cover image Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life

Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life

Christopher Dummitt. McGill-Queen’s Univ. (CDC, U.S. dist.; GTW, Canadian dist.), $34.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7735-4876-3

More than a revealing portrait of Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, Dummitt’s (The Manly Modern) cultural critique insightfully examines the way changing perceptions of William Lyon Mackenzie King reflect broad changes in North American culture. When King died in 1950, few Canadians knew of his colorful private life. Modern Canadians are likely to be quite aware of the King’s interest in the occult and his other, more lurid, hobbies. The text reveals how King’s executors’ collective decision not to destroy King’s diaries as he had requested left a treasure trove of research material that would delight historians and titillate the general public. But the other half of the story is how Canada became a nation whose citizens lost their sense of deference for those in positions of power. Documents alone are not history, and narrative requires human input, Dummitt writes; the picture Canadians have of King today was shaped by those who were entrusted with King’s diaries and the gradually liberalizing environment in which they worked. Dummitt provides an interesting, if sometimes disapproving, glimpse of the human processes involved in creating history. (May)

This review has been corrected to fix a misspelling in the author's name.