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In 2005 Michael Ignatieff left his life as a writer and professor at Harvard University to enter the combative world of politics back home in Canada. By 2008, he was leader of the country's Liberal Party and poised--should the governing Conservatives falter--to become Canada's next Prime Minister. It never happened. Today, after a bruising electoral defeat, Ignatieff is ba In 2005 Michael Ignatieff left his life as a writer and professor at Harvard University to enter the combative world of politics back home in Canada. By 2008, he was leader of the country's Liberal Party and poised--should the governing Conservatives falter--to become Canada's next Prime Minister. It never happened. Today, after a bruising electoral defeat, Ignatieff is back where he started, writing and teaching what he learned. What did he take away from this crash course in political success and failure? Did a life of thinking about politics prepare him for the real thing? How did he handle it when his own history as a longtime expatriate became a major political issue? Are cynics right to despair about democratic politics? Are idealists right to hope? Ignatieff blends reflection and analysis to portray today's democratic politics as ruthless, unpredictable, unforgiving, and hyper-adversarial. Rough as it is, Ignatieff argues, democratic politics is a crucible for compromise, and many of the apparent vices of political life, from inconsistency to the fake smile, follow from the necessity of bridging differences in a pluralist society. A compelling account of modern politics as it really is, the book is also a celebration of the political life in all its wild, exuberant variety.


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In 2005 Michael Ignatieff left his life as a writer and professor at Harvard University to enter the combative world of politics back home in Canada. By 2008, he was leader of the country's Liberal Party and poised--should the governing Conservatives falter--to become Canada's next Prime Minister. It never happened. Today, after a bruising electoral defeat, Ignatieff is ba In 2005 Michael Ignatieff left his life as a writer and professor at Harvard University to enter the combative world of politics back home in Canada. By 2008, he was leader of the country's Liberal Party and poised--should the governing Conservatives falter--to become Canada's next Prime Minister. It never happened. Today, after a bruising electoral defeat, Ignatieff is back where he started, writing and teaching what he learned. What did he take away from this crash course in political success and failure? Did a life of thinking about politics prepare him for the real thing? How did he handle it when his own history as a longtime expatriate became a major political issue? Are cynics right to despair about democratic politics? Are idealists right to hope? Ignatieff blends reflection and analysis to portray today's democratic politics as ruthless, unpredictable, unforgiving, and hyper-adversarial. Rough as it is, Ignatieff argues, democratic politics is a crucible for compromise, and many of the apparent vices of political life, from inconsistency to the fake smile, follow from the necessity of bridging differences in a pluralist society. A compelling account of modern politics as it really is, the book is also a celebration of the political life in all its wild, exuberant variety.

30 review for Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics

  1. 4 out of 5

    Peter Thurley

    (A note of full disclosure: I stood as an NDP candidate in the 2011 federal election, the election that saw Michael Ignatieff’s political career go down in flames, precipitating this book being written, and have studied many of his academic pieces while a graduate student at the University of Waterloo) Just 30 pages in, I commented on my Facebook feed that “it's already abundantly clear that he now thinks of himself as a fool.” Someone asked me – “Does he think of himself as fooled or foolish?” T (A note of full disclosure: I stood as an NDP candidate in the 2011 federal election, the election that saw Michael Ignatieff’s political career go down in flames, precipitating this book being written, and have studied many of his academic pieces while a graduate student at the University of Waterloo) Just 30 pages in, I commented on my Facebook feed that “it's already abundantly clear that he now thinks of himself as a fool.” Someone asked me – “Does he think of himself as fooled or foolish?” This question is, to me, the defining question of Ignatieff’s missive of his time in Canadian politics, and I think the answer is both and neither, all at the same time. Ignatieff’s critics are quick to accuse him of being arrogant, of being too academic, too much like a teacher, talking down to Canadians. Indeed, as if lecturing a classroom of students, Ignatieff he takes those criticisms head on, noting the differences between doing politics instead of talking about politics. In what I see as the pivotal chapter where he realizes what political currency really is, Ignatieff notes “...degrees [do not] confer standing. Success in education is a badge of merit that people actually earn, yet people with degrees often have trouble converting their achievements into standing. The reason is simple: education codes as entitlement and voters hate entitlement... Standing has to be earned and degrees earn you nothing. This estimable principle leads, however, to a paradox. You can be elected without education, character, likability, popularity, degrees or a fat bank account, but you cannot be elected without standing. (pp. 127)” Ignatieff’s cerebral, lecturing tone indicates a self-reflective foolishness, the realization that he was fooled into thinking that his academic achievements outside the country would grant him standing in the minds of Canadians. As the book continues, Ignatieff opines the fact that he was tarred and feathered in the minds of Canadians by the Conservatives long before he had the opportunity to define himself, partly due to the decline of the Liberal Party over the years. He minces no words about the falling out he had with Bob Rae when he returned to Canada, and deftly blames the arrogance of the Liberal establishment over the years for the failure of his campaign to take off. He is frank with his own failures, noting that, in retrospect, his support for the Conservative budget in the spring of 2009 and subsequent indication of a non-confidence motion in the fall of 2009 cost him dearly. Interestingly, the book takes a positive tone towards the end when Ignatieff returns to what he does best – writing about the virtues of democracy, about the pieces that make democracy work (and in some cases not work) and the kinds of people that it takes to make it happen. It’s clear that Ignatieff is back in his element – taking an experience that he had, reflecting upon it and, with the aid of important thinkers from past and present, weaving a narrative about the kinds of people that make our political life so rich. Ignatieff ends his book by calling young people interested in making their country a better place to count the costs (for he knows more than most what the true costs of a political life really are) and weigh those costs against the benefits of truly being willing to serve others, even when serving your country means failing and failing hard. And so I end where I began: Ignatieff was fooled into thinking that he could waltz back to Canada after years away, an accomplished academic and thinker, ready to ascend the throne of Canadian politics. And yet he was foolish enough to throw away everything he had already achieved in an effort to contribute positively to his country, at a time when he felt his service was needed. And it is precisely the combination of the two that leave me inspired – getting involved in the political life of your country requires that one be fooled into foolishness – unless you’re willing to risk it all for the sake of those you want to serve, your service means nothing at all. While I disagree with Michael Ignatieff on many things, and while I much preferred Jack Layton’s vision for our great country, I can respect and learn from the lessons of the former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    The Philosopher Prince: Because Michael Ignatieff never became king. But his reflection on political life is a refreshingly above-the-fray take on Canadian politics. He does recount the important moments of the Harper government (first election, prorogation, majority) from an rival's perspective. He also shows his academic side in thoughts on democracy, how representatives relate to citizens, and the realities of winning office and governing. Sections on a candidate's "standing" and the intimate The Philosopher Prince: Because Michael Ignatieff never became king. But his reflection on political life is a refreshingly above-the-fray take on Canadian politics. He does recount the important moments of the Harper government (first election, prorogation, majority) from an rival's perspective. He also shows his academic side in thoughts on democracy, how representatives relate to citizens, and the realities of winning office and governing. Sections on a candidate's "standing" and the intimate connection between place and person (so, a great argument for retaining a Westminster form of parliamentary representation) are especially thoughtful. And in true Ignatieff form, there's a great deal of name-dropping as he establishes his Liberal credentials. But he just says it so nicely. Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_A_Taubman

