on the success of the initial volume of Left Behind, LaHaye and Jenkins develop the story of a small band of people 'left behind' after a significant portion of the world's population disappears. The group, who develop confidence in their interpretation that the disappearance represents a collecting of persons by the Christian God, devote themselves anew to their faith, to interpreting scriptural prophecy and advice, praying for guidance, and trying to monitor the activities of the man they presume to be the Anti-Christ, a world leader named Nicolae Carpathia.

Clearly, by the time LaHaye and Jenkins were writing this second volume, they were intent on creating a fairly lengthy series of books. Tribulation Force reads like an episode in a low-quality television soap opera. It depends on knowledge of the preceding volume, but resolves few questions from that book. Sub-plots are introduced and left (seemingly?) abandoned. Few, if any of the core plot questions are resolved or even really significantly moved ahead. In the last few pages, however, the narrative jumps inexplicably ahead eighteen months (after tediously playing out time like grains of sand). The leap is disconcerting at best. While dialogue was a weak aspect of the first volume, in this book it is stilted at best.

Perhaps the most interesting element of Tribulation Force is how LaHaye and Jenkins represent Judaism and Jews. For evangelical Christians, Jews and their faith represent a complex problem. They are God's chosen people, but have denied Christ as the Messiah promised in the Talmud. LaHaye and Jenkins combine tawdry stereotypes of Jewish religious scholars with strange, hard to rationalize conversions of Jews to faith in Jesus, and incorporate two prophets hailing the holiness of Jesus at the Wailing Wall as a central aspect of the second Left Behind book. While reading Tribulation Force, I couldn't help but wonder how American evangelicals would respond if Islamic fiction writers tried the same approach with Christianity.

The utter fantasy of many of the events in the first story are avoided in this volume, but have already 'tainted the pool' of believability. While perhaps inspiring for those who might already have issues with letting their faith slide, the story is highly unlikely to convert non-believers.

For those who have read the story, I am left with several core questions:
1) Why is the group's response to the perceived threat posed by Carpathia to draw closer to him? Wouldn't the logical response be to trust in God's plan, and to concentrate on proselytizing and conversion over surveillance of the Anti-Christ? Does the group believe that they will be the tools of God's will with regard to Carpathia? If so, on what prophecy is their idea based? It seems that their actions are based in egotism rather than faith.

2) Why is the story of the mysterious flower delivery referred to so frequently in this volume, but left hanging? It feels more like a plot thread that was too difficult to resolve, or upon reflection LaHaye concluded he'd have rather left it out and hoped it might just go away.

3) LaHaye's portrayal of the world as simply passively accepting the conversion of the world to one government, one religion, and one unit of money is not believable. If it was intended to showcase Carpathia's ability to win over audiences, then it raises the question of why the Anti-Christ waited so long to do this. If it is a sign of total belief in the values of peace that Carpathia is claimed to represent, LaHaye has not provided solid enough consideration of the multitude of groups whose beliefs would require them to reject - violently - the very kind of peace LaHaye describes as being adopted with nary a whimper.

4) An additional problematic aspect, at least from a theological point of view, is the question of polygamy. At the beginning of Left Behind, the wife of one of the central characters of the first two books Rayford Steele, is presumably taken up to heaven in the Rapture. About two years later, at the end of Tribulation Force, he remarries. I am curious how LaHaye and Jenkins rationalized this remarriage theologically, particularly when they have Steele and his daughter talking about rejoining their wife/mother in heaven. Will they bring along his second wife with them? Will she bring along her first husband, who was also raptured? Does this remarriage not break God's laws? (Matthew 19: 4-6 ESV - "...“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate”).

Bottom line: This book is far less interesting than the first volume, and is not really worth the time it takes to read it unless you plan on reading at least a few more volumes in the series.

If you insist on investigating for yourself, you can read an excerpt from the first chapter of the book at the Left Behind website.

You can also read my review of Left Behind, the first book in the sixteen-volume series of the same name by LaHaye and Jenkins.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

H. D. Thoreau, "Walden" (1854)

Before choosing to read Walden, I had heard references to it for years. I have to admit that I had avoided the book, assuming - based on the majority of references I had heard (or perhaps the referees) - that it would be a nineteenth-century equivalent of either '60s back to the land/environmental treatises (the best of which is perhaps represented by Small is Beautiful) or the (even worse) 1980s prescriptions for how to find and connect with one's inner 'wild man', such as contained in Iron John. I was sorely wrong.

