Dictionary of Canadian History

by D E Bercuson,
ISBN: 0002177587

Post Your Opinion
The Past
by Jack Mcleod

TWO OF CANADA'S best hisFo-rians have laboured over this book, and the question is: why? It is too short to be interesting or very useful. With 1,600 entries and many tables and chronologies, Bercuson and Granatstein have produced a compressed desk-top book that in many ways reflects their skill and good sense, and they have a lot of both. The entries are terse, the information reliable, the illustrations numerous. There is no doubt that these two are tough-minded pros who know what they are doing, If you want no more than one, two, or three paragraphs on most people and events in Canada's history, this book is for you. However, if you own Hurtig's Canadian Encyclopedia, or can refer to it in your local library, this volume is pleasant but superfluous, too little and too late.

For all the book's simple merits, the limitations of space (presumably imposed by the publisher) have precluded any extended analysis or comment on most subjects. Northrop Frye gets eight lines. Even a high school student needs and deserves to be told what readings relating to the subject Might be pursued, but these are conspicuously lacking. Thus, what the reader learns is, solid and worthwhile, but leads nowhere. Smack. Dead end. Dates and facts can be checked quickly and reliably, a thumbnail opinion is usually included (and a considered opinion at that), but beyond the bare bones there is no meat.

Probably it is not important to count column-inches and protest that this person, that event gets two lines more or four lines fewer than other entries. What matters more, I think, is the authors'judgement on what to include: Bladen but not C. B. Macpherson, Layton but not Newlove, Disallowance but not Dissolution. Why include a )reference on "Red Tory" but not on Gad Horowitz? Why T. Eaton but not Bassett or Webster or Conrad Black?

Bercuson and Granatstein are weakest on the arts, where their judgement seems less informed and sure. Escott Reid, but where is Ramsay Cook? Wyle but not Etrog? It's all very well to include Morley Callaghan, but not Brian Moore or Richard B. Wright or Michael Ondaatje? Kurelek but not Snow? Stratas but not Jon Vickers?

This sort of quibbling is easy enough, and there is sport to be had at what any anthologist or editor decides to exclude, leading to games of "my list is better than your list," but the basic issue is this~ if this interesting and provocative book costs onequarter the price of the Canadian Encyclopedia, is it one-sixteenth, or one-thirty-second as useful? I think not.


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