  3. 5 out of 5

    Loraine

    A short book and a quick read, I enjoyed reliving this period in Canadian politics through his eyes. I witnessed these events as a citizen and as a voter but reading it, it became all new again. I had expected more on the personal side, more of how one lives and rebuilds a life after defeat but it was all business, however interesting. This man knows politics and listening to him is at times quite fascinating. I have marked off several passages, like this one: "an intellectual may be interested A short book and a quick read, I enjoyed reliving this period in Canadian politics through his eyes. I witnessed these events as a citizen and as a voter but reading it, it became all new again. I had expected more on the personal side, more of how one lives and rebuilds a life after defeat but it was all business, however interesting. This man knows politics and listening to him is at times quite fascinating. I have marked off several passages, like this one: "an intellectual may be interested in ideas and policies for their own sake, but a politician's interest is exclusively in the question of whether an idea's time has come." or "I can't remember a speech I heard in five years that was actually meant to persuade." I got a clearer view of Canadian politics from this book, delivered in a way that was quite enjoyable. As I was reading, I often thought he must be a great teacher.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Sylvester

    Michael Ignatieff’s “Fire and Ashes” is a sweet read. It starts off a little slow and intially gets you thinking, "this sounds arrogant" but then suddenly the narrative shifts, and he addresses, for the reader, what this arrogance meant within the context of the political career he had. The book is essentially an inside look at how the political game in Canada is played, and how our swing toward U.S. style degenerative politics was largely responsible for his failed campaign and the gutting of C Michael Ignatieff’s “Fire and Ashes” is a sweet read. It starts off a little slow and intially gets you thinking, "this sounds arrogant" but then suddenly the narrative shifts, and he addresses, for the reader, what this arrogance meant within the context of the political career he had. The book is essentially an inside look at how the political game in Canada is played, and how our swing toward U.S. style degenerative politics was largely responsible for his failed campaign and the gutting of Canadian democratic processes more generally. The book is also an introspection of the Liberal party, and a warning about the dangers of complacency and vested interests getting in the way of the organizational renewal required for survival never mind success. I also appreciated Ignatieff’s explicit outline of the responsibilities of government and the public sector more generally, a contextualization of which is rarely employed by bureaucrats working within the confines of the system; namely that, governments are to provide common goods that cannot otherwise be provided effectively through markets, and that accordingly, it is the role of public bureaucrats and institutions to protect citizens from the implications that do result from monopoly-based market failures. This historically understood premise and responsibility seems lost on present-day public bureaucrats. Structure-wise, I liked this book for its brevity and clarity. It is an easy and relevant read for anyone interested in contemporary Canadian politics. I love it in the sense that when Ignatieff left politics he made it clear that he was leaving for good, which left him with nothing to lose and little incentive to be dishonest, or disingenuous in the writing of this memoir. The book begins with a brief foray into the storied political history of Ignatieff’s family, the crash course he went through as he pursued his own political journey, and what lessons he drew from this whirlwind experience once it subsided. Again, of particular interest was Ignatieff’s take on the degeneration of parliamentary politics and how Stephen Harper has successfully managed to capitalize on this decline since base understandings and the worst of our nature align nicely with traditional conservative policy positions. I also appreciated his framing of political “standing”, and how one acquires it, how it cannot be taught, and how essentially standing means everything, for better or worse. To me, it was clear that Ignatieff had attempted to do the right thing during his political stint, but in doing so, naively failed to read how the game is played. The short attention span and superficial nature of the public, a meaningful recognition of changing demographics, the danger of vested interests within the Liberal party, and the effectiveness of creating and asserting a consistent narrative congruent with party interests were lost on Ignatieff and the Liberal party more generally. Ignatieff also discusses the power of compromise for the purpose of progress and how public policy progress requires seeking to meaningfully understand the foundational rationale underpinning opposing policy positions. In this respect, he reluctantly albeit pessimistically concluded that Canadian political parties have become more partisan, less open minded, and less open to persuasion than they were in the old days when the public service, and public service advice, was considered respectable. Beyond the details of what was, Ignatieff advances a series of public policy solutions to the pressing issues facing Canada today. This is good, and one would think required of any prospective leader of the free world, but the sad irony in this, is that of the ideas advanced, very few have been adopted by the conservative party governing Canada. On the surface, this seems sensible given these policies were advanced by an opposition leader, but from a public policy perspective, these policies, in particular, are generally regarded as necessary by the leaders of most Western states regardless of purported ideological affiliations. While this may be good for the few it pleases within Harper's base, it is not good for Canadians more generally, particularly over the longer term. And finally, and in terms of my own research, I found Ignatieff’s take on the evolution of public bureaucracies comforting in terms of validation but disturbing in terms of the on-going implications. Ignatieff contends that public bureaucracies, and the institutional mechanisms responsible for facilitating our democratic processes, have gravitated away from their core responsibilities (in terms of their role and function in relation to the state, and the challenges faced by the state, as the world around us evolves) and away from the organizational structures that enabled them to be effective in the absence of market discipline. But the bird’s eye view in which Ignatieff describes this phenomenon suggests that those presently within the system are largely unaware of this role, or the extent to which their actions either contribute or exacerbate the emerging implications. Overall, Stephen Harper deserves this book. It is not an inflammatory account that harps on about Harper but it does describe the motivations and playbook of Harper in simple and acceptable terms and what effect this has had on the values and policy directions of Canada. But this exposition made his conclusion of the need to encourage young people into the public service hard to accept. After reading about the nasty course of events that happened to him, only the insane would raise their hand to fill that void. An aristocrat for sure, but an honest voice no less. 4 stars for Ignatieff!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Kim

    The best modern book about politics I have ever read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Samarth Gupta

