More Flirtin’ With Berton …

So, it was about a year ago that I first talked about reading books by that Canadian icon, Pierre Berton. I did buy and read a number of his books after that, but never really got around to commenting again on them or him. I’m going to rectify that today and finally allow myself to move that huge stack of books from the top of the second desk in my room

The extra books of his that I read are, in no particular order: “The Great Depression”, “Vimy”, “Marching As to War”, “The National Dream”, and “Klondike”. Some of these are collections of other works, and cover a big span of Canadian history, from 1871 – 1953. And, all told, they were an enjoyable read.

Berton, in his works, in general gives a fairly detailed view of history. But his great strength is in describing the politics of the times — including the politicking behind the scenes — and the everyday live of people. I know his voice because he was on a number of CBC shows while I was growing up, and I could hear his voice as I read the works, especially the long lists of things that were detailed and yet ordered such that the listing of all of those details was never boring. However, this ability to focus on the more common aspects of Canadian history and society was a weakness when it came to covering military action. Berton simply did not describe battles all that well or in all that interesting a fashion. Thus “Vimy”, though the shortest book, was also the least interesting. If you really want to understand the military history or the battles, there are much better authors to seek out than him.

But if you’re looking for politics or general history, Berton is your man. “Klondike” was very interesting, as was “The National Dream” (covering the creation of the railroad that linked B.C. to the rest of Canada). He covers a myriad of details and angles and yet makes all of them interesting. I also really enjoyed his comments on the politics, as with often wry humour he dissected the back-room political shenanigans and showed that politics was never really clean. He exposed some of Canada’s greatest political and historical figures, and while showing their warts also showed their strengths, showing how their weaknesses caused them problems but how their strengths, at times, saved them. So while there’s not a lot of “action” there, the details were incredibly interesting and Berton’s style kept them from being boring.

While these are often large books with a lot of stuff to pay attention to, I will likely read them again at some point.

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