Book Reviews

Book Reviews:

"Bowker's admirable introduction helps to interpret the autobiographical essays and to place all of the pieces in the context of their time. A political economist and a conservative (in both senses of the word), Leacock recognized that the Depression had definitively demonstrated the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of classical economics. Speaking to the Canadian Political Science Association in 1934, he asked, 'What Is Left of Adam Smith?' His answer, only the recognition that economic man is selfish. However, the belief inherent in Smith's 'invisible hand,' the conviction 'that the pursuit of the individual's own interest made for the welfare of mankind,' was mistaken. 'It does not. The welfare of mankind has got to be achieved against it and in spite of it.' This insight seemed startling to many Canadian economists at the time, and may startle some even today. 'The intellectual garage mechanics of Canadian capitalism,' Frank Underhill called them in 1935, and he was painfully close to the truth.[...] Another fascinating essay, aimed at an American audience and published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1939, is 'Canada and the Monarchy.'  It explains clearly what will lead Canada, though effectively an independent country, to go to war when Great Britain does. Himself born in England, Leacock understood, better than some of his academic acquaintances at the time and at least one prominent historian since, why English Canadians would line up with Britain.McGill forced Leacock to retire in 1936, and two of the essays deal with that experience. They are wryly humorous and a bit wistful, though less so than his essay about growing old. 'Three Score and Ten' begins with the line that gives this book its title: 'Old Age is the "Front Line" of life, moving into No Man's Land'; it should be compulsory reading in our schools. This essay and the last two in the book, ‘War-Time Santa Claus’ and ‘To Every Child’ show Leacock at his wisest and most humane. ‘You can never have international peace as long as you have national poverty,’ he writes in ‘To Every Child,” dating from 1944, his year of death. It is a lesson we have yet to learn.” (Michiel Horn, Canadian Historical Review, 2006)

"In his introduction Bowker notes that as Leacock aged, his essays became informal in character. He adopted a conversational style, enlivened with wit and ripened with wisdom. [...] Bowker’s introduction is deftly crafted." (Carl Spadoni,University of Toronto Quarterly, 2006)

"Alan Bowker [...] suggests—convincingly, I think—that,in the last 10 years of his life, Leacock evolved a new kind of essay,unique to him, that stimulated his readers by leading them from laughter to thought, and pricked the pretensions of the pompous by subjecting their arguments to a dose of humorous and deflating common sense. [...] Despite occasional sillinesses, prophetic statements that have not worn well, and a few unfortunate prejudices, what we find here is an endearing Leacock determined to speak out as he nears death, a Leacock who is more than a genial but lightweight comic professor, the mask he wore so determinedly in his earlier years. This is a Leacock worth reviving. Above all, Alan Bowker has provided a lengthy introduction that is accurate, shrewd, well-balanced, and clearly written; it offers a far more complex portrait of a tricky writer than most of his previous biographers have produced. A book to be welcomed by scholar and general reader alike." (W.J. Keith, Canadian Book Review Annual, 2006)

"A fine selection enhanced by a thoughtful introduction." (OHS Bulletin

"Alan Bowker has played a substantive role in reminding those who do not know or are prone to forget that the author of the Canadian classic, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, was also the author of such political classics as Greater Canada: An Appeal and The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. [...] The brilliance and beauty of Bowker’s new book on Leacock is that Bowker has pointed out that, in reality, Leacock was as concerned about the tough political, economic and social questions in Canada in the late autumn of his life as he was in the spring and summer of his intellectual journey. [...] He is now convinced, and the evidence cannot be denied, that Leacock held together both humour and political concerns until the end of his journey. [...] In many ways, Bowker has more than answered the probing request of Ian Ross Robertson in 1986 when he asked for a more ‘holistic interpretation’ of Leacock. Bowker has done more than yeoman’s duty in offering us this more ‘holistic interpretation’. On The Front Line of Life: Stephen Leacock: Memories and Reflections, 1935-1944 is a fit and faithful companion to Social Criticism. Do read both and be grateful to both Leacock and Bowker." Ron Dart, University of the Fraser Valley, Vive le Canada, 2006