    A refreshingly candid look at elected politics. The author was a professor at Harvard who had left Canada for 34 years and was recruited to move back to Canada to run for Parliament and eventually for Prime Minister. He went through it all -- bad faith attacks, growing ambition, and unexpected defeats. His writing is frank, honest, and, often, raw. He is also a great writer. Lot of good quotes, ran out room. _____________________________________________________________ “A politician’s job can be s A refreshingly candid look at elected politics. The author was a professor at Harvard who had left Canada for 34 years and was recruited to move back to Canada to run for Parliament and eventually for Prime Minister. He went through it all -- bad faith attacks, growing ambition, and unexpected defeats. His writing is frank, honest, and, often, raw. He is also a great writer. Lot of good quotes, ran out room. _____________________________________________________________ “A politician’s job can be so thankless at times that if you don’t acquire a sense of vocation you turn yourself, by stages, without realizing it, into a hack.” “These are the moments—and they occur in every tough job—when you’re no longer sure you’re up to it. Your every mistake seems to confirm that you aren’t. Your self-confidence is shot. All you know for certain is that you once wanted this and that you have to find that primal desire within if you hope to survive. So it had better be there. Politics tests your capacity for self-knowledge more than any profession I know. What I learned is this: the question about why you want to be a politician is a question about whom you want it for. In my case, whom did I want it for?” “Any sense of entitlement that you might take from your past is absolutely fatal in politics. The best thing about democracy is—or should be—that you have to earn everything, one vote at a time. I knew enough not to feel entitled. I knew I had to earn it. But the fact that I come from a family with a calling for public life played powerfully in my mind as I considered whether to accept the offer from the men who had come to dinner that October night.” “By this point, you have every reason to be tired of the self-dramatization and self-importance in this search for the motives that led me into politics. All I would say is that self-dramatization is the essence of politics. You have to invent yourself for public consumption, and if you don’t take yourself seriously, who else will?” “While a painter’s medium is paint, a politician’s medium is time: he must adapt, ceaselessly, to its sudden, unexpected and brutal changes. An intellectual may be interested in ideas and policies for their own sake, but a politician’s interest is exclusively in the question of whether an idea’s time has come. When we call politics the art of the possible, we mean the art of knowing what is possible here and now. The possible includes the potential. Where an average politician sees only a closed room, a visionary one sees the hidden door at the back that leads to a new opportunity. What we call luck in politics is actually a gift for timing, for knowing when to strike and when to bide your time and wait for a better opportunity. When politicians blame their fate on bad luck, they are actually blaming their timing. Only fools believe they can control it.” “In politics as combat, any stick will do, and in combat what matters is not proving your good faith but winning. ” “Many successful people, contemplating entry into politics, disdain the endless meet-and-greet, the forced bonhomie of life under the public gaze, as beneath their dignity, but they are wrong. The grind of politics, the endless travel, the meetings, the impossible schedule, the constant being on show are all in search of an authority that can be acquired in no other way. You have to learn the country.” “What a good politician comes to know about a country can’t be found in a briefing book. What he knows is the way the people shape place and place shapes the people. Few forms of political expertise matter so much as local knowledge: the details of the local political lore, the names of the dignitaries and power-brokers—mayors, high school coaches, police chiefs, major employers—who must always be named from the platform. Great politicians have to be masters of the local. They have to at least remember every place they ever set foot in. Wherever they are, they have to give the impression of being at home. When they ask someone in a crowd where they hail from, they should be able to produce a story that neatly connects them to that voter with the jolt of human recognition. ” “As soon as democracy loses its connection to place, as soon as the location of politics is no longer the union hall, the living room, the restaurant and the local bar and becomes only the television screen and the website, we’ll be in trouble. We’ll be entirely in the hands of image-makers and spin doctors and the fantasies they purvey. Politics will be a spectacle dictated from the metropolis, not a reality lived in the small towns and remote communities that are as much part of the country as the big cities. For all the talk about the Internet as the enabler of democracy, the Internet could cause us to lose the aspect of politics that makes it truly democratic: the physical contact between voters and politicians. ” “Now that I was in the fray, I admired the masters of the art even more, and I thought back to a master class I had been given in politics in 2001. I was steering Bill Clinton through a room at the Davos meetings at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. I was amazed at his ability to remember names—and not just names but whole family stories—as he squeezed this hand, leaned in to kiss that cheek, locked his gaze on another’s, and kept moving, baling them in like a combine harvester. When I met President Obama later on, I will never forget the grip on my elbow, the quick mention of a book of mine, a reference to a mutual friend, Samantha Power, and his casual grace, together with the capacity to make you feel, when you were speaking, that you were the only person of interest to him in the room.” “When we call a politician a “natural,” we mean she has this mysterious ability to make a connection with others, to make them feel at ease, to make them feel special. All naturals get better with practice, but unless it comes naturally, it doesn’t look real. What must be real is not so much the smoothness for which politicians are both envied and despised, but real curiosity and interest in people’s stories, in the way they tell them and the meaning they are trying to convey. Of all the qualities that go into sprezzatura, I would rate listening, being able to deeply listen to your fellow citizens, as the most underrated skill in politics. For what people want in a politician, what they have a right to demand, is to be listened to. Often, listening is all you can do. Their problems may not admit of a political solution, or at least not a solution you can devise. People will accept that you cannot solve their problems if you give them all of your attention, looking into their eyes, never over their shoulder at the next person in line.” “Countries are “imagined communities,” and politicians are the ones who represent what we share and then figure out the compromises that enable us to live together in peace” “What you learn from your mistakes is that politics is a game with words, but it isn’t Scrabble. No one who enters the political arena for the first time is ever prepared for its adversarial quality. Every word you utter becomes an opportunity for your opponents to counterattack. Inevitably you take it personally, and that is your first mistake. You have to learn what the lifers, wise with years of experience, have long since understood: it’s never personal; it’s strictly business.” “Obviously, a straight answer to a straight question is a good idea, and when citizens put a question to you, such candour becomes an obligation. They elect you, after all. The rules are different with the press. In the strange kabuki play of a press conference or interview, candour is a temptation best avoided. Be candid if you can, be strategic if you must. All truth is good, the African proverb goes, but not all truth is good to say. You try never to lie, but you don’t have to answer the question you’re asked, only the question you want to answer.” “most people regard the spectacle of political combat with a mixture of disgust and alarm, fading quickly into indifference. Working with this permanent state of alienation is an important part of the politician’s art. Politicians have to negotiate trust against the backdrop of permanent dislike of their own profession. When you represent the people, you actually spend most of your time trying to overcome their suspicion that you have left them behind to join a brutal game that will do them no good. You counter this feeling, as best you can, by attending the neighbourhood garden party, the parent-teacher association meeting, the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the school prize-giving: all to show that you have not delivered yourself up to the alien political world. The impossible schedules of politicians, the almost total surrender of their private lives, the way they boast of how many constituency events they attend every weekend: all this activity springs from the need to show “presence,” to prove your loyalty to the people who elected you, not to the dire game played in the capital city." “Yet the gulf between representatives and the people cannot be fully overcome. You and your voters do not share the same information, the same space or the same concerns. Political issues divide roughly into two: those that matter only to politicians and to the tiny in-group of press and partisans who follow the game, and the much smaller number that matter to the people at large. You can destroy yourself if you confuse the former for the latter.” “When politicians cry foul in the middle of the game, voters mostly ignore them, on the sensible suspicion that “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” Voters also thought, and this reflects a widely shared conception of representative democracy, that they had selected us to represent them and we should just get on with it and come back and see them at election time." “Liberals like me, who believed in an empowering government, failed to appreciate what it was like to beg for visas, to queue in a government office, to be kept waiting by a computerized government answering service or to hang around a mailbox every day for a late pension or employment insurance cheque. Having had their fill of these experiences, some of my constituents wanted to keep government as far away from their lives as they could. Once the liberal state fails to treat citizens with respect, citizens conclude that the less they have to do with it the better, and the less they have to do with the state, the lower they want their taxes to be. The political beneficiaries of this downward spiral were our Conservative opponents. They offered no solution—slashing services in order to lower taxes is no answer if the services remain as necessary as ever—but they had heard the mood music out there and we Liberals had not.” “The longer you leave an attack unanswered, the more damage it does, and if you refuse to “dignify” the attacks with a response, you have already given up. Dignity doesn’t come into it. If you don’t defend yourself, people conclude either that you are guilty as charged or that you are too weak to stand and fight. After all, if you won’t stick up for yourself, you won’t stick up for them either. This is how you lose standing with voters.” “But standing is not a right. It is a privilege earned from voters, one at a time. It is a non-transferable form of authority. Nothing about past rank, expertise, qualifications or previous success entitles you to it. We can all think of people of good character who never achieved standing with a national electorate. We can also call to mind political figures whose character was questionable, Bill Clinton being a possible example, who never lost standing with the voters. Nor is having standing the same thing as being liked. We can all think of successful politicians, like Richard Nixon, for example, who were never much liked but still managed to conserve reluctant standing from the electorate. You might suppose that popularity would confer standing, but there are plenty of celebrities, pop stars, basketball players and television show hosts who fail to translate their popularity into political success. Some think that money will confer standing, but multi-millionaires recurrently run for office in the United States and lose, the most recent example being Mitt Romney. Nor do degrees confer standing." “Success in education is a badge of merit that people actually earn, yet people with degrees often have trouble converting their achievements into standing. The reason is simple: education codes as entitlement, and voters hate entitlement, the way they hate privilege. Educated people routinely complain about this but they are wrong. Standing has to be earned and degrees earn you nothing. This estimable principle leads, however, to a paradox. You can be elected without education, character, likeability, popularity, degrees or a fat bank account, but you cannot be elected without standing. Given these rules, it’s a wonder that we elect as many capable politicians as we do.” “irst-time candidates, like myself, learn soon enough that party selection, authoritative endorsement and our supposedly impressive CVs do not entitle us to standing with voters. If you think standing is an entitlement, you are bound to lose. You have go to out and earn it, face to face, doorstep by doorstep, phone call by phone call. As voters decide whether to give you standing, they listen to the political parties as well as to neighbours and family members, but increasingly they make up their minds alone in front of a computer or television screen. Instead of empowering the voter, this solitude disempowers: it increases the influence of big-buy advertising, the negative attack ads that were used so effectively against me. The solitary voter faces the negative ad onslaught alone, and if there is no one out there prepared to contradict those ads, their impact shapes how voters see you. ” “The rational reason why issues matter less than personality in politics, why elections turn on which candidate successfully establishes standing, is that voters are good at deciding who is worth hearing and who is worth trusting. To decide whom to trust, voters focus on the question of whether the candidate is like them or not. The question a citizen asks when determining whether another citizen should represent them is whether that person is representative of them. Voters want a candidate to recognize who they are, and candidates do this by showing that they are one of them. Voters ask further questions, like: “Is this person who he says he is?” “They will cease to be referenda on the kind of country we want. Of the three elections that I fought, none was a debate on the country’s future. All were vicious battles over standing. It is striking that in five and a half years in politics, none of my opponents ever bothered to attack what I was saying, what my platform said..."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kevin P Siu

