Tag Archives: biography

Get Informed! Get Political!

election“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all”
– John F. Kennedy

On Sunday, 2 August, our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, asked the Governor General to dissolve parliament and start what will be the longest election in Canada since 1870. Many were quick to point out how much this will cost the Canadian public, or the advantages the Conservative Party of Canada may have with its larger funding base, but there is one other thing to consider: more time to make an informed decision.

As the quotation above by JFK insinuates, informed voters are key to a functioning democracy. And the library is an obvious place to help you make that informed decision on poll day. As we showcase every February during Freedom to Read Week, the library is a staunch defendant of freedom of speech, which means we make sure to have every side of the discussion as long as books and articles are written on it. Libraries have a central role in the democratic process and it all has to do with providing that information to anyone who requests it. So I am going to list some books that may help you be more informed about some major topics that are being discussed this election.

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” – Andrew Carnegie

Leader Biographies

Publishing a biography before an election was something that was more common in the United States with Jimmy Carter starting the trend, while Canadian politicians usually published their memoirs after their term in office: e.g. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Brian MulroneyKim Campbell, Paul Martin. The first to launch a book before a campaign was Jean Chrétien with his title Straight from the Heart, and many candidates have since followed suit: Michael Ignatieff, Stéphane Dion, Jack Layton (though his book was not a memoir but rather a manifesto) .

Here is a list of the most recent books on the leaders vying for the position of prime minister.

Justin Trudeau published his autobiography Common Ground last year, just five months after becoming the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and one full year before the fixed election date of 19 October. This memoir outlines the major moments in Mr. Trudeau’s life that have prepared him for his political career.

Next we have Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, who published her book around the same: Who we Are: Reflections on my life and Canada. This is described as a cross between an autobiography and a manifesto as it details her life but also her vision for Canada.

Just recently Tom Mulcair published his own autobiography, Strength of Conviction, which discusses his upbringing and political career, and more specifically how his experiences have shaped his vision and beliefs for Canada.

Finally, Globe and Mail journalist and award winning author John Ibbitson took a one year leave of absence from the paper to write Stephen Harper’s biography. The new book simply titled, Stephen Harper, was set to be released in September but the early start date of the election pushed its publication up to 12 August. While many books talk about Stephen Harper’s policies and rise to prime minister (e.g. published in the last two years: The Longer I’m Prime Minister by Paul Wells, Dismantling Canada: Stephen Harper’s new conservative agenda by Brooke Jeffery, Harperism : how Stephen Harper and his think tank colleagues have transformed Canada by Donald Gutstein, and Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s radical makeover by Michael Harris) this biography takes a deeper look into his private life, and his relationships with Reform Leader Preston Manning, his family, and even his cats. 

Election Issues

In order to properly assess the leaders’ promises, it is important to get a good understanding of the situation they’re talking about. I will present three major issues that have been hitting the headlines recently and give a few books that have been recently published on those issues.


With the trial of Mike Duffy and the scandal involving other disgraced Senators, there have been many discussions on the role and relevance of the Senate. Here are a few books that discuss the possibility of reform and the scandals that occurred:

A People’s Senate for Canada: not a pipe dream by Helen Forsey
Our Scandalous Senate by J. Patrick Boyer
Duffy: Stardom to Senate to Scandal by Dan Leger


The economy comes up in every election, and here are two books on this subject published this year:
The Arrogant Autocrat: Stephen harper’s Takeover of Canada by Mel Hurtig
Stalled : Jump-starting the Canadian Economy by Michael Hlinka

Foreign Policy

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership going on during the election, and a constant shift in the international theatre, understanding Canada’s place in the world can be difficult. Here is one book that discusses Canada’s historic relations with China, and another that looks into Canada’s role in the world in the future:
Engaging China: Myth, Aspiration, and Strategy in Canadian Policy from Trudeau to Harper by Paul Evans
Brave New Canada: Meeting the Challenge of a Changing World by Derek H. Burney and Fen Osler Hampson

Of course these are only a few of the topics that are important. Many more could be highlighted, and if any of these or any other topic interests you, make sure to check out your library for any election queries you may have. We’ll be glad to help!


