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Is Blood Thicker Than Water?: Crises of Nationalism in the Modern World

Iram Khan

is Blood Thicker Than Water? is one of the annual lectures "on a subject of contemporary interest in a historical perspective" that have been organized in honour of the journalist Barbara Frum. The CBC, in cooperation with the University of Toronto and Random House of Canada invite "some of the world's most respected thinkers" every year to give a lecture that ends up being bradcasted on CBC Radio, excerpted in Saturday Night magazine, and published into a paperback series by Vintage Canada.

book cover For the 1998 lecture, the three invited James M. McPherson, who is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Battle Cry for Freedom. James M. McPherson is a professor in the Department of History of Princeton University and has written many other books on the American Civil War. He uses his background in this field for this book/lecture and attempts examine the question "What can the American Civil War reveal about the Quebec crisis?"

The book begins with a description of "a geographically large country in North America with a federal form of government." As McPherson, would like readers to believe, I assumed that he was talking about Canada, when in fact he was talking about the United Sates. I was astonished at how many similarites there are between the United States of the mid to late 1800's and the Canada of post world war II to today. For example:

just as Quebec's per-capita income and gross domestic product remained below the national average, and significantly below Ontario's, in 1991, despite the Quiet Revolution, so Southern (United States) per-capita income in 1860 was 23 percent below the national average, and 30 percent below that of the Free States. Moreover, the South's population, like Quebec's, grew at a slower rate than the rest of the country. (p. 15-16)

McPherson also mentions that the whole basis for strife between the North and the South and Quebec Nationalists and the rest of Canada are very different, but the surrounding details like the ones above are hard to avoid. "Insecurity breeds insularity" (p. 16).

Unfortunately, for almost half the book, McPherson writes solely about the American Civil War and the environment that surrounded it. Neither Canada nor Quebec is even mentioned once. It seems as though McPherson would like Canadians to conclude on their own the similarities and predict the events that might occur in the next few years with regards to Quebec nationalism. He definitely gives us something to chew on, though.

The summary at the back of the books states that this book is "a thorough historical perspective and analysis of the Quebec crises." I would have to disagree. Is Blood Thicker Than Water? is a very quick and simple introduction to the American Civil War and the history of the strife between Quebec and Canada. This information is presented from an interesting angle, though, which is enough of a reason to give this book a read.

published by vintage canada
ISBN 0-88922-392-0

Iram Khan is a frequent correspondent on educational issues.

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