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Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times

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#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER An exciting story, passionately told and rich in detail, this major biography is the second volume of the bestselling, award-winning John A: The Man Who Made Us, by well-known journalist and highly respected author Richard Gwyn. John A. Macdonald, Canada's first and most important prime minister, is the man who made Confederation happen, who built this #1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER An exciting story, passionately told and rich in detail, this major biography is the second volume of the bestselling, award-winning John A: The Man Who Made Us, by well-known journalist and highly respected author Richard Gwyn. John A. Macdonald, Canada's first and most important prime minister, is the man who made Confederation happen, who built this country over the next quarter century, and who shaped what it is today. From Confederation Day in 1867, where this volume picks up, Macdonald finessed a reluctant union of four provinces in central and eastern Canada into a strong nation, despite indifference from Britain and annexationist sentiment in the United States. But it wasn't easy. The wily Macdonald faced constant crises throughout these years, from Louis Riel's two rebellions through to the Pacific Scandal that almost undid his government and his quest to find the spine of the nation: the railroad that would link east to west. Gwyn paints a superb portrait of Canada and its leaders through these formative years and also delves deep to show us Macdonald the man, as he marries for the second time, deals with the birth of a disabled child, and the assassination of his close friend Darcy McGee, and wrestles with whether Riel should hang. Indelibly, Gwyn shows us Macdonald's love of this country and his ability to joust with forces who would have been just as happy to see the end of Canada before it had really begun, creating a must-read for all Canadians.


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#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER An exciting story, passionately told and rich in detail, this major biography is the second volume of the bestselling, award-winning John A: The Man Who Made Us, by well-known journalist and highly respected author Richard Gwyn. John A. Macdonald, Canada's first and most important prime minister, is the man who made Confederation happen, who built this #1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER An exciting story, passionately told and rich in detail, this major biography is the second volume of the bestselling, award-winning John A: The Man Who Made Us, by well-known journalist and highly respected author Richard Gwyn. John A. Macdonald, Canada's first and most important prime minister, is the man who made Confederation happen, who built this country over the next quarter century, and who shaped what it is today. From Confederation Day in 1867, where this volume picks up, Macdonald finessed a reluctant union of four provinces in central and eastern Canada into a strong nation, despite indifference from Britain and annexationist sentiment in the United States. But it wasn't easy. The wily Macdonald faced constant crises throughout these years, from Louis Riel's two rebellions through to the Pacific Scandal that almost undid his government and his quest to find the spine of the nation: the railroad that would link east to west. Gwyn paints a superb portrait of Canada and its leaders through these formative years and also delves deep to show us Macdonald the man, as he marries for the second time, deals with the birth of a disabled child, and the assassination of his close friend Darcy McGee, and wrestles with whether Riel should hang. Indelibly, Gwyn shows us Macdonald's love of this country and his ability to joust with forces who would have been just as happy to see the end of Canada before it had really begun, creating a must-read for all Canadians.