A Year in the Life

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
Abraham Lincoln

As a reader, I’m something of a voyeur. I’m a sucker for just about any book that covers a year in someone’s life and recounts their joys, sorrows or simple day-to-day living. Whether it’s a year someone dedicated themselves to personal change, or choosing to live life by a particular set of rules, or just an ordinary (to the author) period in time, I’ll read them all. Much as I enjoy reading about other’s people’s travels and adventures, in my heart I’m a stay-at-home kind of person, so reading about what other people do while they’re also at home is a natural extension for me.

No list of year-in-the-life titles would be complete mentioning without A.J. Jacobs. He has dedicated an entire years of his life to such varied goals as reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, living according to Biblical tenets, and achieving perfect health. I can only sit back and admire his tenacity, and be grateful that he writes such hilarious books.

Cover image for Adventures in yarn farming : four seasons on a New England fiber farmAdventures in Yarn Farming by Barbara Parry is an absolutely lovely book that shows what life on a working sheep farm is like. It combines two things I like to read about – people doing things I can only daydream of, and yarn. Barbara’s vivid descriptions about raising sheep in Massachusetts, combined with knitting patterns and dazzling photographs of how she creates her yarn makes me almost want to move to a sheep farm myself. Almost.

Cover image for 66 square feet : a delicious life : one woman, one terrace, 92 recipes66 Square Feet is not only the title of the book, it’s the size of Marie Viljoen’s garden, on a rooftop in New York City. It’s also the title of her delightful book, which appeals to  my inner gardener, wanna-be chef, and lover of peeking in at other people’s lives. Marie recounts a year in her life, her garden and her kitchen, talking about the changes the seasons bring, and the eternal delights of playing with dirt, good food and good friends.

Cover image for The diary of a nose : [a year in the life of a parfumeur]

The Diary of a Nose by Jean-Claude Ellena satisfies my curiosity about other people’s lives, and qualifies as a travel book. Jean-Claude travels the world in search of scents to bring back to his studio in France. Ellena views perfume not simply as something that smells good, but as something to be experienced with all five senses, and the vivid word pictures he paints offers a window into his fascinating life.

And, of course, there’s A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. I’m not sure if anyone ever figured out how many people bought property in Provence after reading this book, but I know that I was seriously tempted. I find myself inspired to move to France, renovate a farmhouse and drink good French wine whenever I pick up this book. To date, I’ve only ever followed up on that last part, but you never know.

On my list of future reads, there is The Sugar Season: A Year in the Life of Maple Syrup, and An Amish Garden: A Year in the Life of an Amish Garden…you get the idea. As you can guess, my passion in life is reading about other people’s lives – what’s yours?









2013’s Winnipeg Books About Winnipeg

Winnipeg is known as a cultural capital – we have a great arts scene, including a solid literary core.  While the pursuits of fiction writers in Winnipeg have been looked at before, I am going to take a look at the great non-fiction books that were put out in 2013 about Winnipeg by Winnipeggers.

What I have always enjoyed about Winnipeg is that we’re good at taking a long, hard look at ourselves.  It might not always be pleasant and it might not always make us look good.  It might uncover major issues going on in the city.  But it makes our city better.

One of the best books I read about Winnipeg in 2013 was “Indians wear Red”: colonialism, resistance, and aboriginal street gangs  by Elizabeth Cormack, Jim Sliver, Larry Morrissette, and Lawrence Deane.  It is a critical look at the gang culture in Winnipeg, but it looks at it in a way not to vilify the gang members but to contextualize the life they live in.  It looks at effects that colonialism, neo-liberalism and economics have had on the proliferation of gangs. (Side note: I would recommend the other books by both Elizabeth Cormack and Jim Silver, too). It is essential that we take a hard look at these issues instead of sweeping them under the rug, acting like they do not exist or hoping they take care of themselves.

