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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

on 17 January 2014
“Fire and Ashes”

Professor Ignatieff, a distinguished professor and idealist, wrote an extremely interesting and educating book which I can recommend without hesitation to any student of politics young or old.

The objective and honest description of his experiences of six years immersion into Canadian politics helps us all understand the advantages but also the disadvantages of the way modern democracy functions nowadays.

One of the many lessons to be drawn from his very interesting book is that we should all try to improve democracy by making sure that brutal aggressive advertising against persons and not policies not only should not be encouraged but if possible not even be permitted. I am very pleased that I had the opportunity to read it.

George Vassiliou
Former President of Cyprus
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on 9 April 2014
The best books of political theory are written by people who have lost in politics - or never got started, despite trying - Michael Ignatieff writes as he records how he tried to cheer himself up after losing a general election in Canada as leader of the Liberal Party, and losing half his seats.

This book is his own contribution to the subject written in retirement from the fray. It succeeds in both telling a riveting story (for those of us who know almost nothing about Canadian politics, anyway) and offering interesting reflections at every stage along the way - on the role of luck (who knew how soon he'd be contesting a seat and then for leadership of his party when he first returned to Canada) on the nature of political discourse (and the importance of 'standing'), and the nature of politics (not much practised in Parliament, but very much elsewhere in the political system as everyday compromises are worked out) and the relation to the voter (in his view, they are judging who they can trust and who will be 'in it for them'). Also he explains why he lost - reading between the lines a little, it would seem that he misjudged his opportunities in 2009 making both tactical and strategic errors, and also misjudged his Conservative opponent (who behaved in ways Ignatieff would not think of behaving - and maybe that's why he lost). He also of course probably misjudged the electorate at large.

Despite it all, Ignatieff remains a believer in democratic politics - and also makes a strong case for the political life, even as practised in contemporary Canada. This may not, in fact be all that different from politics as practised in the past - I've been reading The American Civil War collection in the Library of America series, and it's clear that there were serious efforts to deny 'standing' to Abraham Lincoln's running mate very akin to the 'birther' attempts to deny 'standing' to Barack Obama. We are luck that war as a continuation of politics is not on the cards today (at least so far) as it was in 19th century USA.

Strongly recommended for anyone interested in politics.
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on 18 January 2015
This is a well written book. Ignatieff has an easy to read and elegant style that makes you wish to continue even if the subject is less interesting.

That's important because this book wasn't quite what I imagined it to be. I expected a little more detail regarding specific instances, personalities and clashes. What the book gives is part memoir, with a clear view to explain himself and "tell his side of the story", which involves denigrating some of his political vanquishers (Stephen Harper in particular) a little too often. To be fair, his criticisms of the Harper campaign and how this illustrates a problem with Canadian politics (specifically, the ability to negatively campaign outside of elections) does sound reasonable and persuasive, but his self-description as a continuous political ingénue, compared to a cynical and win at all costs opponent, sounds a little disingenuous at times. I know nothing about Canadian politics beyond this book (I'm English), but I find it hard top believe there were not members in his team who could do the dirty stuff too, or that he quickly learned the rules of the game if he became leader of his party.

However, the "ingénue" narrative is central and useful, because it helps with Ignatieff's main aim in the book, which is to describe real politics in all its gory and vicious detail, the euphoria of triumph, the humiliation of unpopularity and defeat. Its a call to arms to the politically passionate (especially those who share his vision) to "get involved", "enter the ring" but also warn these people what to expect, emphasizing that no matter how much you've studied politics academically (Ignatieff was a professor of politics and its ancilliary areas who entered politics late in life), it has little to do with being a politician, and certainly doesn't prepare you for it. In this he is successful, and he does a good job of giving you an insight into what it is to be a politician, which in itself a very useful given how easy it is to dismiss them as corrupt/vainglorious/incompetent etc.

So he is successful in what he tries to do, but I do not give higher marks because the aim and method both feel a little too polished and noble, a book that still partly wants to be academic touchstone of politics like Machiavelli, and spends a little bit too long emphasizing the nobility of his goals, the joy of meeting real people etc. Its a little high minded for a book that aims to show how ugly politics can be. He convinces us politics is a dirty business (in terms of mudslinging opponents and the political game of point scoring, not corruption), but he doesn't give enough entertaining examples to make the book truly compelling. At least for me.
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on 10 December 2014
What happens when someone comes out of the university ivory tower and joins ordinary politics hands on instead of just writing and researching about it? Total disaster both for his party and for him personaly. But in the end it becomes a very interesting book with many new insights and understandings for us politicaly interested. One of the best books in political science I have read during the last ten years.
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on 7 May 2014
I read this book while researching hubris in leaders. I think it's one of the best things ever written on the subject, and shows a very disarming sense of the author's own known limitations. Ignatieff writes brilliantly and I finished the whole book in a couple of sittings. His plea at the end is I think very timely; we need to have people continue to enter politics for the right reasons, and as an electorate to be less cynical or disappointed in those who take on democratic leadership roles. So far it's my book of the year. A pleasant antidote to other apologia you may read from less grounded pols.
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on 24 October 2015
Rare and honest insight in the psyche and drives of a politician. Great read.
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on 18 June 2015
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