Monday, 30 August 2010

Leonard Zeskind, "Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalism Movement..." (2009)

Zeskind has written an eminently readable, well-researched, fair-handed assessment of the organizational and philosophic history of US white nationalism. My only complaint is that his writing, particularly his use of simile and metaphor, is occasionally overwrought. This small fault is a minor concern compared to Zeskind's smooth, clear, insightful tracking of individuals, money and power within this movement between the 1960s and the 2000s. In particular, the connections the author observes between the white nationalism movement in its most extreme incarnations (such as White Aryan Resistance, or the militia movement) and its less extreme incarnations [or those which disguise their ideology behind more vague names] (such as the Institute for Historical Review, or the Populist Party), and finally, how the tentacles of the movement extend in the Republican Party, is fascinating. A very good read, and much better, in my estimation, than George Michaels' "Theology of Hate".

Monday, 23 August 2010

David Wilson, "Thomas D'Arcy McGee (Vol. 1): Passion, Reason, Politics - 1825-1857"

This book was suggested as a useful supplement to my research regarding fraternal groups operating in Canada during the late nineteenth-century. It's relationship to this work was slim. Nonetheless, it is an interesting read.

A father of Canadian confederation, and one of the victim of one of the few noteworthy political assassinations in Canada, McGee is a complicated figure. His perspectives, particularly with regards to Irish separatist impulses (he was born, and spent a considerable part of his life in Ireland). Clearly, his thinking on this issue shaped his thinking on Canadian government. For those seeking greater insights into McGee's role in Confederation, or his assassination, however, you'll have to wait for Volume 2.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

John English, "Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: 1968-2000"

I was looking forward to reading this book, if only because Canadian political history of the 1960s and 1970s is one of my research passions. That being said, my appraisal of the book is perhaps harsher than the average reader's might be. And... my appraisal isn't really that harsh.

My greatest complaint, or perhaps this is more a reminder for the casual reader, is that this book is about Trudeau the man. That is not to say that English's book doesn't provide social, political and even some economic context for Trudeau's life, but it is primarily an exploration of the events, decisions, and thinking of a person who was in many respects notoriously guarded about his personal life.

English does a good job of providing the 'big brush marks' of Trudeau's life. At 600-some pages for a second volume, covering about thirty years (well, really, about fifteen years... the events after the mid-1980s get pretty short shrift), it has a lot of territory to cover. Trudeau's four terms as Prime Minister saw, as English points out, events that really, fundamentally changed Canada. Many of these events are tied directly to Trudeau's vision of how the country should be. Perhaps this is the core problem of the book. McCall and Clarkson did an excellent job of surveying the political and economic aspects of Trudeau's tenure as PM. This book at times seems to waffle between trying to tell the political story, and the personal story of Trudeau's life. Of course, the political is deeply interwoven with the personal in this story, and as noted above, Trudeau was very guarded about his personal life, but (and this is a big 'but' for me) as a biography, there are many aspects of Trudeau's personal decision-making and beliefs (such as his Catholicism), that I think are not adequately explored in this volume.

Nonetheless, the book is eminently readable, well-researched, and a good addition to Canadian history writing. As a fan of the era, however, I'd like to see more.