One member of the Winnipeg family that exposed Winnipeggers to issues in their city, even if they didn’t want to look, was Nick Ternette.  Sadly, Nick died in 2013 but what came out of that was a great autobiography that he finished before he died.  It is called Rebel Without a Pause and outlines Nick’s fights to get the issues of the poor and the disabled into the mainstream Winnipeg thought and his constant fight to make Winnipeg a better city.

wolseley storiesAnother great story put out this year about Winnipeg by a Winnipegger was Wolseley Stories by Laina Hughes.  Unlike the other books, it doesn’t provide a critique of Winnipeg, but instead looks at the history of Wolseley and the stories of the people who live in it.  Hughes said she wanted to write the book to get to know the people who lived in her house 100 years ago.

I think this is the best way to learn the history of the area you live in is to find out the history of your house or the street you live on (note: This doesn’t work if you live in a new development).  I used the Winnipeg Free Press archive, available in every library, to search my house.  Warning: don’t do this if you’re not ready for the consequences.  I found out that a previous owner of my house died in the house – luckily of natural causes.

In 2014, why not make it a resolution to read Winnipeg books by Winnipeggers in Winnipeg – there are sure to be more great titles on the way!


“Three shots were fired…”

“What is past is prologue.” William Shakespeare

“There has to be more to it.” Senator Edward Kennedy

Today marks the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination in Dallas. This was one the defining moments of my parent’s generation and, arguably, changed the course of world history. Most people who lived through this time can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news. This “flashbulb memory” effect has, sadly, been repeated many times since, as with the deaths of John Lennon and Princess Diana, The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and 9/11, to name a few. The debate continues, to this day, as to what exactly happened in Dealey Plaza on that fateful afternoon, and it is questionable whether we will ever get the full story. I know that 250-300 words is not enough to even scratch the surface of this topic, but to mark the anniversary of this terrible day, the library has a number of resources to help.

Dallas 1963

Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis.

Rather than focus on the events of November 22, as most accounts do, this book takes a longer view, and examines the political and social climate of Dallas in the years leading up to Kennedy’s assassination. It looks at the various political, religious, and social leaders, why so many of them were “Anti-Kennedy,” and why Dallas was such a ripe spot for a possible assassination attempt. It’s well-researched and thought-provoking; and unapologetically honest about the mood of that city in the early 1960’s.


The Day Kennedy Died: 50 Years Later. LIFE Remembers the Man and the Moment.

LIFE magazine was front and centre of the Kennedy story. It featured JFK and Jackie, yachting, on its cover even before they were married. The magazine covered the personal and family side of the Kennedys during the presidency, as well as the tense thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis. LIFE also contributed to the aftermath of the assassination, and the ensuing investigation, with the famous (possibly doctored) photo of Lee Harvey Oswald on the cover, and was the first to publish stills from the infamous Zapruder film. So, it only makes sense that LIFE would produce a commemorative book on the 50th anniversary of the assassination. This collection includes all 486 frames of the Zapruder film, plus an essay on how LIFE obtained exclusive rights to it. It also includes a ton of photos and remembrances from famous people as to where they were when they heard the news, and a look back at 50 years worth of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination.


Speaking of conspiracy theories, you really need to watch Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991). The movie depicts the attempts of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) to secure an arrest and conviction for Kennedy’s murder. It is riveting, and also showcases the various conspiracy theories that persist to this day. Was it the mafia? Or maybe Cuban ex-patriots? A rogue element in the government? CIA? FBI? The movie addresses each theory in turn and, rather than debunk any of them, raises more questions than it is able to answer. You may disagree with it, but you can’t deny that it is a masterfully made film that deserves to be remembered.

