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  • Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Volume 1. 1919-1968
  • Matthew Hayday
John English . Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Volume 1, 1919–1968. Knopf Canada. 567. $39.95

While thought-provoking books about Pierre Elliott Trudeau abound, it is only with the recent release of his personal papers that it has become possible to craft a more thorough biography of the charismatic, bilingual, and controversial man who served as Canada's prime minister from 1968 to 1984. In Citizen of the World, University of Waterloo professor John English has taken full advantage of this rich documentary source to craft a compelling account of Trudeau's personal, intellectual, and [End Page 373] political development from the year of his birth until his assumption of the office of prime minister.

The portrait of Trudeau that emerges from English's narrative is a balanced one that carefully situates his personal development within the broader historical contexts of Quebec, Canada, and the world. This much is evident from the first two chapters, which cover Trudeau's life up to the Second World War. While Max and Monique Nemni, using the same documents, contended in Young Trudeau: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada (2006) that Trudeau's espousal of anti-Semitism and nationalism was sensational and shocking, English argues that this was not only typical of a Jesuit-educated youth in 1930s Quebec, but that Trudeau's embrace of both was quite mild in terms of the range of expression of these ideologies circulating in public discourse. More interesting to him is the fact that so many of Quebec's leading nationalist and separatist leaders of the 1970s knew of Trudeau's past (indeed, a great number were his schoolmates) and yet chose not to use this knowledge as a political weapon.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Citizen of the World is that it fleshes out the aspects of Trudeau's personal and intellectual development that earlier studies lacked (including Trudeau's own CBC-produced Memoirs). Drawing on diaries, school notes, published writings, and extensive correspondence – particularly with his mother Grace and a succession of female friends – English identifies a number of key influences on Trudeau's personal development. Catholicism was certainly crucial in the early decades of his life, beginning with a Jesuit education at Colle'ge Jean-de-Brébeuf, and continuing to manifest itself with requests for permission to read proscribed books on the Vatican's Index well into his graduate education, and his deference to the church's sexual mores, which persisted until the 1950s. By the 1940s, other intellectual currents, most notably socialism, began to shape Trudeau's political world view and his interventions in the conservative politics of Quebec. English also stresses the importance of Trudeau's French heritage, a factor that crystallized in importance when he was denied a Rhodes scholarship and instead pursued a law degree at the Université de Montréal. Finally, a personal fortune that provided freedom to travel, to study, and to switch career paths regularly allowed Trudeau to cultivate a cosmopolitan perspective on the world, but was also a source of personal tension as he attempted to reconcile his personal wealth with the socialist values he espoused. Readers interested in the personal life of Trudeau will certainly not be disappointed by the extensive accounts of his past loves and confidantes.

Trudeau's path to active involvement in politics is well covered, including a through treatment of his involvement with the Cité Libre group and other political associations, his political contacts with the [End Page 374] provincial and federal CCF/NDP and Liberal parties, and his early friendships and schisms with future separatist leaders. Yet it is this dimension of the biography that provides a few minor disappointments. English's treatment of Trudeau's first few years as a member of Parliament is surprisingly short on detail. Most notably, there is little discussion of the Omnibus bill (which drastically changed the government's stance on divorce, abortion, and homosexuality),which led to Trudeau's famous statement about the state having no place in the bedrooms of the nation. Given the importance that English...


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