    Michael Ignatieff is something of an enigma. Here is a man who has been a historian, a journalist, a broadcaster, a screenwriter, a professor, and a politician. By any objective measure, this should be considered a wildly successful career. Yet Michael Ignatieff is regarded as a failure. It is the last profession he chose - politics - that irreparably tarnished his reputation, and that is the subject of this book. This book has been described as "a professor's search for lessons" in political def Michael Ignatieff is something of an enigma. Here is a man who has been a historian, a journalist, a broadcaster, a screenwriter, a professor, and a politician. By any objective measure, this should be considered a wildly successful career. Yet Michael Ignatieff is regarded as a failure. It is the last profession he chose - politics - that irreparably tarnished his reputation, and that is the subject of this book. This book has been described as "a professor's search for lessons" in political defeat. This description misses the point, unless it is only an introductory lesson. The "search" is only cursory, and its lack of depth is likely caused by the same problem that plagued Ignatieff's short political career. The flaws of the man himself are reflected in the flaws of the book. Ignatieff is no doubt a smart man, and it is evident that he is very well-read. He is a good writer, though his style of communication will irritate many because of his use of highfalutin verbiage and metaphors. Nonetheless, one gets a good glimpse of the inside workings of the Liberal Party machinery through the eyes of a consummate "insider's outsider". The insights that the book provides are unique, if only because it is rare to hear about the secret back room dealings of political leaders. It is interesting, for instance, how Ignatieff was the last holdout against the proposed coalition between the Liberals and the NDPs (so he claims); or how Ignatieff was lured back and pursued doggedly by Liberal insiders despite the obvious red flags; or how Bob Rae blew up at his (former) friend for "jumping the queue", so to speak. Those insights (which are not all that surprising for those who have followed Canadian politics closely), however, are the only real reasons to read the book. The "search for lessons" is ultimately flawed because it asks only "how?", and never "why?". The reader is treated to history lessons of how things came to be, and how it was that Ignatieff came to power, and how it was that Harper was able to easily trounce Ignatieff, and how the campaign fell apart despite having some legs at the beginning. Unfortunately, Ignatieff, as sharp as he is, never goes deeper to analyze why voters didn't connect with him, or why the Conservatives were able to campaign more effectively than the Liberals, or why the party looked for him in the first place. Those would be true insights that a man of Ignatieff's stature and mind could have provided, but did not. That was a missed opportunity. Alas, his failure to ask why was probably the reason he failed at politics. He had breadth of knowledge, but it never seemed he had the curiosity to become a real expert in his last chosen field (politics). Voters ultimately saw through this superficial gloss, and rejected Ignatieff the politician. Canadians are probably not afraid of electing a smart and accomplished person as Prime Minister. Ignatieff, however, was not the right man. Read this book and you will understand why. Or not, because in the words of Ignatieff, "there is nothing so ex- as an ex-politician."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mj Sheppard