Profiles in courage[1]

When we think of the Kennedy assassination, we tend to get bogged down in the details of the day and its aftermath, which is only normal. But I’d like to leave you with a link to JFK’s 1955 book, Profiles in Courage. It was written when Kennedy was still a junior senator from Massachusettes, and contains the stories of eight unsung patriots in American history. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and became an instant “must read” title. It still moving and powerful by today’s standards, and serves as a celebration of courage; that human virtue of which we sometimes need to be reminded.

The Presidential Presence: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’

Through a colleague/friend I was recently able to attend the advance screening of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, the movie partly based on the book Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Team of RivalsSo much has been written about the 16th President of the United States that at times it’s hard to find something that doesn’t seem derivative and clichéd. But Goodwin’s book speaks to the core of what made Lincoln great and in turn illustrates what constitutes true leadership: Recognize and recruit the best people possible; include and even seek out opposing ideas, agendas and points of view; display the courage to hear out and really engage with those opposing viewpoints, not only with rigor but with humility and humour.

True leadership has little time for ‘yes-men’ and ‘group-think.’ After all is said and done there is a moment when decisions and actions have to be taken and the consequences of those decisions and actions have to be accounted for. That is what attracts us to political leaders caught in tumultuous times.

Here are some other titles that highlight US Presidents in crisis:

The President's Club

Mark K. Updegrove, Baptism by Fire: eight presidents who took office in times of crisis

Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The Presidents Club

Robert Caro’s magisterial The Years of Lyndon Johnson (especially vol. 4 Passage of Power)

Jim Mann, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan

Stephen Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make

One Minute to MidnightMichael Dobbs, One Midnight to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the brink of nuclear war

Is our generation of leaders up to the challenge? It is well documented that Lincoln’s opponents and even members of his own cabinet dismissed his ‘country charm’ and underestimated his presence. It really does seem that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone…


Larger than Life-Sized Fiction

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but what happens when truth merges with fiction? One of the fastest growing sub-genres in fiction today: the biographical novel which is closely based upon the life of an actual person –- someone who is most often either famous or infamous.

Ilija Trojanow’s The Collector of Worlds captures the life of a man who was both. Sir Richard Francis Burton was an explorer, a linguist, a soldier, a spy, and a groundbreaking ethnologist, although he probably wouldn’t have considered himself one. In Trojanow’s novel a reader gets to tag along on Burton’s journeys through territories previously unknown to Western eyes.

The Collector of Worlds is a tale of adventure on the grandest level and, at the same time, an exploration of a man who truly embodied the notion of “larger than life.” The New York Times reviewer said that it “achiev[ed] a rounded and satisfying portrait that traditional biography could never match” — perhaps this is exactly where good biographical fiction gains its edge.

Frank Lloyd Wright

In The Women, T. Coraghessan Boyle fictionalizes the life of iconic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright through his tempestuous relationships with four women: the Montenegren beauty, Olgivanna Milanoff; the passionate Southern belle Maude Miriam Noel; the independent, free-spirited Mamah Borthwick Cheney; and his first wife Kitty Tobin, the mother of six of his children.

The Mistress of Nothing, Kate Pullinger’s 2009 Governor General’s award winner, takes the reader on a trip down the Nile with a fictional account of the story behind Lucy Duff Gordon’s Victorian travel classic Letters from Egypt. Through the narration of Gordon’s maid, Sally Naldrett — who is eventually made homeless and destitute by her devotion to Her Lady – Pullinger creates what the GG judges described as a“ highly sensual evocation of place and time… that explores the subtle complexities of power, race, class and love during the Victorian era.”

And lastly, any discussion of biographical novels would be remiss if it didn’t include one of their masters: Australian Peter Carey. The two-time Booker prize winner has written other historical novels, but first truly entered the world of biographical fiction with 2001’s True History of the Kelly Gang. Carey works magic with the life of Australian folk hero Ned Kelly, the Aussie equivalent of Robin Hood or Jesse James, using the colloquial voice of Kelly himself (unpunctuated except for full stops) writing an account for his daughter preserved as “13 parcels of stained dog-eared papers.” It’s a tour-de-force, but you don’t have to take my word for that: it won the 2001 Booker Prize.

