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.”