    It's difficult to review Michael Ignatieff's Fire and Ashes without first giving my views of the Liberal Party that he led. He describes it as "the centre," which is political shorthand for opportunistic. They position themselves in such a way that they'll bend whichever way the wind blows. Do I blame them for that? Hardly. The fact that the Canadian people made them the most successful party in the history of western democracy as reward gor their cynicism speaks volumes about voters, where the It's difficult to review Michael Ignatieff's Fire and Ashes without first giving my views of the Liberal Party that he led. He describes it as "the centre," which is political shorthand for opportunistic. They position themselves in such a way that they'll bend whichever way the wind blows. Do I blame them for that? Hardly. The fact that the Canadian people made them the most successful party in the history of western democracy as reward gor their cynicism speaks volumes about voters, where the blame always properly lies. Moreover, the Harper Conservatives have stepped into the void left by the Grits with a jaw-dropping lack of principle of their own. I was expecting Fire and Ashes to be a political memoir or a screed of empty self-justification. Although there is some of both there, it isn't. At least not mainly. Instead, it is mostly an analysis, both of himself and the political life that Ignatieff thrust himself into. Although he describes his doomed foray into politics as the experience of his lifetime, to read Fire and Ashes, you get the distinct impression that he didn't enjoy it very much. There are a litany of complaints of the ways he was victimized, both by others and by the process itself. Although he repeatedly suggests otherwise, you can feel Ignatieff's disappointment and bitterness rise off of the pages of Fire and Ashes, which is saying something since I bought the eBook. For what it's worth, I believe that Ignatieff would have been happier and more successful in an earlier era politics, where the Internet and especially television weren't around to constantly bedevil him at every turn. The modern era isn't friendly to academics, which Ignatieff - and more importantly, the "men in black" who brought him home to run - should have known. Having said all that, it is a fascinating read, and easily the most honest book by a politician that I've read ... and I've read several hundred. Fire and Ashes is book written by someone who is well and truly done with politics. It is also a book that could have been written by (of all people) Richard Nixon were Nixon not allergic to introspection and not addicted at the molecular level at the prospect of a comeback. Fire and Ashes of course has the advantage of Ignatieff's being an author before he was an office seeker, which is unusual in this age. This is, I believe, his 18th book. I would recommend the book, particularly to an American audience since its message applies even more to U.S politics than it's Canadian cousin.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Eric Wilson

    This book is definitely more “open” than other books, in the sense that the author opens up about his struggles in the political arena and his place in the backroom politics of the nation. He talks about Stephan Dion being a bad candidate who couldn’t run a good campaign in 2008. He talks about the struggles of political life during his very first federal election. During these passages, Micheal Ignattief is honest and truthful about the politics that he had to face up to during the early days o This book is definitely more “open” than other books, in the sense that the author opens up about his struggles in the political arena and his place in the backroom politics of the nation. He talks about Stephan Dion being a bad candidate who couldn’t run a good campaign in 2008. He talks about the struggles of political life during his very first federal election. During these passages, Micheal Ignattief is honest and truthful about the politics that he had to face up to during the early days of his career. However, a big disappointment comes in his analysis of the 2011 election debacle: he mentions his debate performances having been poor, but he seems to struggle to put forward a final thought as to why he lost the election. The chapter on the election is time spent more on talking about the philosophy of politics, instead of why he actually lost. He mentions the Liberals’ lack of funds and the Conservative advertising machine as reasons for his defeat, but in the end it’s just a mishmash of excuses with no clear message on why the Liberals lost their worst defeat in history. It’s odd considering how the rest of the book is thoughtfull and he takes the time to deeply analyze his time in politics, except for the federal election in 2011.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Al Maki

    After thirty years as an academic, teaching and writing about philosophy and political theory, and with no experience in practical politics, Michael Ignatieff entered Canadian politics, seeking to lead one of the country's two largest political parties. This is a memoir of the five years that followed, ending in one of the worst election results in the history of his party and the end of his political career. I read it hoping to get some candid writing about the day to day practice of politics a After thirty years as an academic, teaching and writing about philosophy and political theory, and with no experience in practical politics, Michael Ignatieff entered Canadian politics, seeking to lead one of the country's two largest political parties. This is a memoir of the five years that followed, ending in one of the worst election results in the history of his party and the end of his political career. I read it hoping to get some candid writing about the day to day practice of politics and also because it's an important period in Canadian politics that saw the rout of the liberal consensus that had governed Canada almost entirely since the Great Depression. There are three themes I took from the book: his belief in liberal democracy; the exhiliaration he found in politics; his concern with the long term consequences of the current practice in North America, of using the electronic media to generate fear and hate to gain and hold political power. As a description of the practice, it doesn't compare to Robert Caro's work on LBJ but what does? I did learn a thing or two. For those five years Ignatieff's life was largely focussed on the problem of how do I get the person in front of me to support me and vote for me and he seems to have distilled the issue down to the simple idea that voters vote for people they feel they can trust. A simple idea, but somebody once wrote that all important political ideas are truisms. He also points out that most of the better political theorists have been failures as politicians: Machiavelli, Cicero, Edmund Burke and Max Weber. His argument recapitulates Hannah Arendt's thinking on the question, that politics is a performative art not a creative one. Political action occurs in the moment and thought comes afterward. Who should read it? Ignatieff answers the question in the final chapter. He says he wrote it for young people interested in going into politics so that they can learn both from his exhiliaration and from his failures.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey Kelley

    I did not know what to expect from this book. Michael Ignatieff is a fine writer and has a well-deserved reputation as a thoughtful and intelligent thinker. His books on nationalism and ethnicity were interesting and I enjoyed them. My fear was that this same insight would not be found in a political memoir about a failed political career. More often than not, a political memoir allows for a settling of scores and a justification of decisions taken along the way. There are these elements in “Fir I did not know what to expect from this book. Michael Ignatieff is a fine writer and has a well-deserved reputation as a thoughtful and intelligent thinker. His books on nationalism and ethnicity were interesting and I enjoyed them. My fear was that this same insight would not be found in a political memoir about a failed political career. More often than not, a political memoir allows for a settling of scores and a justification of decisions taken along the way. There are these elements in “Fire and Ashes”—Ignatieff’s battles within his own caucus (especially with longtime friend Bob Rae), and against his nemesis Stephen Harper reveal residual anger and resentment. And some of the time he justifies decisions he made that did not work out in the end. But to my surprise, the general tone is quite candid, and the basic storyline is one of failure. The dream of returning from thirty years outside of Canada, brought back from Harvard’s ivied halls, to lead the country was just that, a dream. The Conservatives quickly defined him as a carpetbagger (“He’s just visiting”), and Ignatieff never recovered, leading the Liberals to their worst ever defeat. But he does offer interesting comments on the breakdown of civility in our a Parliament, on the important difference between treating opponents as adversaries rather than enemies, and on the necessity of meeting citizens in person rather than relying on social media. I came away impressed with Ignatieff’sinsight and honesty.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elsbeth Kwant

