Wednesday, 16 October 2013

For love of a ... textbook?

I think I'm in love. Again. This time, though, it's with a textbook.

It shouldn't be possible. Nor is it seemly or respectable or, let's be honest, normal. But when I clicked through on the links, first from email, then to catalogue and to website, intrigued by this new textbook in Canadian history, I finally came to a sample chapter. That's when I fell in love.

For years now I have been hoping someone would write a beautiful, engaged, comprehensive, narrative history of Canada. And there it was. Easy and accessible, but engaging. Not broken up with excessive sidebars and moving from theme to theme to theme to sub-theme, not forgetting this old character - and 'oh, look at this article I've read recently' kind of textbook.

But I'm forgetting to say who it is. I'm not the jealous type, and textbooks are for sharing. Take a look yourself at Narrating a Nation.  It comes in pre and post confederation volumes, and the authors are Raymond Blake, Jeff Keshen, Norman Knowles and Barbara Messamore.

The sample chapter for the post-Confederation volume deals with the years of the Great War. And, wonder of wonders, it actually deals with the war, with the grimy reality, the mud-up view, as well as the many important domestic implications, and not even forgetting the Progressives and the 1919 hoopla.

The only funny bit that stuck out was this line about Mackenzie King, when they note how socially awkward and pudgy he was but then say that, no matter:

'King was a master political tactician with an astonishing ability to read the public mood, build coalitions, impress the right people, make the right friends, and demolish his enemies.' 

This is definitely cart-before-the-horse writing. Folks might have started saying this by the summer of 1940, or perhaps the most astute might have said it late in 1926. Not in 1919.

But who am I to complain? Every love affair has to have its little blemishes.

Oh, and no one (alas) paid me to write this!


  1. I used the Pre-Confederation version in a survey course last year and had a similar reaction.

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  3. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look it up and I'll keep on being jealous of the vast number of textbooks available in English!

  4. Thanks for the comment Harold. There really is a dearth of french language Canadian history books. Incidentally, I heard some publishing gossip (don't know how reliable) that the Narrating a Nation texts haven't sold well. I wonder if it's true. Sad, from what I saw of them.