Canada's Prime Ministers: Macdonald to Trudeau - Portraits from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography

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Ramsay Cook and Réal Bélanger (eds), Canada's Prime Ministers: Macdonald to Trudeau - Portraits from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), xiv + 476pp. Cased. £48. ISBN 978-0-8020-9173-4. Paper. £22.50. ISBN 978-0-8020-9174-1.

This collection of essays about fifteen prime ministers of Canada is great fun. Seven, up to Laurier, have been published in volumes XII and XIV of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (DCB), while a further seven, down to Diefenbaker, have been available online (www.biographi.ca). A final article, on Trudeau, was written for this book. Several essays have undoubtedly become the starting points for investigating their subjects' careers, notably the entry on John A. Macdonald by J.K. Johnson and Peter Waite. Waite is the author of three other essays, underlining his standing as Canada's pre-eminent political biographer.

Canada has been strangely neglectful of its prime ministers. J.J.C. Abbott, rescued by Carman Miller, and Mackenzie Bowell, by Waite, were transient figures but there has been remarkably little biographical coverage of leaders as notable as Tupper, sympathetically handled by Phillip Buckner, or R.B. Bennett (Waite again). Often, the established modern biographer supplies the entry: Waite, yet again, on Thompson, Robert Craig Brown on Borden, Blair Neatby on Mackenzie King, John English on Pearson, Denis Smith on Diefenbaker, while Réal Bélanger (Laurier) and John English (Trudeau) represent work in progress. Elsewhere, specialists in the period provide the interpretation: Ben Forster on Mackenzie, Larry A. Glassford on Meighen, Robert Bothwell on St Laurent. Few generalisations are possible about the office of prime minister: individuals as notable as Thompson and Meighen held it only briefly, while Tupper's ten-week premiership was hardly the pivot of his career. …

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