    I was blown away by Michael Ignatieffs Russian Album, years ago. Such a beautifully told tale of family, belonging, a lost world. Thinking back on this book, made me wonder whether he wrote any more. This was a bit of a surprise to me - I hadn't known he had run for office in Canada. His analysis of himself and what politics is, is eminently readable and thought-provoking. From the first fund-raiser, where he realised that taking a observer's perspective is not going to work and having an answer I was blown away by Michael Ignatieffs Russian Album, years ago. Such a beautifully told tale of family, belonging, a lost world. Thinking back on this book, made me wonder whether he wrote any more. This was a bit of a surprise to me - I hadn't known he had run for office in Canada. His analysis of himself and what politics is, is eminently readable and thought-provoking. From the first fund-raiser, where he realised that taking a observer's perspective is not going to work and having an answer that is not founded in what you want to do for society isn't either. 'There were times when I felt I was shaping and moulding events, other times when I watched helplessly as events slipped out of my control'. He ultimately fails - and concludes 'I should have asked harder questions'. Was it hubris, or a dream? At any rate - the price of living an expat life becomes too high, not belonging anywhere. It helped me to think about politics, the good, the bad and the ugly, in a different way. As Ignatieff puts it: 'The challenge of writing about democratic politics is to be unsparing about its reality without abandoning faith in its ideals'. I think Ignatieff has risen to the challenge. And he gives a sidedish of 'the baffling combination of will and chance that determines the shape of life'. 'The ashes of my experience, I hope, will be dug into somebody's garden.' I hope so too, it would make politics a better place.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pechague

    Wow. No review will ever do justice to this book. I have my highlighting and bookmarks forever. So the premise of the book is autobiographical: here is a guy who entered politics and failed miserably. So far, so good. Now, it's not the what that's interesting, but the how. How the book is written is nothing short of top notch. He somehow manages to, simultaneously, tell his story in Canadian politics, make very insightful remarks about the life of a politician and fully understand the global dyna Wow. No review will ever do justice to this book. I have my highlighting and bookmarks forever. So the premise of the book is autobiographical: here is a guy who entered politics and failed miserably. So far, so good. Now, it's not the what that's interesting, but the how. How the book is written is nothing short of top notch. He somehow manages to, simultaneously, tell his story in Canadian politics, make very insightful remarks about the life of a politician and fully understand the global dynamics at play in modern representative democracies. This is a must for everyone trying to get into politics and for anyone interested in public affairs. It perfectly combines the pessimism of very in depth insights with the optimism of those who just want to make the world a better place, and it manages to see a bit of both in the modern world. No clear answers here, just very important questions and extremely powerful commentary on how politics really works and why, despite all its miseries, we can't and should not ever walk away from it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jake M.

    This is a fusion of political treatise, memoir and a loveletter to Canadian democracy. While Ignatieff's experience is coloured in Liberal red, his self-awareness allows for an objective assessment of partisan politics and his failings as a politician. Fire and Ashes is rooted in a two year time-frame spanning the author's return to Canada, his election as party leader and the 2011 federal election that saw the gutting of the Liberal Party. The title would suggest a focus on the election itself, This is a fusion of political treatise, memoir and a loveletter to Canadian democracy. While Ignatieff's experience is coloured in Liberal red, his self-awareness allows for an objective assessment of partisan politics and his failings as a politician. Fire and Ashes is rooted in a two year time-frame spanning the author's return to Canada, his election as party leader and the 2011 federal election that saw the gutting of the Liberal Party. The title would suggest a focus on the election itself, but readers may be disappointed that this is not the case. Instead, Ignatieff outlines the degradation of democracy through zero-sum, warlike politics in parliament that quashes dialog and compromise. While this is a worthy discussion, he dodges specific reasons for the election loss in favor of rallying prospective political participants for the future. What the reader receives are reasons for increased political participation, while being aware of the compromises one must incur for the sake of positive change.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Wilte

    Nice and candid book about Ignatieff’s nearly six year political career in national Canadian politics. Even though he got beat in 2011 by new politics, he is still positive about politics. He is realistic about this (content matters less), but probably too optimistic if I am to judge the current affairs in 2020: “We increasingly have the politics of enemies. In this perversion of the game, politics is modelled as war itself. (...) I thought I was in an election. We were in a reality show. I though Nice and candid book about Ignatieff’s nearly six year political career in national Canadian politics. Even though he got beat in 2011 by new politics, he is still positive about politics. He is realistic about this (content matters less), but probably too optimistic if I am to judge the current affairs in 2020: “We increasingly have the politics of enemies. In this perversion of the game, politics is modelled as war itself. (...) I thought I was in an election. We were in a reality show. I thought content mattered. I thought the numbers in a platform should add up. Ours did and theirs didn't. None of it mattered.” Full thread with quotes: https://twitter.com/wilte/status/1280...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mark Maliepaard

    Michael Ignatieff shares his experiences as a former politician, a life that contained both successes and (great) failures. Ignatieff shows how he has dealt with either, and gives the reader some valuable advice, whether they are politically interested, involved, or not: the lessons are valuable for life in general as well. A very decent read, not in the least because it has been translated adequately. Unfortunately, there are some mistakes here and there, but overall, the Dutch text makes the r Michael Ignatieff shares his experiences as a former politician, a life that contained both successes and (great) failures. Ignatieff shows how he has dealt with either, and gives the reader some valuable advice, whether they are politically interested, involved, or not: the lessons are valuable for life in general as well. A very decent read, not in the least because it has been translated adequately. Unfortunately, there are some mistakes here and there, but overall, the Dutch text makes the reader feel why Ignatieff ultimately fell victim to the ruthless world of politics

  17. 4 out of 5

    Louise Ribet

    A really good read of the ins and outs of backstage politics and political backstabbing. It touches on patriotism in a new light, questioning how one can lead a country when they have lived outside of it for so long.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mark Dawson

    A well written summary of the unique challenges of an overachiever in life pursuing a political career at the highest level. I had a sense of the authors arrogance; and yet naivety in what he set out to do.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adri Nurellari

    one of the best books i've ever read about politics one of the best books i've ever read about politics