Walden combines the simple charm of 'backwoods' narratives by the likes of Susannah Moodie and Laura Ingalls Wilder, with the humble storytelling and archival desires of the Farmer's Almanac, and the philosophical clarity of Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I cannot count the number of "quotable quotes" the circulate in popular communication that stem from this book. It is, in short, a landmark of American literature that deserves to be read by everyone.

From his analysis of the purpose of education, to the effects of industrialization on the development of the rural northeastern American seaboard, Thoreau's book is an important record of a particular time in American history. His reflections on natural phenomena, such as the melting of spring ice, behaviour of fish and birds and squirrels, growth of flora and fauna, as well as his analysis of the manners of his peers, along with his own thoughts of 'supernatural' questions, help to keep the book timely, topical, and rewarding for the most contemporary of readers.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

David Wallechinsky, "Tyrants" (2006)

Subtitle: "The World's 20 Worst Living Dictators"

I have to admit that I was a little cynical about this book when I first picked it up. It was the kind of thing that I decided to read as a bit of a palate-cleanser, or when I didn't feel I could give my full attention to more meaningful reading.

Essentially, Wallechinsky has written short profiles of twenty dictators, organized as a series of discrete profiles of varying length and detail. In many ways, his approach reminds me of the CIA nation summaries. He usually tries to give a sense of the long-term trajectory of a state and people's development, he never loses sight of the fact that these set-ups are primarily backdrops for the 'real' story he is trying to tell. Most of his profiles try to give some sort of insights into the personal development of authoritarian leaders, such as their family background (where the information is available, and in many cases it is sketchy. He narrates their political ascent to power, where such information is available, with an eye to casting the figure as perpetually bloodthirsty and aggressive, or in a few cases as well-meaning politicians who were somehow spoiled by power.

Tyrants could very easily have gone the route of merely pandering to the often shocking habits of dictators: the excesses of their personal lives, the inconsistencies between their public pronouncements and private lives, and the arcane cults of personality that they work to develop. Wallechinsky does not shy from discussing these things, but also turns his attention to political initiatives, international policies, relations with dissident political bodies within their countries, and domestic issues such as poverty, oppression, and electoral malfeasance.

Generally speaking, the book serves as a good, though reductive overview of the tyrants in question, and the countries they lead. Although, of course, information for some of the countries has already gotten out of date, for other countries, such as Syria, for instance, it provides a handy, quick reference source to familiarize yourself with the key players, groups, and issues.

Brian Topp, "How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot" (2010)

Subtitle: "The Inside Story Behind the Coalition".

This is a short, pithy narrative that follows very closely the negotiations behind the late 2008 agreement between the federal Liberals and New Democrats to form a coalition government, and between these two parties and the Bloc Quebecois that would allow the coalition to govern to at least the middle of 2010.

Of course, the plans fell apart at every step - countered as they were by Conservative fear-mongering regarding involvement of separatists, a floundering and confused Liberal party that was mid-step in replacing their leader, and an NDP that was too willing to let the Liberals take the "driver's seat" in directing the media campaign to influence public opinion about the coalition's legitimacy and worth.

One of the moments I found most intriguing from these events, and that I remember very clearly, is the televised message provided from Stephane Dion, on behalf of the Liberal Party. It was a debacle. Technological issues (apparently), and a difficult communicating smoothly and compellingly in English came together to rob the coalition of momentum, to further chill public opinion, and to give power to the Ignatieff camp that was cool on the coalition idea.

If the entire episode holds any consolation, one must be the fate of the Liberals after these events. Ignatieff's camp intended to ride the Liberal steed back into the electorate's good graces by backing away from a "separatist-tainted" coalition, and "an undemocratic attempt to steal power", but to slowly rebuild the Liberal Party's coffers, develop a new policy platform, and allow their leader to get some experience at campaigning (!!). They failed miserably. The NDP, on the other hand, which at the time some felt had sold out by cooperating with the centrists, rode an unprecedented wave of electoral support in 2012, and now sit in the House of Commons as the Official Opposition.

There is a very good review of the book provided at "Postcards of the Hanging."