Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in bookish,

Book Review: The Presidents and Prime Ministers

Written over 30 years ago in 1982, in The Presidents and Prime Ministers: Washington and Ottawa Face to Face, the Myth of Bilateral Bliss 1867-1982, Canadian journalist Lawrence Martin ably traces the history of the relationships between the Prime Ministers of Canada and the Presidents of the United States over the 115 year period from the founding of the Dominion of Canada in 1867 to the beginning of the Reagan era. He supplements this wonderful history with his own analysis, sprinkling in a delightful selection of anecdotes while covering all the important cross-border issues. Martin breaks down the "special relationship" into what he perceives to be four eras. From Canada's birth, the relationship between the two nations endured a period in which the threat of conquest by the greater nation loomed over the smaller one. This tension was relaxed following Canada's performance in the first world war, which generated a new respect for Canada, though it did not resolve a number of testy issues such as fisheries in Canadian waters and cross-border tariffs. Martin describes the era in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Mackenzie King were their nations leaders as being the best of times in Canada-US relations, which a gradual erosion of good feelings occurring in the subsequent years.


Along with an intelligent and informative discussion of the issues between the two nations, this book is filled with wonderful anecdotes of the gaffes, slights and gossipy behind-the-scenes tales which occurred over the years between Canadian and American leaders. Beginning with Ulysses Grant's failure to send anyone of note to meet Prime Minister John A. Macdonald on the first visit to Washington by a Canadian PM, Martin gives impressive fly-on-the-wall details of some of the more private discussions between PMs and Presidents. For example, early on in the book, he tells the story of how Lyndon Johnson became enraged at Prime Minister Lester Pearson over a speech the latter had given in Philadelphia criticizing Johnson's bombing campaign in Vietnam and how LBJ physically manhandled his smaller counterpart.


This book is a delight for anyone with an interest in Canada-US relations. It offers insight into the diplomatic workings between the two nations, and puts each issue into historical perspective. It also tells which leaders got along well, and which had contempt for one another. It is a rare combination of interesting history and fun reading.
Tags: genre: non-fiction, subject: history, xxx author last name: i-q

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