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The Life: The Siren Song of Politics

by Steve Paikin

Journalist and television host Steve Paikin’s authorial debut, The Life, promises to shed light on the seductive call of Canadian politics, but underdelivers on this ambitious goal. Paikin uses the political lives of such Canadian figures as Lewis Mackenzie, Howard Hampton, John Savage, Audrey McLaughlin, and Brian Mulroney to explore the forces that drove them into politics.
The Life is based on impressively voluminous interview material, but lacks any serious critical perspective. Perhaps the broad scope of the politicians covered and the sheer volume of source material made it difficult to offer a more nuanced commentary on the subjects Paikin knows so well. He classes politicians into groups that, according to him, best describe their political lives, giving them classifications such as crusaders, accidental candidates, childhood dreamers, backroom boys, and the next generation.
Paikin shies from any deeper probes of the politicians and, for the most part, simply accepts his subjects’ self-assessments. For someone known for his investigative mind, he is disappointingly cautious, treating his subjects with a delicate hand. This is a shame, as the book is rich in information and delivers a fairly solid overview of contemporary Canadian politics.
With its rather condensed, journalistic tone and dizzying collage of interview snippets, The Life offers none of the richness of exploration and commentary of the book-length form, making it read like a kind of appetizer, with the more flavourful, textured main course of reflections and analysis still to come.