30 review for Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Nation maker is an excellent and much-needed modern biography of Sir John A. Macdonald. I would have given it 5 stars except for the omission of one very important subject from the book (which I will discuss later). The book reinforced and enhanced my view of Macdonald as a political master with few peers in Canadian History. I haven't actually read much on Macdonald since my university days so the book greatly expanded my views on him. The author also found new material that was previously unde Nation maker is an excellent and much-needed modern biography of Sir John A. Macdonald. I would have given it 5 stars except for the omission of one very important subject from the book (which I will discuss later). The book reinforced and enhanced my view of Macdonald as a political master with few peers in Canadian History. I haven't actually read much on Macdonald since my university days so the book greatly expanded my views on him. The author also found new material that was previously under reported. The following points stood out for me. Macdonald's personal life was even more heart breaking than I thought and his natural optimism was even greater than I imagined. His drinking problem was even worse than I thought, and did at times impact his job performance. His role in Confederation was even more important than I believed, as was his role in preserving his fragile creation until his death in 1891. The book makes a good argument that without Macdonald Canada would likely have become part of the US. Macdonald also created the template for political success in Canada by making his Conservative Party a big tent party that stood for tolerance and compromise (current Conservatives should take note). The book also makes a strong case that Macdonald was far ahead of most of his contemporaries in terms of tolerance on race and religious issues. He even extended the right to vote to First Nations men (taken away by a later government ) and tried to extend the franchise to widows and unmarried women. His speech would be seen as racist today, but really reflected the terms commonly used then. His actions and detailed views on these issues actually were surprisingly liberal. However, there are two major exceptions to this. His support for a Chinese had tax and his views of the Chinese, as well as his support for setting up Residential schools. The book failed to explore his role in setting up Residential Schools, which was a terrible omission. The TRC report (published 7 or 8 years after this book) has one damning quote from Macdonald on the horrid school system as it was being set up in the 1880s. Gwynn's book does show that up to that point, Macdonald actually was often a bit of a protective buffer from the generally odious, racist view of First Nations held by the Canadian public and politicians. The book shows that those who want Macdonald to have honours taken away from him due to his role in establishing residential school should recognize it is a more complex issue than it appears. Macdonald's record and views on First Nations are different than I believed and the most harmful policies were actually implemented after his time in office. He is hardly innocent on the school issue, but he was also not the ringleader he has been portrayed as. History often does not provide an easy guide to how we should remember. It is usually quite complex, as this book shows.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Gwyn concludes his biography of Sir John A. Macdonald, wasting no time in recounting the many post-Confederation tales involving Canada’s first Prime Minister. While not essential, any curious reader ought to dive into the first volume to have a better idea of the momentum garnered, bringing the story to this point. These post-Confederation years in Macdonald’s life are filled with adventure, controversy, and political actors that bring out the best (and worst) in Macdonald’s acumen. At times a Gwyn concludes his biography of Sir John A. Macdonald, wasting no time in recounting the many post-Confederation tales involving Canada’s first Prime Minister. While not essential, any curious reader ought to dive into the first volume to have a better idea of the momentum garnered, bringing the story to this point. These post-Confederation years in Macdonald’s life are filled with adventure, controversy, and political actors that bring out the best (and worst) in Macdonald’s acumen. At times a little denser than Volume One, Gwyn tackles many of the major issues in Macdonald’s life, which end up also shaping Canada as a whole. Expected subjects like the Canadian Pacific Scandal, National Policy, and settling the North-West (and their subsequent rebellions) are detailed thoroughly and leave the reader with a better understanding of these subjects that may receive a paragraph or two in school textbooks. A comprehensive examination of the execution of Riel leave the reader with a well-rounded approach to Macdonald and the political scene of the latter decades of the 19th century. At the outset, Gwyn paints a portrait of Confederation that the birth of Canada was less by desire and more by need, in contrast to the other territorial unions emerging around the world in 1867. This theme, the identity of the Canadian State, reemerges throughout, with even Macdonald questioning its foundation. From the pact approach (that all provinces came together to grant Canada its existence) to the unification under one political umbrella, Gwyn poses anew the question hotly contested by Canadian historians and political scientists alike. The additional intervention of the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (the last court of appeal in Canada until 1949) that redefined the form of federalism Canada would espouse for decades to come contravened the idea that Macdonald had and acts to derail some of the expectations that Macdonald saw as inherent. Gwyn also presents some of the lesser known areas that Macdonald strove to achieve, including early suffrage for women, Canada’s place at the table with the US and UK governments, and his eventual self-doubt about Canada’s role on the world scene. While hindsight is always clearer, the reader may not know until reading books like this just how trapped Canada was, a plaything of Imperial Britain and the annex-hungry United States. Placed in a precarious position during the US Civil War (one of the impetuses for Confederation), Canada was to be used as a bargaining chip by the British to appease the snubbed Americans, led by Grant and Seward. Gwyn makes his mark by illustrating how decided Macdonald appeared to be when it came to leaving Canada in a strong position before he stepped away. Macdonald’s ideas were numerous and his desire to quell dissent was not only political or partisan in nature, but also in an effort to keep the pristine image of this new nation as the 20th century appeared on the horizon. His passion, sometimes jaded, was deep and his dedication without doubt. He sought to steer Canada through its troubled early years, while also keeping the British connection stronger than ever. Gwyn personifies Macdonald in ways forgotten by the history books. A reckless drinker and power seeker may be the surface image known by many, but Gwyn delves deeper to show a softer side to Macdonald as he deals with his daughter, a more melancholic side as he contemplates his place in the larger political machine, and a side that presents a world-class diplomat when handling British concerns. It was only until the end of his career that Macdonald became tied to a strong Canada-US relations debate, one which caused his National Policy to flex its protectionist muscle. Gwyn uses a plethora of sources to solidify his stories and the historical narration found throughout. While Donald Creighton was key in Volume One’s foundation (and the entire two-volume project, a resurrection of his only 1950s through biography of Macdonald), this second volume is supported by articles, books, political cartoons, and correspondence/diary entries to flesh out these historical events. Gwyn is no two-bit historian, he has invested much time in this project and the results are well worth any reader’s time, whose curiosity in Canada’s first Prime Minister is high. Well worth the invested time and completely readable by the everyday Canadian, Gwyn masters the art of storytelling in an award-winning fashion. Kudos Mr. Gwyn for such a thorough and detailed account of Sir John A. With the 200th anniversary of his birth just around the corner, this is a fabulous literary investment for any reader and surely complements Creighton’s seminal work, of which I will invest time in the not too distant future. As Gwyn concludes the biography, let me conclude this review: without Macdonald Canada may, most assuredly, have never existed.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    Capital job of covering the life of Canada's first, best prime minister. The events you expect to be covered well- building of the CPR and clash with Riel- are. But there are surprises in Gwynn's analysis. He points to the Washington Conference at which Canada was only a subsidiary player in negotiations between Britain and the US where JAM first established himself and where Canada proved to be a nation in its own right. Macdonald is criticized here for his lackadaisical attitude toward British Capital job of covering the life of Canada's first, best prime minister. The events you expect to be covered well- building of the CPR and clash with Riel- are. But there are surprises in Gwynn's analysis. He points to the Washington Conference at which Canada was only a subsidiary player in negotiations between Britain and the US where JAM first established himself and where Canada proved to be a nation in its own right. Macdonald is criticized here for his lackadaisical attitude toward British control over Canadian affairs (it's unbelievable that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London undercut our Supreme Court for years!) and for a racist policy toward the Chinese who built the railway. But on balance JAM ruled wisely and his Franchise Bill of 1885 proves his attitude toward natives and women's suffrage were well ahead of their time. Excellent.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paul Heidebrecht

