Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times: 2

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Best work of Canadian history that I have read in years. It positions Sir John A in his time and it makes him come alive as a human as well as a politician. Nation Maker : Sir John A.

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Richard J. 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 , 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.

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But it wasn't easy. 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. Gwyn treats the Louis Riel story, that Canadian tragedy, with masterly even-handedness. Nor does he shrink from depicting Macdonald's weaknesses, which included both flashes of temper and public drunkenness. Then there are the more intimate sadnesses: his second marriage to Agnes, who evolved into the severe "Lady Macdonald"; his estrangement from his only surviving son, Hugh John; and his lasting sorrow over his daughter Mary, a victim of hydrocephalus.

Nobody who reads this work will emerge without knowing Macdonald to be a tragic human being — but a remarkable one who never ceased to rage against the dying of the light. The first volume of this massive biography won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction.

The book is a towering achievement, a glittering career-capper, and it may prove impossible to beat. McGoogan's latest hardcover bestseller, How the Scots Invented Canada, will be released next week in paperback. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way.

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    Nation Maker, by Richard Gwyn

    Sir John A. Macdonald, ca. Special to The Globe and Mail. Published October 14, Updated May 3, Comments Please log in to bookmark this story. Log In Create Free Account.

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