Top critical review
Ignatieff has an easy to read and elegant style that makes you wish ...
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.