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lee Torvi

    Interesting, very informative and revealing of the political world. Well written too. Definitely worth reading.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    While it is a cliché that history is written by the winners, Ignatieff rightly notes that the best works on politics come from the failures and losers. Thucydides, Cicero, Machiavelli, Weber, Mill, Burke. And now, at least for a few years we can add Ignatieff. While his book won't long remain amongst such hallowed companions, it should serve readers today as an equally important part of their engagement with politics. It is reassuring and refreshing to see a man who failed so badly at politics st While it is a cliché that history is written by the winners, Ignatieff rightly notes that the best works on politics come from the failures and losers. Thucydides, Cicero, Machiavelli, Weber, Mill, Burke. And now, at least for a few years we can add Ignatieff. While his book won't long remain amongst such hallowed companions, it should serve readers today as an equally important part of their engagement with politics. It is reassuring and refreshing to see a man who failed so badly at politics still believe so whole-heartedly in the virtue of politics. Not just engaging as a pastime, but on the need for capable men and women to come down from the stands and onto the field. While many successful politicians leave notes in their memoirs about the importance of serving the people and simply spending time talking to them in their worlds, Ignatieff seems to have learned above all to actively celebrate this service as the core essence of politics. He may be a failure, but he is not a bitter one. Circumstance and timing gave him a rapid shot - 5 years from entry to opposition leader, election loser and a clean exit through losing his seat - to have a brief but thorough engagement with political life. In turn, we get fascinating insights into the exhausting nature of modern political life and important discussions of how political language works. A highlight is the discussion of standing, earning the right to be heard as perhaps the central challenge of modern politics. And yet, I couldn't help but feel failure inhibits Ignatieff as well. He has such a concern to not appear the bitter loser (probably because he isn’t) that you have to regularly remind yourself he actually lost the election. In turn, some major issues are not discussed. Most notably of all, for a book that is a paean to centrist-liberal politics, we get no examination of whether there is a future for centrist-liberal politics. Ignatieff had many handicaps as a candidate, but he combined intellect, personal history (via his father) and fervent belief in his cause. He proudly waved the banner of centrist-liberal politics and yet was easily dismantled on the battlefield by his opponents. Ignatieff uses the fact that his opponents never attacked his ideas or policies to sidestep any serious engagement with why those policies and ideas did not resonate with voters. He may attack the cynicism or antagonism of his opponents, but he never quite turns to why his own view might not have worked. It almost doesn’t seem to come up. Yet he can’t have escaped noticing how increasingly discredited the supposed hallowed ground of centrist-liberalism has become. Nor its failure not just in Canada but in the US, Australia, UK and around the world. Maybe, hopefully, this is a discussion for future work. The book also has a confused message about the voters. On the one hand they are decent honourable people who make no mistakes at the polls and hold the soul of the country in their hard-working hands. Yadda yadda. And yet, Ignatieff can’t help but note – as any serious observer of politics does – that the voters pay little attention to politics, seem to reward many partisan attributes they claim to dislike, and don’t help support a system of representative politics that still serves them very well. Unfortunately because Ignatieff doesn’t pin the blame for his failure on his own outdated ideas, he can’t in turn confront the behaviour of voters lest he look like making excuses for his failures. But no serving politician or media figure can say these things either. One final verbal tic is worth noting. Whenever Ignatieff reaches for an example of politics’ dispiriting or inspiring nature, he almost inevitably talks of America. From Madison to Obama, the names of US leaders litter this book. This was somewhat disappointing given I had hoped to learn a little bit about Canadian politics from the book, but perhaps Ignatieff knows his audience well. US political history has become the common currency of those interested in politics worldwide today. We cannot help but pay attention to the events of the high court, and in the 21st century that castle still resides in Washington D.C. That said, for a man who was accused by his political opponents of being too American, it does seem to somewhat prove their point. This book has rightly been on the reading lists of most political junkies. It should be. It deserves to be read by anyone who considers themselves interested by politics. It is one of the finest examinations of modern politics by someone who has served time as a wise commentator in the stands and as a bloodied contestant on the battleground. There’s still much more that could have been said, but there are enough wise lessons from this honourable failure to make this short tome a must read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John

    Fire and Ashes is about Michael Ignatieff’s recent experience as politician, office-holder and candidate for Prime Minister of Canada. Ignatieff in many respects was an unlikely candidate to be a head of state. Professionally, he was an academician and journalist with no previous experience in elected office and who spent the last 30 years living outside of Canada, much of it in the US. One might say he was more a citizen of the world than of Canada. Yet, fully aware of these liabilities, he dec Fire and Ashes is about Michael Ignatieff’s recent experience as politician, office-holder and candidate for Prime Minister of Canada. Ignatieff in many respects was an unlikely candidate to be a head of state. Professionally, he was an academician and journalist with no previous experience in elected office and who spent the last 30 years living outside of Canada, much of it in the US. One might say he was more a citizen of the world than of Canada. Yet, fully aware of these liabilities, he decided to take the plunge and return to Canada. If you follow the news at all, you already know that his effort was not successful. Not only did he fail to lead his party to victory but he even lost his seat in Parliament. But as a result of his double defeats, we got this informative book about current political scene. This book is part campaign memoir, part handbook on running for public office and very much a liberal intellectual's lament on the current political scene. Regarding the handbook part of the book, one need not share Ignatieff’s policy preferences to appreciate his comments on the importance of luck, timing, and branding and the problems all candidates have with candor, spontaneity and words being taken out of context (lunatic literal-mindedness in Ignatieff's words). One of the best sections of the book for me was his discussion on how political campaigns have been turned into assaults on character rather than debates on issues. According to Ignatieff, the attacks against him had little to do with what he wanted to do in office. Instead, he was called a carpetbagger because he had not lived in Canada for 30 years and an elitist because he was college professor. The purpose of these character attacks was to deny him what he referred to as "standing", which in this context he defines as the right to state your case to and get a hearing from the electorate. When campaigns are waged over standing, "you know longer attack a candidate’s ideas or positions. You attack who they are.” Of course this raises the question of why attacking a candidate's standing is so important these days. It's not that voters are irrational, according to Ignatieff, but that they lack the time or information needed to determine which candidate is offering the superior program. So instead of evaluating candidates based on issues and platform, they use criteria with which they are more comfortable, namely trust. To decide whom to trust, voters focus on whether a candidate is like them or whether a candidate is who he/she says he/she is. Attack ads can be effective if they can highlight some inconsistency in a candidate's narrative. The voter does not have to believe the whole advertisement but just enough to damage his or her trust in a candidate. Like many intellectuals, Ignatieff's analysis of the situation is much stronger and than his recommended solutions. On this, he says little other than to ban party advertising outside of election times and enforce libel laws against those who who make the worst lies. I do not know whether either of these recommendations would be feasible in Canada but I know that they stand little chance of being implemented in the U.S.. Certainly, a ban on political advertising, whether it was during election time or not, would be challenged on First Amendment grounds. And regarding libel laws, how would one to determine whether a statement meets the legal definition of a "worst" lie, rather than one that is merely "bad."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    On the one hand, this book is a reasonably interesting account of what it's like to run for office, but on the other, the overriding impression I get is that Ignatieff is a truly insufferable person, which in turn makes reading the book quite insufferable. For an account of failure in politics, it is remarkably lacking in humility; he seems determined not to take any blame himself. Ignatieff concludes that the main reason that he didn't get elected Prime Minister is because the opposition ran att On the one hand, this book is a reasonably interesting account of what it's like to run for office, but on the other, the overriding impression I get is that Ignatieff is a truly insufferable person, which in turn makes reading the book quite insufferable. For an account of failure in politics, it is remarkably lacking in humility; he seems determined not to take any blame himself. Ignatieff concludes that the main reason that he didn't get elected Prime Minister is because the opposition ran attack ads saying things like "Ignatieff: Just visiting", claiming that the only reason he had returned to Canada from living abroad was to become a politician. These ads seem t0 make a very valid point: by his own account, he DID only come back to Canada for the reasons the opposition pointed out, but Ignatieff blamed the ads themselves as the reason of his failure, rather than recognizing how his own actions played a role. I found myself agreeing with the opposition and rooting against him, which I doubt is the intention Ignatieff had when writing the book. Additionally, Ignatieff clearly has been living in his own little bubble in the ivory tower of academia, and consequently when he talks about meeting the common people while campaigning, it is extremely cringeworthy. He describes a moment where he actually starts chanting Bruce Springsteen lyrics at a crowd, presumably hoping to paint himself as some kind of working class hero. But whilst you don't have to be a blue collar factory worker from New Jersey to quote Bruce Springsteen, the image of an extremely privileged, privately educated grandson of a count and countess doing so is just ridiculous. Ignatieff just comes across as the absolute epitome of the stereotypical politician who is totally detached from reality. After reading Fire and Ashes, I can say that I am not at all surprised that Ignatieff failed to become Prime Minister, given the fact that just reading a book that was attempting to portray him in a positive light was enough to make me dislike him!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Grant

