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Oliver, Peter.

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, c1985. 322pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-88619-049-5. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Ruth Rausa

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

Peter Oliver, a professor of history at York University, has written an authorized biography of Allan Grossman. Working closely with Grossman, Oliver compiled this work from the collection of Grossman papers deposited in the York University Archives and also "relied extensively on material generated by tape-recorded interviews with Mr. Grossman and several dozen others, particularly political colleagues, supporters, and civil servants."

The author documents the rise of Allan Grossman from a poor Jewish kid living in Toronto's inner city to provincial member of Parliament. Subjected to abuse, both verbal and physical, from the other children in the predominantly WASP Cabbagetown neighbourhood where the Grossman's lived, Allan Grossman became something of a street fighter. He eventually dropped out of high school and drifted from job to job. His first brush with politics came in the Ontario Boy Council, an organization set up to encourage young men to become involved in the political process. Here he gained a sense of what politics was about and found that it challenged him and made him aware of his own potential. Young Allan joined the Junior Conservatives and then rose through the ranks of municipal and provincial politics. As an MPP and cabinet minister, Grossman earned a reputation as a fighter for social reform, working for improved housing and labour laws.

Oliver assures the reader in the introduction that "this is decidedly not a commissioned biography," yet admits that "the account makes liberal use of Allan Grossman's recollections, and undeniably presents events from Mr. Grossman's perspective" and that "we agreed that nothing from his (Mr. Grossman's) papers or our recorded interviews would be published without his permission, and that interviews with others would be used with discretion." While the author may not have intended this to be an authorized biography, the work appears to have all the characteristics and accompanying flaws of that genre.

Perhaps the strength of this work lies not in the fact that it is a biography of a Canadian political figure, but rather that it tells the story of a man who has worked with four successive Tory party leaders in what has been called "the most successful political machine in the history of the western world." After approximately fifty years in politics, Grossman's style and concerns mirror the factors that have made the Progressive Conservative party in Ontario such a success. A valuable asset for any collection.

Ruth Rausa, Toronto, Ont.
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