    Historical biography at its very best! And what a person to write about--few human beings can claim to have envisioned and created a nation but John A. Macdonald did. You can't understand Canada if you don't know anything about this man. He managed to finesse both Britain and the United States and patch together an almost incompatible collection of peoples stretched across half the top half of a continent using a railroad to do it. No one did politics better than this man but few were more loved Historical biography at its very best! And what a person to write about--few human beings can claim to have envisioned and created a nation but John A. Macdonald did. You can't understand Canada if you don't know anything about this man. He managed to finesse both Britain and the United States and patch together an almost incompatible collection of peoples stretched across half the top half of a continent using a railroad to do it. No one did politics better than this man but few were more loved or respected in Canada's history. I can't recommend Gwyn's two-volume set on John A. enough.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    This is the WOW to end all WOW's! God in heaven, where is Sir John A Macdonald now, when we need him more than ever. If you ever wondered what ever happened to the giants that once bestrode the Earth like gods...read this second volume of Richard Gywn's masterful overview of Macdonald's life. None of us could ever be as interesting as Canada's titanic first Prime Minister. This is the WOW to end all WOW's! God in heaven, where is Sir John A Macdonald now, when we need him more than ever. If you ever wondered what ever happened to the giants that once bestrode the Earth like gods...read this second volume of Richard Gywn's masterful overview of Macdonald's life. None of us could ever be as interesting as Canada's titanic first Prime Minister.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Colin Ennis

