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Cook, Ramsay.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1986. 224pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-7710-2261-1.CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Howard Hurt

Volume 15 Number 2
1987 March

It would be hard to imagine anyone with more impeccable qualifications than Ramsay Cook for probing the Canadian political psyche. He has studied history in Ontario graduate schools and taught it at the University of Toronto and York University. As a visiting lecturer in the United States and several offshore countries, he has tried to explain the often mystifying actions of his compatriots. He has served as president of the Canadian Historical Association. He has published several books about Canada, one of which recently won an important literary award. Like many of us in midlife, he has also anxiously observed the problems created by recent mutations of Canadian nationalism. Unlike most of us. he has the training to interpret them in terms of a longer period of history.

Since most of these essays were first published elsewhere, they lack a tight unity, but are obviously, if loosely, tied together by the common thread of nationalism, especially as it emerged in Quebec during the 1970s. A few chapters, most notably those dealing with the art of William Kurelek and the mixing of natives and Europeans on the frontier, are intriguing, but only marginally fit the central topic. Much of what the author has to say is also self-evident, but even the best informed readers will find some tangled threads being woven into meaningful patterns.

When political scientists write, and especially when writing for the general public, style can be substance if they are skillful enough to entice readers to critically examine political rhetoric. I believe Cook has written a book that will do this. His style is straight forward, almost journalistic, and this extends the attraction of his work beyond the walls of academia. It could certainly be understood, for example, by seniors in high school. On the other hand, serious scholars will find it a helpful guide if they pursue the titles listed in his twenty-five pages of references.

These essays are insightful, well written, and gathered together in an attractive volume that would be an asset to any home bookshelf or library. It is impossible, though, to ignore the wonderful example of Canadian irony that they present. Here is a writer who feels uncomfortable with, even disdainful of most manifestations of nationalism. However, by publishing this book, he is writing for a specific literary market that feeds off introspective nationalism. His exposure of the self-interest of the Canadian intelligentsia is adding to the royalties and the curriculum vitae of a historian who is part of that privileged club.

Howard Hurt, Curriculum Laboratory, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.
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