John Ralston Saul, as general editor of Penguin Canada’s Extraordinary Canadians series — short biographies of 18 history-making Canadians by prominent national writers — knows the challenge of putting great stories into small books.
“The greatest test for a writer is to do a big topic in 200 pages,” he said. “That requires enormous writing skill and intellectual sophistication. Any ordinary writer can write a 400-page book.”
As author of the series’ book on Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, leaders of Lower and Upper Canada and builders of present-day Canada, Saul gets right to the essence of their story: “They don’t meet until they’re in their mid-30s and then they have this 11-year tempestuous marriage, they become each other’s closest friends and political allies … basically by the time they leave power in 1851, they’re so exhausted that they just go away and die … broken by the effort that it took to turn Canada into a democracy.”