    This book is a deep dive into Canadian history in the late 19th century, a period of history relatively unknown to Canadians outside of the construction of the CPR and the aftermath of this project. It is also utterly hagiographical, an effort by the late Richard Gwyn to construct some kind of national mythos around Macdonald in order to perhaps allow Canadians to have the kind of figurehead that George Washington represents in the United States. This is evident from perhaps one of the most batshi This book is a deep dive into Canadian history in the late 19th century, a period of history relatively unknown to Canadians outside of the construction of the CPR and the aftermath of this project. It is also utterly hagiographical, an effort by the late Richard Gwyn to construct some kind of national mythos around Macdonald in order to perhaps allow Canadians to have the kind of figurehead that George Washington represents in the United States. This is evident from perhaps one of the most batshit insane lines I've ever read in a non-fiction book, found fourteen pages into this six-hundred page volume: "Macdonald understood Indians [sic] better than any prime minister would for the next century, let alone any predecessor. In his dealings with them he made mistakes, but they were the product of political and administrative miscalculations, never of prejudice"(emphasis mine). To say that the first prime minister of Canada operated in his relationship with indigenous people without prejudice is entirely false. Extant writings refer to his views on them as "savages," and he argued in Parliament for them to be allowed to experience famine in the wake of the loss of the buffalo, so that they might be better wrangled by the newly-created North-West police. There is no mention of residential schools, which were founded in 1876 by Alexander Mackenzie's Liberal government during the only hiatus in Macdonald's tenure from Confederation until his death. While Mackenzie certainly bears fault for that, no mention is made of the schools at all through the book, despite the fact that Macdonald lead the country for another fifteen years after Mackenzie. Macdonald's dealing with the "Indians" (apparently, despite writing well into the twenty-first century, Gwyn could not find it in himself to use any term more progressive than the occasional 'Aboriginals' " are constantly contextualized as being relatively kind for the time, and certainly better for Gwyn than the literal genocide found in the United States. Perhaps cultural genocide did not rate quite so highly in Gwyn's view. To deny Macdonald's role in that is to deny history. Instead, we get a Macdonald who loves his family, a grandfatherly figure who, while he has a bit of a drinking problem, is the right man to usher Canada through its formative years. While his role in the nation's construction cannot be denied, the march through the years of Macdonald's tenure represents a continued bias toward the man and not an objective view of history. In brief: Macdonald's corruption in the Pacific Scandal is largely chalked up to hubris and error, not ruthlessness or cunning. Macdonald's actions with regard to the Red River & North West Rebellions are presented largely as correct -- any actions that might seemed unjust are explained away as being the will of the capricious Ontarians, out for blood after Riel's rebellion cost lives. Certainly, Louis Riel is a complicated figure, and his legacy is debated even today -- and yet his farce of a trial is mentioned only on a few pages, and his significance to the history of Manitoba and the Métis is largely underrated. Macdonald's final years are largely presented as those of the elder statesman who doesn't know anything different, and this is where I think it is impossible to draw a direct comparison between him and Washington -- Washington (whose faults and evils deserve an essay of their own) had vision, Macdonald did not; Confederation and Canada were born out of pragmatism. There is no coherent ideology, save for perhaps Britishness and anti-Americanism. As a result, this is not a figure that can carry a whole story. There is an honest biography of Macdonald that can be written that doesn't use his drunkenness as a sign of his imperfect nature in order to elide his greater evils. This is not it. Writing this, I am aware I gave the first volume four stars. As a historical volume, I think it largely merits that -- it makes the foundation of Canada mostly readable (it's really a dull tale, even for Canadians interested in this stuff), even as it pumps up its centrepiece figure. And yet I still think it has more value, because it is less focused on Macdonald, and more on the country itself. The Macdonald in that book had yet to become the complicated figure he would be. I wish Gwyn had written about that man instead.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    We cannot understand Canada if we do not know anything about the Nation Builder 'Sir John A Macdonald'. I wanted to read Canadian history and how Canada was created as a country.I was impressed as to how long and tirelessly hard Macdonald worked to create confederation of Canada. The fact is Sir Macdonald was the greatest Prime Minister of Canada. To join east coast to west coast Canadian Pacific Railway was built with a scandal of corruption and deceit involving Sir Macdonald but finally the ra We cannot understand Canada if we do not know anything about the Nation Builder 'Sir John A Macdonald'. I wanted to read Canadian history and how Canada was created as a country.I was impressed as to how long and tirelessly hard Macdonald worked to create confederation of Canada. The fact is Sir Macdonald was the greatest Prime Minister of Canada. To join east coast to west coast Canadian Pacific Railway was built with a scandal of corruption and deceit involving Sir Macdonald but finally the railway was completed as planned. Cheap labour of Chinese temporary workers was abused and how head tax was implemented. Macdonald was good politician, however the rights of Aboriginals and Metis was never resolved satisfactorily. Even today the very people who own this land are still living in poverty, lacking housing, education, development of their reserves and healthcare. The differences of Quebec and rest of Canada erupted over the hanging of Louis Riel. Quebec still claims to be distinct society status. Annexation sentiment of USA further enforced resolution of Sir Macdonald to establish union of provinces to create a strong nation. Biography includes federal powers, laws, provincial powers, economics, involvement of the British monarchy and United States and the sad time of depression. Canadian history is not very old, however it is very interesting how confederation was created. Biography of Sir John A. Macdonald by Richard Gwyn is well researched and well written. I should have read 'The Man Who Made Us' first. I am going to read it now. I would recommend this book for every Canadian.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brian Ross

    Nation-Maker is the second of a two-part biography by Richard Gwyn. An excellent read; historical critics laud it for incorporating lots of new research that didn't appear in the classic Creighton biography of Sir John A, but also Richard Gwyn is a journalist and has that a narrative flair which makes this an excellent piece of popular history. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to know about the origins of this country. It gave me an appreciation of both what is, what might have been, and h Nation-Maker is the second of a two-part biography by Richard Gwyn. An excellent read; historical critics laud it for incorporating lots of new research that didn't appear in the classic Creighton biography of Sir John A, but also Richard Gwyn is a journalist and has that a narrative flair which makes this an excellent piece of popular history. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to know about the origins of this country. It gave me an appreciation of both what is, what might have been, and helps make sense of some of the issues that plague us today. Plus ca change! I especially like the interweaving of the personal (the man) with the context (the times). I'll re-read both volumes sometime later.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Al

    A superbly well-written book about our founding father and first Prime Minister and the early days of Canada as a nation following Confederation in 1867. This is an important book for Canadians wishing to understand the foundation of our country and the issues and events of that time that have shaped us into what we are today. This book should be a must read in all of our schools. And to Sir John A, thanks!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gerardo

    Great book reflecting what happened during the first decades of Confederation. Easy to read, looks very well documented. Only negative side is the author is a captive fan of Macdonald. There is nothing wrong about it except the narrative in several key passages looks strongly biased. Other than that, if you know nothing or almost nothing about Canadian history from 1867 to 1891, this book is an excellent start point.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jeff V

    Excellent work! Thank you Mr. Gwyn.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Jacoby

