Stephen Harper’s hockey book released to solid reviews

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

It's took a little while to complete (he's been a little busy with his 'day job') but on Tuesday, Canadians can finally get their hands on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's hockey book.

A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs and the Rise of Professional Hockey, published by Simon and Schuster, chronicles the history and drama surrounding Toronto's earliest professional hockey teams in period between 1908 to 1914.

Harper, who calls himself a decent but slow writer, says he wrote the book in 15 minute increments, writing at night just before going to bed.

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So far, it looks like all the hard work has paid off. For the most part, the book has received strong reviews.

From the Globe and Mail:

It’s being marketed as a tale for hockey obsessives. But what it is, really, is something better and more interesting and, from the perspective of book sellers, probably less saleable: a history of Canada in the early years of the last century, before the old world was washed away by The Great War.

Mr. Harper’s book reads a bit like a PhD thesis, which is to say that it is well researched, and sometimes heavy going. He seems to be aiming to write the definitive take on these events, so minor details aren’t left out. The pacing of the narrative sometimes suffers. But the Prime Minister does a good job of taking you back to the country, and the time, that gave birth to the national game.

From the New York Times:

The book is no mere collection of thoughtful essays or policy recommendations, as one might expect from a sitting politician.

Rather, it is a 320-page scholarly history of an obscure period in Toronto hockey more than a century ago, with footnotes and bibliography. It is as if President Obama published a densely researched study of early basketball in Chicago.

Harper has written a finely detailed history of the struggle between professionalism and amateurism in early 20th-century Ontario hockey.

In “A Great Game,” Harper had the assistance of a full-time researcher and the editing help of the distinguished Canadian sportswriter Roy MacGregor, but the work is his. It includes insightful examinations of class and religion and the roles they played in a country that still saw itself as a pillar of the British Empire, all viewed through the prism of hockey at the dawn of the pro era.

The National Post's Chris Selley, however, wasn't as impressed. Here's his take:

It was clearly not Mr. Harper’s intention to draw grand parallels to the modern game, or to psychoanalyze the Canadian hockey fan. But there is precious little analysis here of anything, and not much “perspective” either, and so one pines for it. There is evidence of “passion,” certainly: Only a true love of the subject matter could sustain the creative force necessary to create such a savagely dull tome. But that’s about it.

Indeed, Mr. Harper has given us a remarkably meticulous academic account of events that, when considered after reading and distilling them, are objectively fascinating. I suspect that’s what he set out to do, and it would be churlish to begrudge him the accomplishment or to pretend I expected a thrill-a-minute page-turner. He says he wrote it himself, and I absolutely believe him. But with a looser analytical lip and some judicious editing — if not a ghostwriter, full stop — the Prime Minister might have given us something considerably more enjoyable.

A Great Game is now in bookstores and retails for $34.99. All of the "author proceeds" will go to the Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services (CFPFSS).

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While some critics have suggested the book was part of a political ploy to appear more like the 'common man', the prime minister is actually quite the hockey historian.

In a February 2012 article, the Toronto Star noted that Harper "has written extensively about the game" for several publications, including Sports Illustrated.

Don't, however, expect any more books from Harper; at least not in the near future.

"To be Frank," Harper said in an interview with the Fan 590, "probably after the last year — which has been a little bit more grueling than the previous years — I think I'll put it aside for a while and maybe...spend a little more time on music in the next few months."

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