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Gordon Donaldson
Toronto, Doubleday Canada, 1994. 380pp, paper, $18.95
ISBN 0-385-25454-7. CIP

Subject Headings:
Prime ministers-Canada-Biography.
Canada-Politics and government.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Brenda Reed

Volume 22 Number 6
1994 November / December

The Prime Ministers of Canada is the latest edition of Donaldson's Fifteen Men (1969), Sixteen Men (1990), and Eighteen Men (1985; all Doubleday Canada). The appearance of a female prime minister encouraged Donaldson to revise his gender-specific title --so that now browsers have a clear indication of the content of the book.

Unfortunately, Donaldson did not revise the introduction to the book, but instead chose to use the introduction from the 1969 edition, "because the nation now seems even more divisible than it was back then." It is true that problems concerning national unity still exist, but Canada has changed in many ways since 1969, and the purpose of the book now extends beyond a "survey [of] the adventures of the fifteen lively men who built a nation in defiance of history, geography and climate."

Eighteen Men ended with Mulroney's entrance as prime minister in 1984. The Prime Ministers of Canada adds a chapter on Mulroney's years in power and a chapter shared by Kim Campbell and Jean Chrétien. The October 25, 1993, election is the last event covered. These new chapters maintain the witty and anecdotal style of the earlier editions, as Donaldson once again offers lively accounts of political lives.

As in the earlier portraits, Donaldson provides a combination of biographical information and details of public performance,

always presenting the major achievements and foibles of each prime minister. Of Mulroney, Donaldson duly notes that "free trade with the United States and probably Mexico too, was his biggest achievement." The pleasure of reading Donaldson's portraits arises partly from his direct and sometimes stinging analyses of his subject's faults. Again, of Mulroney, Donaldson writes that "he would be dogged by the epithet Lyin' Brian, not just because he lied, as politicians do, but because he seemed to delight in it."

The Prime Ministers of Canada is a straightforward and thoroughly enjoyable survey of Canada's prime ministers. The profiles are presented in chronological order, and a helpful name index is included. Eighteen Men included black-and-white portraits that are not reproduced here. This is too bad, as they were a useful complement to the prose portraits, and high school students, in particular, often want a picture of the subject they are researching. The four-page bibliography has been updated to include books on Mulroney, Campbell and Chrétien.

High school students will find Donaldson's profiles accessible and helpful, as he is particularly successful at placing his subjects in the context of their time. Anyone interested in current Canadian politics will find Donaldson's popular history enjoyable reading.

I highly recommend The Prime Ministers of Canada as an introduction to Canada's prime ministers and suggest that this book should be in every high school, public, and academic library in Canada. It is worth purchasing the new edition if you have an earlier version.

Brenda Reed is a librarian working at the Education Library, Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario

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