    I bought this book several years ago when it was first published. I read the first volume and then bought the second volume; I got about half way through and then stopped. It was been on my shelves since then. I instantly fell back into it. The book is highly readable and organized mostly along a linear time line, but Gwyn does a great job mixing in thematic chapters. It was also really great to learn about Macdonald from just a generally 'human' view. All his triumphs, frailties, and the bounds I bought this book several years ago when it was first published. I read the first volume and then bought the second volume; I got about half way through and then stopped. It was been on my shelves since then. I instantly fell back into it. The book is highly readable and organized mostly along a linear time line, but Gwyn does a great job mixing in thematic chapters. It was also really great to learn about Macdonald from just a generally 'human' view. All his triumphs, frailties, and the bounds of historical context are presented clearly. This book provides much more than textbooks, encyclopedia entries, statue plaques or other sound bites. And finally, Gwyn is able to relate a considerable amount of drama to MacDonald's life and the situations he had to deal with. One particular interesting chapter is about Macdonald's thoughts and actions towards the First Nations people in the latter half of the 19th century. This seems of particular interest now as there seems to be more sentiment to removing current John A Macdonald statues because of his policies. Gwyn generally gives a defence of Macdonald's policies arguing that Macdonald was generally more progressive towards First Nations than his Canadian peers and the United States. He also states that he was probably the best European to deal with First Nations because "far more than any other public figure of the time, he knew Indians personally. As a young lawyer he had defended several criminal cases." In 1885 Macdonald tried to introduce the franchise to the First Nations. Now this is seen as part of a process of assimilation. But Macdonald saw it as a way to give First Nations a say in government. Macondald's sentiment being that First Nations, "who had formerly owned the whole of the country, were prevented from sitting in the House and from voting for men to represent their interests there." This policy was met with racist rebuttals from the rest of the House and was eventually dropped. He also opposed allowing First Nations to own specific parts of the Reserve because he then thought that this would allow First Nations into an "unfortunate process [where he] sells or leases his land and becomes a vagrant without property." Gwyn strongest case here is that generally the First Nations preferred to deal with Canada and Macdonald. "Their name for the border was the Medicine Line, meaning that above it there was healing." Canadians did not kill First Nations people. "Forty thousand American Indians were killed ... by the U.S. Army of the West; above the Medicine Line, the only deaths were a small number killed during the North West Rebellion." While the United States eroded Reservations, Macdonald consistently stated that "they cannot be dispossessed" even if it "obstructs settlement." Finally no First Nations in the United States ever said of the U.S. Army as Chief Crowfoot said of the North West Mounted Police: "The Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter." Of course, Macdonald was racist by our standards and he should have done more. If there is one 'out' that Gwyn gives Macdonald it is that whenever there were lapses in his policy the theme that Macdonald is 'only human' comes up. The Buffalo extermination was "faster than anyone had anticipated." There was no notion of 'government relief' as there is today. Additionally, teaching farming to a group of people who had only ever known hunting was "excruciatingly difficult." Additionally, farming teachers were usually failed farmers. This in part led to a famine that ravaged the First Nations for the next decade. Additionally, the First Nations were afflicted with European diseases and their numbers declined from, "32,000 in 1880 to some 20,000 five years later." Macdonald should have done more, but at this point he was more focused on completing the railway. Gwyn ends with a quotation from another book Prairie Fire :The 1885 North-West Rebellion that concludes: "The policy the North-West Indians so detested was not so much a policy of John A Macdonald's government as it was a policy of the Canadian people."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jim Heninger

    I truly enjoyed reading Gwynns biography of John A MacDonald. I am ashamed to admit that in my late 40s I still struggled to recognize this historical figure on my own 10$ bill. Who is that guy? After having read this history however I am now ashamed that this is the only place I see his face. Why don’t we know more of this character? - truly if not for him we would be driving down Washington street and spending greenbacks on private health insurance, star and stripe flags and fireworks. Many of I truly enjoyed reading Gwynns biography of John A MacDonald. I am ashamed to admit that in my late 40s I still struggled to recognize this historical figure on my own 10$ bill. Who is that guy? After having read this history however I am now ashamed that this is the only place I see his face. Why don’t we know more of this character? - truly if not for him we would be driving down Washington street and spending greenbacks on private health insurance, star and stripe flags and fireworks. Many of us would be strapping on our side arms and chanting U S A U S A U S A. This book was certainly written by a person who admired the man - even put him up on a pedestal - but I am convinced that as a Canadian this is someone we should know more about - and elevate. Of course we don’t want to be American! Blah! But we would do well to follow their lead in knowing our history and teaching it to our children! I understand and agree with some who noted that it is not right that the book leaves out any mention of residential schools - but it was written on 2011!! Give the author a break! It is candid about Macdonald’s shortcomings - which frankly reflect the shortcomings of his day and age. I feel I am bettered for having read this book about a man who shaped the country I am happy to live in. I am pleased to understand my nations history and the story of a founding father who was far from perfect, but accomplished so much in spite of it. I left out one star from my rating because the last 100pages were a struggle for me to finish. The book was written chronologically - and as MacDonald aged, so did the pace of his life - and the book, I felt. I’m embarrassed to admit it - that I am much more a starter than a finisher... maybe it is fitting for me to treat this politician as we all treat any other living politician today - with a general loss of interest as they age and become set in their ways.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jodi Ann