Love it or hate it, biographical fiction is here to stay, and I probably don’t have to tell you that I love it. And I know the reason why. To quote Ms. Pullinger: “Anyone who stoops so low as to actually read fiction that deals with historical subjects knows, this is why fiction can sometimes be the only way to tell the truth.”


Paris in the Springtime

Cole Porter famously wrote, “I love Paris in the springtime.” Of course, he went on to love Paris in every other season as well, but the city persists in seeming particularly alluring in the spring. For Winnipeggers, spring may have felt as if it was just around the corner for most of this unseasonably warm winter, but Paris is a little less attainable. Fortunately, the armchair traveller has many choices to help transport them to the City of Light.

In Paris Times Eight: Finding Myself in the City of Dreams, author Deirdre Kelly visits Paris eight times—initially as a 19-year-old, and later through work as a writer and reporter, and as a traveller with family. The chapters serve as snapshots of her life at different stages and highlight what she sees in the city, depending on where she is in her life’s travels. At every age, though, Paris is a source of inspiration, as it has been for so many before her.

In Buying a Piece of Paris, Australian Ellie Nielsen seeks to fulfill the romantic dream of an apartment in Paris, complete with charm and character and chic French style.  Given an impossible timeline and minimal grasp of French, grappling with the foreign real-estate system proves challenging, to say the least. All the stereotypes seem to be accurate, from snobbish agents to impossibly complex banking procedures, showing that more than mere distance separates her from her geographical home.

Many biographies and memoirs interperse reminiscences with recipes. When Paris is the setting, it is almost impossible not to discuss food!  In Lunch in Paris: a Love Story, with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard recounts the unfolding of her romance with a Parisian, along with the many small encounters which comprise getting acquainted with another country at the same time. A greater challenge she faces is living without the familiarity of her own language, which leaves her adrift when faced with navigating the unspoken nuances of French culture.

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious—and Perplexing–City by David Lebovitz assembles a series of musings on various aspects of Parisian life followed by a recipe or two. Some examples are chapters about the rudeness of the residents he encounters or peculiarities of the medical system, which make for entertaining reading. The recipes do not always have an obvious connection to the anecdotes, but the writer is a cookbook author who spent substantial amounts of time cooking in a very tiny apartment kitchen!

The author of numerous cookbooks, Doris Greenspan tours some of the most noted bakeries in Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City’s Best Pastry Shops. This collection comprises the most classic of French recipes, including favourites such as madeleines and crème brulee. As one might expect, many of the concoctions are fairly complicated and require a degree of expertise, but the “armchair baker” will still enjoy anecdotes about the bakeries and histories of the most noted sweets. The charming illustrations may just tempt you to whip up your own batch of homemade marshmallows.

Moving to a more rural setting, author Susan Herrmann Loomis brings together house-hunting and cooking in On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town. After her culinary training, she and her husband immersed themselves in the search for a French home and its subsequent renovations. Attempts to bridge the cultural divide lead to humorous encounters with a cast of incorrigible characters, providing background to a collection of local recipes.   

Finally, you might want to check out the recent Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. A writer travels to Paris and falls in love with the city, and unexpectedly encounters the literary greats who have shared his passion over the years. Readers will appreciate the references to Paris’ literary history, and the Paris streetscapes are a treat for any viewer.

So even if your travels take you no further than your local library, you can still get a taste—literally and figuratively—of Paris in the springtime!


An Apple a Day…

Sadly, the world lost a visionary and creative genius in Steve Jobs, who passed away last month at the age of 56. If you are like me, you have enjoyed and made much use of the gadgets, products, films and services that he helped bring to us through Apple and Pixar, two companies that he co-created. I’m a proud owner of a Macbook and 3 iPods. I use iTunes on a daily basis.

