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Book Reviews

Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values

by Michael Adams

An innocuous, unarmed United States with health care – this is what Canada is to many. However, according to Michael Adams’ second book, Fire and Ice (much less intriguingly titled than his first, Sex in the Snow), there is little danger of Canadians becoming “Americans in parkas.” On the contrary, according to Adams’ many studies (conducted by Environics, the research consulting company of which he is president), the countries are growing more different all the time.

Based on three “snapshot” surveys of Americans and Canadians conducted during the last decade, Fire and Ice presents some surprising results. Despite their staid, stolid, and tractable reputation, Adams’ research reveals that we Canadians are considerably less deferential to authority than our American counterparts. We watch less TV, are less tolerant of violence, and less xenophobic and materialistic. Canadians are also more philanthropic, more supportive of gender equality, more accepting of personal and sociological change, and more likely to be involved in community endeavours. We are even thinner! (Only 48% of us are overweight, compared with 65% of Americans.)

Adams’ prose is economical, erudite and evocative – a rare combination. Too bad there is so little of it. The book, which has been positioned for the lay reader, is marred by the academic sociologist’s insistent reliance on statistics.

Despite the sprinkling of relevant and witty cartoons throughout the text, Fire and Ice feels flat and thematically underdeveloped. Copious numbers of charts, graphs, “socio-cultural maps,” and so on will fail to engage readers looking for a less formal, more anecdotal approach to the subject matter. The last third of the book – an extensive appendix of even more figures, grids, outlines of methodologies, and even a glossary of trends – would have been enough to satisfy professionals in related fields. As it is, most readers will probably skip this section.

Adams’ assertion that Canadians are on a diverging course from our neighbours to the south may be true. But with the evidence presented in this manner, it just doesn’t feel that true or important.