    A very easy and enjoyable read. Gwyn's "Nation Maker" looks at Sir John A. Macdonald's post-Confederation career. Just as Canadian Confederation was not a guarantee, neither was the young country's success as an independent state on the North American continent. Gwyn shows both the personal and professional lives of a complicated man both of his time and ahead of it and how he helped make Canada what it is today. Gwyn's style makes this volume, with its companion "John A.: The Man Who Made Us", A very easy and enjoyable read. Gwyn's "Nation Maker" looks at Sir John A. Macdonald's post-Confederation career. Just as Canadian Confederation was not a guarantee, neither was the young country's success as an independent state on the North American continent. Gwyn shows both the personal and professional lives of a complicated man both of his time and ahead of it and how he helped make Canada what it is today. Gwyn's style makes this volume, with its companion "John A.: The Man Who Made Us", a very approachable biography to Canada's first prime minister. In this era of reconciliation, it was interesting to read of Macdonald's efforts to include indigenous peoples in the government of the country and of his response to both the collapse of the bison and the Metis uprising of 1885. It would seem his failings, just as his successes, played their part in shaping the country's history.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jake M.

    Nation Maker is a popular narrative history of MacDonald's time as Prime Minister until his death. Richard Gwyn writes brisk feeling five-hundred pages that detail the elections, projects, scandals and relationships of Canada's most famous founding father. Unfortunately, the title's publication predates the intense criticism of MacDonald's racial attitudes toward Indigenous and Chinese populations. Chapters 27-30 discuss these controversies, but reduce them to the little more than the common hel Nation Maker is a popular narrative history of MacDonald's time as Prime Minister until his death. Richard Gwyn writes brisk feeling five-hundred pages that detail the elections, projects, scandals and relationships of Canada's most famous founding father. Unfortunately, the title's publication predates the intense criticism of MacDonald's racial attitudes toward Indigenous and Chinese populations. Chapters 27-30 discuss these controversies, but reduce them to the little more than the common held attitudes of the era. Episodes such as the North-West Rebellion with Louis Riel and the railway scandal occupy far more page real estate. These drawbacks aside, the book successfully argues that MacDonald navigated the nation's cultural fissures to create a thin connecting tissue that developed into the Canada of today.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Harris

    The definitive biography of Canada's first Prime Minister from Confederation in 1867 until his death in 1891. The book is very much a "life and times" and includes fascinating little known episodes from late 19th century Canadian history including the earliest parliamentary debate in Canada concerning womens' suffrage. Gwyn does an excellent job of capturing the personality and character of Macdonald and the political figures of his time, including his famous adversary Louis Riel. The focus of t The definitive biography of Canada's first Prime Minister from Confederation in 1867 until his death in 1891. The book is very much a "life and times" and includes fascinating little known episodes from late 19th century Canadian history including the earliest parliamentary debate in Canada concerning womens' suffrage. Gwyn does an excellent job of capturing the personality and character of Macdonald and the political figures of his time, including his famous adversary Louis Riel. The focus of the book is Macdonald's political achievements including Confederation and the railway but Gwyn also analyzes Macdonald's shortcomings and provides a balanced assessment of his legacy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paul C. Stalder

    Gwyn has a talent for presenting rich history in a truly readable manner. While this book is brimming with information, the pages turn with the ease of a novel. Perhaps the crowning achievement, however, is Gwyn's ability to draw connections between past and present. He doesn't simply tell the story of Sir John A. He shows you how his life continues to influence ours. Gwyn has a talent for presenting rich history in a truly readable manner. While this book is brimming with information, the pages turn with the ease of a novel. Perhaps the crowning achievement, however, is Gwyn's ability to draw connections between past and present. He doesn't simply tell the story of Sir John A. He shows you how his life continues to influence ours.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anita

    A honest narrative on the man who made us. Re-wrote into history the fact that Sir John A. wanted to extend the vote to women. And, that two of Canada's Fathers of Confederation were assassinated...and I won't tell you who! A honest narrative on the man who made us. Re-wrote into history the fact that Sir John A. wanted to extend the vote to women. And, that two of Canada's Fathers of Confederation were assassinated...and I won't tell you who!

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Cavaco

    If not for Sir John A. MacDonald, there would be no Canada. If not for the willpower, resolve and policies of Prime Minister MacDonald, Canada would have been annexed into the United States. This second volume by Richard Gwyn is fantastic and should be shared among all of Canada. Amazing book!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Fidlin

    An interesting read for those of us wanting to learn more about the founder of our country.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nina Usherwood

    Again a excellent book about a very interesting person. Will look for more information about him. Highly recommend.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    John A. MacDonald, our "founding father". A great source of knowledge for all Canadians who would like to learn more of the history of the beginnings of our nation, Canada. John A. MacDonald, our "founding father". A great source of knowledge for all Canadians who would like to learn more of the history of the beginnings of our nation, Canada.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Steven Lee