Like many large organizations, Winnipeg Public Library is run on Windows based PCs, so most of my Mac experience has been at home on my own time. This is changing somewhat with the library’s introduction of Overdrive. With Overdrive, you can download ebooks to a number of devices, including Macintosh computers, iPads, iPod Touches and iPhones. Using the music database Freegal, you can download up to three mp3 music files per library card per week, and they are yours to keep. These mp3 files can be easily imported into iTunes and transferred to an iPod. I recently downloaded some Paul Simon and Thompson Twins this way. It worked great!

If you want to learn a little more about Steve Jobs and the companies he created, WPL has some great resources for you.

Steve Jobs (2011)

In the past two years of his life, Steve Jobs conducted more than 40 interviews with Walter Isaacson, a former executive with CNN and Time who also wrote biographies on Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. The results of these interviews is “Steve Jobs“, the authorized biography. Published only a few weeks after his death, Mr. Jobs provided unprecedented access to himself that those that lived and worked closely with him, encouraging everyone to be open and honest. Aside from approving the photo on the dust jacket, Jobs did not exert any control over content and did not even wish to read the book before it was published.

In addition to the authorized biography, there are a number of unauthorized ones out there, namely:

iCon: Steve Jobs, the Greatest Second Act in the History of Business” by Jeffrey Young (2005)

The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation” by Jay Elliot and William L. Simon (2011).

The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success” by Carmine Gallo (2011).

Guy Kawasaki was hired at Apple in 1983 and left the company in 1989, roughly around the time Steve Jobs was ousted the first time. He is still active as a blogger, you can follow him on Twitter (@guykawasaki) and he is the founder of Alltop, an online magazine rack. His book, “The Macintosh Way” is a fascinating look at the philosophy behind Apple’s corporate structure and marketing strategies and how even in the 1980’s they were “thinking differently”.

The Macintosh Way (1990)

Kawasaki was the “chief evangelist” for Apple during his tenure, and continued to advocate for Apple when he returned to the company in 1995 as an Apple fellow. The term “Apple Evangelist” was coined by the Macintosh division of Apple in the 1980’s and Kawasaki was one of the first to use “evangelical” methods to promote a brand through a blog.

The concept of technology evangelists is explored more fully in “The Cult of Mac“, a glossy coffee table style book by Leander Kahney.

The Maquarium in Action!

Many Mac users have shown an arguably questionable devotion to the products, services and concepts created by the company. From Apple tattoos to adopting Apple design aesthetics into other parts of their lives, this book explores what it means to have “drunk the koolaid”, so to speak. One example of the latter is taking an old Mac Classic, gutting it, and turning it into a real aquarium. It was affectionately dubbed “The Maquarium”.


Before CGI, there was Hal and Vic

“I’m the unknown stuntman who made Eastwood look so fine.”

If you are like me and grew up in the 1980’s, you’ll probably recognize that line from the theme song to the t.v. show “The Fall Guy”. The show starred Lee Majors as a Hollywood stuntman by day who moonlighted as a bounty hunter at night. It was a fun, although pretty ridiculous show at the time, but it sparked my interest in learning about how movies are made and how stunts get performed.

This year saw the publication of not one but two autobiographies by real Hollywood stuntmen, and I enjoyed both of them in their own way.

Stuntman! by Hal Needham

Stuntman! My car-crashing, plane jumping, bone-breaking, death-defying Hollywood life” by Hal Needham really says it all in the title. Hal Needham is a natural storyteller, as the following passage shows: “I wrecked hundreds of cars, fell from tall buildings, got blown up, was dragged by horses and along the way broke fifty-six bones, my back twice, punctured a lung, and knocked out a few teeth. I hung upside down by my ankles under a biplane in “The Spirit of St. Louis”, jumped between galloping horses in “Little Big Man”, set a world record for a boat stunt in “Gator”, jumped a rocket-powered pick up truck across a canal for a GM commercial, was the first human to test the car air bag-and taught John Wayne how to really throw a punch”. After an opening like that, how could you not keep reading?

