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Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary by…

Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary (1968)

by Richard Gwyn

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This is a biography of the first premier of Newfoundland, Joey Smallwood, who was the main engine behind bringing Newfoundland into Canada. It covers Smallwood's entire life up to the time of writing, which was the late 1960s. By the time the book ends, Smallwood is preparing to leave politics after laying the groundwork for a party that can carry on without him. Issues are left hanging in a way that readers in 2016 will be able to resolve simply by looking up what happened (for example, on the Churchill Falls project). This incompleteness is interesting in a way -- it makes Smallwood's life story feel that much more vibrant than a biography of someone who has been long dead by the time the biographer started writing.

While Gwyn had access to Smallwood's diaries and Smallwood himself cooperated with Gwyn during the project, the biography is by no means uncritical. Gwyn highlights both strengths and weaknesses in his subject and also talks about how his strengths can become weaknesses in the wrong situation. The writing is clear and unfussy, and there are plenty of amusing anecdotes throughout (my particular favourite was the one about the Newfoundland delegation in Ottawa in the middle of summer). The picture section was somewhat lacking; setting aside the fact of no colour photos, which is excusable given the vintage of most of the photos, two of the photos are repeated from the front and back cover. Part of me expects that the photo section in the middle will not repeat cover photos, for maximum variety.

This book is recommended for those who like Canadian history, those who want to learn more about Newfoundland, and those who have read Wayne Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, which fictionalizes the life of Smallwood. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Oct 10, 2016 |
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For my own Newfoundlander
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Joe Smallwood's childhood was unhappy enough to give him a head start towards becoming an exceptional man.
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