    Reading about Sir John A. in 2015 seemed oddly fortuitous. The country is on the eve of its sesquicentennial and this election year may be hugely defining for the future of Canada. At such a time it is valuable to take a moment to reflect on how we came to get where we are and no prime minister has had a greater influence on this country's destiny than Macdonald. Richard Gwyn presents a simple thesis, Canada was hardly inevitable and at a time of great fragility one of the ablest statesmen in th Reading about Sir John A. in 2015 seemed oddly fortuitous. The country is on the eve of its sesquicentennial and this election year may be hugely defining for the future of Canada. At such a time it is valuable to take a moment to reflect on how we came to get where we are and no prime minister has had a greater influence on this country's destiny than Macdonald. Richard Gwyn presents a simple thesis, Canada was hardly inevitable and at a time of great fragility one of the ablest statesmen in the world laid a foundation for a nation-state. As a student of Canadian history I can say much of this is hardly a shocking premise, however, little scholarship has been dedicated to our first prime minister, which Gwyn seeks to correct. Certainly Macdonald wasn't alone in this mission, he was joined in the nation-building project by a cadre of incredibly able men, such as George-Etienne Cartier, Charles Tupper and Hector Louis Langevin. Gwyn does not deny the important role of Macdonald's cabinet and other politicians, instead he stipulates that Macdonald was possessed with the great skill to manage the diverse and fractured interests of the country and hold it together. On a personal level Macdonald is a deeply sympathetic man. Reflecting on the entire character of the monograph I am reminded of the lovable rogue. Macdonald was hardly a perfect man, in fact he had deep character flaws and by any modern standard was corrupt, but he was charming, humourous and brilliant. I never previously delved into the personal life of Macdonald, but Gwyn presents a man who suffered many personal tragedies, but managed them with great dignity. The story opens with Macdonald remarrying; Agnes Bernard, many years his junior, would be by his side for much of his life and a doting and caring wife. Macdonald's son Hugh and he would have a tense relationship but found some resolution in his later years. Macdonald also had a daughter named Mary who sadly suffered from hydrocephalus, which is now easily remedied, but left her physically and mentally impaired her whole life. Mary's life in the final chapters and epilogue were particularly touching. It might sound strange but Macdonald comes across as a man ahead of his time. He oversaw governments of men of different faiths and ethnicities, he spoke in favour of women's suffrage and despite the record of his government he accepted the Canadian state's responsibility towards First Nations people and took steps to protect them from abuses from liquor traders. Gwyn goes so far to challenge the established depiction of Macdonald as a racist. As much as this book is a biography of Sir John A. it is also a history of early Canada. The rich tapestry of characters and personalities are vividly laid out. The conflicts of Canada's early years are fleshed out by the real people who lived and fought in those times. The central conflict of early Canada, the struggle between Protestant English and French Catholic, is the constant thread as well as the central nation-building project, the national railway. Louis Riel plays a prominent role in the narrative. What's amazing is that so many things that held the country together, like the railway, were in no ways certain. Macdonald only got them done through tenacious insistence, or by hook and by crook. There is no doubt that Richard Gwyn does an exceptional job in humanizing and bringing life to our first prime minister. He was flawed and struggled and set many precedents of future prime ministers, some of them bad. He was no stranger to trying to wait out a decision, duck controversies, playing both sides, and living in the mushy middle. But he was also a man of profound vision. A British country from sea to sea to sea. Macdonald saw Canada reach its current boundaries, he played imperial politics to his adopted homeland's advantage, he forged a ribbon of steel that held the country together and introduced protectionist policy that created an industrial heartland out of the hinterland. A strange thing happens when a leader is in place for as long as John Macdonald was, over 18 years. Institutions and the political culture become rooted in their nature. While each subsequent PM has made his and her mark on the institution it in many ways is as Sir John started it. Macdonald seems an oddly appropriate founding father for our country, flaws and all. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about Canada, interested in biographies or politics. I think the text is fairly accessible for most readers. You can follow me on Twitter @SLee_OT or at my blog at http://theorangetory.blogspot.ca/ (less)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    I read both of Gwyn's John A. books back to back, "The Man Who Made Us" and "Nation Maker". I found the books very accessible, a great primer for someone who does not know a lot about MacDonald. I found Gwyn's writing to be very objective. He does not look at history through preconceptions or agendas. That is not to say that he does not make ties between what happened in MacDonald's day and the Canada we know today. That in fact is one of the most interesting parts of the books. Without preachin I read both of Gwyn's John A. books back to back, "The Man Who Made Us" and "Nation Maker". I found the books very accessible, a great primer for someone who does not know a lot about MacDonald. I found Gwyn's writing to be very objective. He does not look at history through preconceptions or agendas. That is not to say that he does not make ties between what happened in MacDonald's day and the Canada we know today. That in fact is one of the most interesting parts of the books. Without preaching or belabouring points, Gwyn gives much food for thought about the Canada we live in, how we got here, and MacDonald's role in our journey. Gwyn's main premise for Macdonald's motivation in working to create Canada is that he did so because those living in British North America at the time were not and did not want to become Americans. What tied vastly disparate parts of Canada together was their recognition of how different they were from Americans. MacDonald maintained that the best way to preserve the non-American (not necessarily Anti-American!) flavour of those living in British North America would be for the various colonies to join in a Confederation. Gwyn does a very nice job working in aspects of Macdonald's personal and family life into the narrative, including the early tragedies in his family life, his alcoholism, and his steps towards reformation through the influence of his second wife. He provides information that sets the context for events in MacDonald's life without going off onto tangent. Gwyn's books do a fine job on many fronts. They are history without being overly academic. They are biography, weaving an interesting narrative. And they are sociological, providing some basic ideas about our journey as a nation and how we got to where we are. Highly recommended reading.