Needham directing Dom DeLuise and Burt Reynolds in "The Cannonball Run" (1982)

Needham was a paratrooper in the Korean War and later worked as a tree-toopper before breaking into the stunt business in the late 1950s. Later on, he became the regular stunt double for Burt Reynolds, and even lived the better part of 12 years as a guest in Burt Reynolds’ mansion. The book is full of really entertaining stories of “old Hollywood”, in the days before computer-generated effects effectively replaced practical stunts. It is also an inspiring tale of someone sticking with a dream and ultimately rising up through the ranks. Towards the end of Needham’s career, he had established himself as the premiere stunt advisor in Hollywood and even directed a number of feature films.

"The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman" by Vic Armstrong

The other stunt book published this year is “The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman” by Vic Armstrong. Vic Armstrong performed stunts in some of the biggest movies in the 1970’s and 1980’s, including a number of James Bond films. He grew up on a farm around horses, and his horse riding skills proved valuable in the early part of his career. His uncanny resemblance to Harrison Ford earned him the position of Ford’s stunt double in the first three Indiana Jones films. When Harrison Ford injured his back during “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, Armstrong stepped in and filmed any scenes with Ford that didn’t require a head shot. He also was Christopher Reeve’s stunt double in the first two Superman movies. Like Needham, Armstrong graduated from performing stunts to coordinating them. Today, he works mostly as an action sequence director and a second unit director. Armstrong’s stories about working with Hollywood legends like Spielberg and Scorsese are fun, and it’s eye-opening to learn how much actual danger these stuntpeople put themselves in for the sake of a shot. Armstrong is a little bit younger than Needham and looked upon him as a mentor in the early part of his stunt career. He even has a chapter in his book called “Hal and Burt”.

Vic Armstrong looked very similar to Harrison Ford, earning him the job of Ford's stunt double in the Indiana Jones movies.

If you’re a fan of practical effects and the men and women who risk their lives performing them, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the stories told by Hal Needham and Vic Armstrong.


The True North: Strong, Free…and Nice?

Canadian flagI’ve heard it said many times that Canadians are very nice, and overall we are. To me, though, the word “nice” suggests that Canada is the land of the bland, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Check out Egotists and Autocrats by George Bowering for an eye-opening account of Canada’s prime ministers from Sir John A. Macdonald, a good man to have a drink with, to William Lyon Mackenzie King, who spent his off duty hours at séances.

In her time, Nellie McClung was the furthest thing from a nice woman, but her outspoken determination opened doors for women everywhere.  And Nellie wasn’t the only Canadian woman who changed the world. Take a look at famouscanadianwomen.com to see the ways Canadian women have changed the course of history, both at home and abroad.

On June 23, 1990, the words of Elijah Harper were heard not only in the Manitoba Legislature, but all across Canada. Elijah by Pauline Comeau takes the reader on Elijah’s journey, beginning on a remote Northern reserve through many hard times, his role in Canadian politics, and beyond.

Scientist David Suzuki has spent most of his life making people sit up and pay attention to his messages about the environment. From the show “Quirks and Quarks” on CBC radio to his book, The Big Picture, Dr. Suzuki has not necessarily been nice, but he has been proven to be right, time and time again.

Cover of the book "Terry" by Douglas CouplandTerry by Douglas Coupland contains many personal photos and mementos from the unforgettable life of Terry Fox. While I’m sure that in private life Terry was indeed a nice guy, his strength of will in the face of staggering odds showed the world the best of what it means to be a Canadian.

So the next time you hear how nice Canadians are, smile sweetly,  say “Thanks, eh!” and take pride in the knowledge that nice isn’t all we are.