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Wolfe & Montcalm: Their Lives, Their Times, and the Fate of a Continent

by Joy Carroll

The tale of General Wolfe scaling the Heights of Abraham to defeat Montcalm outside the gates of Quebec City has become a Canadian epic, but do we need another book on it? If it is as readable and wide-ranging as Joy Carroll’s, the answer is yes. Carroll is a freelance writer and author who writes historical novels under a pen name. While conducting research on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, she discovered that neither of the major protagonists had been portrayed in any depth in the standard histories. To rectify that problem, she wrote Wolfe & Montcalm.

Both generals were interesting individuals whose strengths and flaws went a long way to determining what happened that September day in 1759. But they were also men of their times, and it is those times that make Carroll’s book fascinating. In Britain, William Pitt was scheming to build an empire as he conducted a war against France. The philandering Louis XV was trying to get rid of expensive colonies as his country steadily went bankrupt. In Canada, British generals delayed while French Governor Vaudreuil and his cronies partied and lined their own pockets. Even the minor characters here have stories to tell – Montcalm commanded the explorer Bougainville while Wolfe was supported by a naval contingent that included a young James Cook.

Carroll weaves her many threads into an entertaining narrative that only rarely strays into the colloquial, as when Wolfe wonders if “he and his brigadiers were on the same planet.” The research is sound and the quotes from contemporary letters flesh out the characters.

Wolfe & Montcalm is popular history at its best – accessible and informative. It is a splendid introduction to an important event in Canadian history and an engaging portrait of a time whose heroes and villains held the fate of much of North America in their hands.