  25. 4 out of 5

    M.J. Perry

    Canadian history is exciting and Canada has heroes. This well written and interesting conclusion to the first novel is one of the best biographies I've read in years. I started both books knowing that he was a binge drinker, but after reading about one personal tragedy after another I was shocked the man was ever sober. I particularly enjoyed reading about his interaction with his daughter. It became very evident that Macdonald was an extremely loving man, who cared very, very deeply. The book, Canadian history is exciting and Canada has heroes. This well written and interesting conclusion to the first novel is one of the best biographies I've read in years. I started both books knowing that he was a binge drinker, but after reading about one personal tragedy after another I was shocked the man was ever sober. I particularly enjoyed reading about his interaction with his daughter. It became very evident that Macdonald was an extremely loving man, who cared very, very deeply. The book, of course, focuses on his politics, including the Riel mistakes and the CP Scandal, and Macdonald is definitely shown warts and all. However, it also shows his compassion for aboriginal people, and his concern for the treatment of French Canadians. Here is a man that seized opportunities when he saw them, knew that wallowing and whining gets you no where, and realized that no one was unimportant. He often was the first to recognize talents and gifts people posessed. He knew that Laurier was great before Laurier's own party. Without Macdonald there probably wouldn't be a Canada and it is interesting to read about his sacrifices and his manipulation to build the country. The books are too long to be required reading in secondary school, but I hope someone makes a movie, so that Canadian students can be shown from where we come.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ronald Kelland

    A well-written and enjoyable book about a complicated man. In Canadian history Macdonald tends to be worshiped as Canada's founding father, or vilified as the figurative executioner of Louis Riel, the Metis and Canada's aboriginal people, or mocked as an unrepentant miscreant and drunk. The truth is that he is a little bit of all of these and a lot more. This book sets out, and for the most part succeeds in describing Sir John A's life and the reasoning behind his decisions. There are a few flaw A well-written and enjoyable book about a complicated man. In Canadian history Macdonald tends to be worshiped as Canada's founding father, or vilified as the figurative executioner of Louis Riel, the Metis and Canada's aboriginal people, or mocked as an unrepentant miscreant and drunk. The truth is that he is a little bit of all of these and a lot more. This book sets out, and for the most part succeeds in describing Sir John A's life and the reasoning behind his decisions. There are a few flaws in the book - at times it seems more like a post-Confederation history book about events that Macdonald was involved in, rather than a biography; there is some repetition of opinion and anecdotes; and, overall, it is more adulatory than critical. All that accepted, it is an entertaining read and contains information about Macdonald that I was not previously aware of. Gwyn's stated goal in his two volume biography of Sir John A. Macdonald was to make him seem relevant to Canadians today and to bring his important ans interesting life to a new generation, in this he succeeds.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gord Wilson

    Not dry history. This bio of Sir.John A. MacDonald is a very entertaining read filled with interesting accounts in the life of Canada's first prime minister. This biography proves that Canadian history is definitely not boring. Any fan of this time period and Canadian political history should enjoy this account. Not dry history. This bio of Sir.John A. MacDonald is a very entertaining read filled with interesting accounts in the life of Canada's first prime minister. This biography proves that Canadian history is definitely not boring. Any fan of this time period and Canadian political history should enjoy this account.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Together with the first Volume "The Man who made us" Richard Gwyn achived his goal "to try to make Canadian history alive" in the most exceptional way. Both books offer not only an in-depth insight to Sir John A.'s life, they also extend an invaluable view of Candadian politics as well as society and history at large. Together with the first Volume "The Man who made us" Richard Gwyn achived his goal "to try to make Canadian history alive" in the most exceptional way. Both books offer not only an in-depth insight to Sir John A.'s life, they also extend an invaluable view of Candadian politics as well as society and history at large.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    The second volume of this biography was great I think I liked it even more than the first volume which was also fantastic. It was a great view into John A's life. I can't wait to read National Dream now, which I was planning on reading next any ways. It was mentioned extensively in this volume. Great read. The second volume of this biography was great I think I liked it even more than the first volume which was also fantastic. It was a great view into John A's life. I can't wait to read National Dream now, which I was planning on reading next any ways. It was mentioned extensively in this volume. Great read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ken Roberts

    If you want to understand the politics in Canada and the rise of the West, this is an exceptional read. should be required reading by every Canadian. John A MacDonald really was one of the best statesmen of all time.

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