Monday, January 25, 2021

History at the LRC this month

One of those published volumes of diaries by the indiscreet diplomat Charles Richie includes a sardonic recounting of Richie's travels with Louis St-Laurent on the prime minister's round-the-world tour in 1954. There's a ludicrous incident where he has to lend the PM a pair of pants. Generally Ritchie despairs over how completely out of his depth his elderly, exhausted, crochety boss seems to be. That seems to have permanently shaped my image of St-Laurent.  

So I was surprised by Jack Granatstein's perspectives in his review -- in the current Literary Review of Canada -- of a new collection of essays, The Unexpected Louis St-Laurent: Politics and Policies for a Modern Canada, edited by Patrice Dutil. Granatstein quotes the sharp joke of St-Laurent's aide Jack Pickersgill: "St-Laurent made governing look so easy that Canadians believed anyone could do it -- and that's why they elected Diefenbaker." He does note the unhappy world tour, which he finds sapped the PM's energy in his final years of power, but he ends with the comment, "Louis St-Laurent looks more and more like a giant."  He admires this essay collection, too, "one of the few recent edited collections held together by more than the binding."

Also in this LRC, David Macfarlane reviews Greg Marquis's John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the3 Year Canada was Cool, Graham Fraser draws our attention to the significance of Jolelyn Letourneau's La Condition Québécoise: une histoire dépaysante, and Margaret Conrad reviews environmental historian Alan MacEachern's history of the Mirimichi fire of 1825, "one of the most famous natural calamities of the nineteenth century."

But the must-read of the issue, for historians anyway, is Christopher Dummitt's review of three recent books about Louis Riel, in which  Dummitt casts a cold eye on two books that have been very widely admired, Jean Teillet's The Northwest is our Mother and Max Hamon's The Audacity of His Enterprise. Dummitt is particularly sharp in his takedown of the straw-man style of argument in which works written decades or even centuries ago are attacked as if they represented the modern historical consensus on the Métis and Riel.

[Is it worth saying I have read the LRC and its reviews, not all the books mentioned here? Done]

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