September 22, 2019

Winnipeg
16° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Black's Canadian historical tome an entertaining but uneven affair

Lord Conrad Black

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Lord Conrad Black

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2014 (1772 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Conrad Black, whose family began its "rise to greatness" in Winnipeg with his grandfather, local businessman George Black, has written another big, slightly maddening but fascinating 1,000-plus-page book, a history of Canada.

As a writer, Black is hard to categorize -- he's not an academic historian, although he has a M.A. in history and includes a 24-page bibliography and 20 pages of endnotes in Rise to Greatness.

Nor is he one of many freelance popular historians writing today, although his intended audience is the intelligent general reader.

His books have been generally well-received and his biographies of Maurice Duplessis, Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon are based on solid research and make important contributions.

Keep reading free:

Already have an account? Log in here »

Keep reading free:

Already have an account? Log in here »

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2014 (1772 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Conrad Black, whose family began its "rise to greatness" in Winnipeg with his grandfather, local businessman George Black, has written another big, slightly maddening but fascinating 1,000-plus-page book, a history of Canada.

As a writer, Black is hard to categorize — he's not an academic historian, although he has a M.A. in history and includes a 24-page bibliography and 20 pages of endnotes in Rise to Greatness.

Nor is he one of many freelance popular historians writing today, although his intended audience is the intelligent general reader.

His books have been generally well-received and his biographies of Maurice Duplessis, Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon are based on solid research and make important contributions.

During his recent time in prison he wrote Flight of the Eagle: A Strategic History of the United States, a broad survey similar to Rise to Greatness.

It may be the fact that Black has been close to powerful people and a powerful person himself that gives a lot of his narrative the quality of an amusing "insider" story told in the comfort of a private club. But he is an engaging, perceptive writer who draws you in and makes you want to keep reading.

Black is a firm believer in the now-unfashionable "great man" theory of history. He argues that the long journey of Canada from colonial status toward independence and greatness has been mainly the work of the French and British governors, and of Canadian prime ministers and their sometimes-crafty, sometimes-brazen manoeuvring and manipulation of powerful colonial masters (and of the United States).

Black describes a country that has made enormous but not unbroken progress over the past 500 years, and continues to do so under our present leader.

This narrow focus ignores the contributions of everybody else as well as the enormous body of historical research and writing about Canadian social, economic and cultural history available to us. Having said that, the story is interesting and well-told. Black provides political junkies with the popular vote, seat counts and major issues for every federal election; if you like anecdotes about Canadian politics there are plenty to enjoy here.

There are important gaps in the book. The title suggests he is to begin with the Vikings, but really only devotes one paragraph each to the Norsemen and cod fishers, the first Europeans to land in what is now Canada.

A more serious omission is the way in which Black deals with the history of aboriginal Canadians. While acknowledging them as allies in the colonial wars, he passes over 10,000 years of pre-contact history in three pages.

He writes: "The Indians were splendid woodsmen and craftsmen but they were a Stone Age culture and economy that had not discovered the wheel." They were "... capable people of much promise" but, he concludes, "Indian society was not in itself worthy of integral conservation, nor was its dilution a suitable subject for great lamentation."

Given the amount we know about pre- and post-contact cultures, such dismissal is simply not credible. It's unfortunate Black did not choose to give us more about this important area of our history.

There are other omissions. In his pages on the Great War, for example, while he alludes to the contribution of the Canadian Army to the country's increasing sovereignty, he pays much more attention to the political and diplomatic activities of Sir Robert Borden. He dismisses the Canadian Corps as a mere six per cent of the allied armies, and completely ignores its role in the eventual defeat of Germany in the last 100 days of the war, a factor that greatly strengthened Borden's position. He makes no mention of the wartime successes of General Arthur Currie — surely one of our "great men."

Black is at his best in his descriptions of Canada's prime ministers, and he gives balanced portraits of all of them. His greatest praise is reserved for the most successful — Sir John A. Macdonald and the long Liberal dynasty of Sir Wilfred Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent. He is also very informative on the subject of Quebec political history, and not only in the era of Maurice Duplessis, the subject of his first book.

Despite its occasional shortcomings, this is an entertaining and well-written book to curl up with during the approaching long winter evenings. Even academics will enjoy the slightly guilty pleasure of having a peek at what Conrad Black has to say.

 

Jim Blanchard is a local writer and historian.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

History

Updated on Saturday, November 15, 2014 at 8:19 AM CST: Formatting.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us