Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Non-Fiction: How the Scots Invented Canada by Ken McGoogan

There is a certain delicious levity in Ken McGoogan’s newest book. A certain hands-on-hips insouciance that fans of his sterling quartet of books on arctic exploration might not be expecting. I imagine that will be okay, though. For one thing, How the Scots Invented Canada (HarperCollins) should win the award-winning author busloads of new fans.

Informed, at least in the embryonic stage, by those very books on exploration as well as the slivers of Scottish blood in his own veins, McGoogan (Lady Franklin’s Revenge, Fatal Passage) takes a Bryson-like approach to his topic, jumping in with both feet and spinning out on a journey beyond any at which the staid cover might hint. McGoogan skillfully weaves his careful research through his personal journey through Scotland to look at his own tartan roots and those of his wife, as well as to find answers to a few key questions: “Why did so many Scots emigrate in the first place? And how was it that, once in Canada, they had proven so influential?”

McGoogan begins by acknowledging that there may well be other perspectives, “Yet the title of this book ... declares my bias, and I have refused to let fairness take the fun out of the tale.”

While this is, to a certain degree, entirely true, anyone at all familiar with McGoogan’s work knows that there is a reason he has become one of Canada’s most respected popular historians and that, even so, he sells quite a few books.

Despite the delicious levity in entirely appropriate places, and beneath the somewhat silly title, How the Scots Invented Canada is a serious -- sometimes even scholarly -- work and the author has done his research and shares it skillfully. McGoogan points out that the Scots were the first group of settlers to introduce the political and cultural diversity that would become the cornerstone of how Canadians see themselves. “Today,” McGoogan writes, “thanks to Scottish Canadians ... we can champion Canada as a coherent, pluralistic nation, and as the world’s first post-modern state. Aye, and if we look back to the earliest days, we can see, step by step, how the Scots invented Canada.” ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.



Blogger D.M. McGowan said...

I was given this book due to my last name and heritage.
I loved it!
I usually read the type of thing I write, but this was a great break for me and I believe for anyone.
Three cheers for McGoogan.
But then, perhaps it isn't all artistic ability and hard work.
He gets it from his Scotish heritage.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 6:44:00 PM PDT  

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