    I was part of the unwashed masses who perceived Ignatieff as a wooden robot during his brief career in federal politics, but "Fire and Ashes", as well as his interviews supporting the book, really gave me a lot of insight and showed his keen intellect and an academic sort of charm. The book limits its scope to Ignatieff's political career, and Ignatieff writes skillfully and orderly. It's a relatively brief and easy read, and I think it accomplishes its goals, although I did hope for a bit more e I was part of the unwashed masses who perceived Ignatieff as a wooden robot during his brief career in federal politics, but "Fire and Ashes", as well as his interviews supporting the book, really gave me a lot of insight and showed his keen intellect and an academic sort of charm. The book limits its scope to Ignatieff's political career, and Ignatieff writes skillfully and orderly. It's a relatively brief and easy read, and I think it accomplishes its goals, although I did hope for a bit more elaboration in parts. I'm not sure whether I'd consider this a warts-and-all sort of portrayal or not. Ignatieff readily admits failures and problems, yet he mentions several times that a politician must make Faustian bargains without ever really revealing all that many of them. I was also slightly disappointed that the book really stays centered around him to the extent it does--there's plenty of discussion of "Just Visiting/He didn't come back for you", but Harper, Layton, etc. aren't really fully realized characters. Nonetheless, I was intrigued to see disdain for Dion, a surprisingly wary take on the generally beloved Jack Layton, the extent of Bob Rae's anger/jealousy, and clear antipathy for Harper. On the subject of the latter, Ignatieff draws some nice parallels with American swift boat politics, etc. I think it's a worthwhile read for anyone (no matter their place on the political spectrum) who has an interest in recent Canadian politics: even if you don't care for Ignatieff himself, the book helps define the narratives of the Conservative Party's grip on power and the Liberal Party's exile in the political wilderness.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carole

    Michael Ignatieff is a brilliant writer. He is after all a winner of the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction (The Russian Album, 1987) and a shortlisted nominee for the Booker Prize (Scar Tissue, 1993). Unfortunately, his talent does not extend to success in politics. Fire and Ashes is the story of his failure to become Prime Minister of Canada in 2011. Ignatieff had many obstacles to overcome in his five years in Canadian politics, not the least of which was the public perception of him as Michael Ignatieff is a brilliant writer. He is after all a winner of the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction (The Russian Album, 1987) and a shortlisted nominee for the Booker Prize (Scar Tissue, 1993). Unfortunately, his talent does not extend to success in politics. Fire and Ashes is the story of his failure to become Prime Minister of Canada in 2011. Ignatieff had many obstacles to overcome in his five years in Canadian politics, not the least of which was the public perception of him as a parachute candidate since he had lived and worked in the United States for 30 years before coming home to run for Parliament. He goes to great lengths to establish his pedigree as a loyal Canadian from a Canadian family with a long history of public service in Canada. Although his details are convincing, there is a little bit too much of a "protest too much" tone in his description. A career academic, Ignatieff had taught political theory at Harvard for many years but, as he himself comes to realize, this is almost a liability in politics. He describes the people's perception of him as "an intellectual landed from outer space." This book is fascinating to read because of the way he presents his political experiences as a journey, one in which he learns a great deal about politics, about Parliament, about partisanship, and ultimately about himself. He maintains a humble tone throughout and presents himself with considerably more charm than I ever felt him to have when he was running for office. A very interesting view of politics, people, and politicians.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ben Lund

    I have always liked the idea of having an academic as a Prime Minister, whether it's just wishful thinking or the desire for the impossible I couldn't say. I liked Ignatieff when he first appeared on the political stage. He seemed earnest and committed and I never really bought into the whole "He's just visiting" tag line of the Conservatives. But it's different to see the machinations of political parties from the inside. Ignatieff doesn't try to hide what he did or why he did it, he discusses I have always liked the idea of having an academic as a Prime Minister, whether it's just wishful thinking or the desire for the impossible I couldn't say. I liked Ignatieff when he first appeared on the political stage. He seemed earnest and committed and I never really bought into the whole "He's just visiting" tag line of the Conservatives. But it's different to see the machinations of political parties from the inside. Ignatieff doesn't try to hide what he did or why he did it, he discusses successes and failures of all parties, (but mainly Conservatives and Liberals). Through his experiences I even gained a little, not respect, but understanding of Harper and why he made some of the choices he did. Ignatieff unwinds the thought processes and the why behind some of the decisions politicians make that seem so baffling to us the public, and tries to show us that politicians are not bad, they are merely working at a profession where truth and loyalty to the party have to find an uneasy balance. I am still sorry that we didn't get to see where an Ignatieff lead Canada might have gotten us, but Mr. Ignatieff leaves us with the hope that in politics today, or in the very near future might be a leader that is ready to champion the cause of Canada and inspire us to be the best that we can be. The book is a short read, less than 200 pages, but expect to take some time reflecting and thinking about some of the ideas he puts forth. You might take a closer look at politicians the next time elections come around and ask who are they really working for, us, or themselves.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Ritchie

    I found the book relishing and perplexing in the actions of failed, federal politician of Canada. He is a man that has always been aloof and vacant because he was on sojourn for over half his life. He's not in any way a good choice as leader of any party unless he was trying to bring republican reforms to a nation that prides itself on its distinctly British monarchy. This is another issue that has come to light in the actions of a corrupt, appointed Senate. Iggy could have mentioned abolishment I found the book relishing and perplexing in the actions of failed, federal politician of Canada. He is a man that has always been aloof and vacant because he was on sojourn for over half his life. He's not in any way a good choice as leader of any party unless he was trying to bring republican reforms to a nation that prides itself on its distinctly British monarchy. This is another issue that has come to light in the actions of a corrupt, appointed Senate. Iggy could have mentioned abolishment or reform in these areas if he had the balls to actually do something for the nation. Little Justin is not an improvement. Canadians have to stop the outright worship of a few intellectuals that have somehow made it to the world stage. This book smacks of self-indulgence and obliviousness. I did enjoy his writing due to its academic proclivities and clarity however if M.I. wanted to be PM why didn't he convey and demonstrate his ideas for a nation that denies it is lagging behind, has a massive seasonal and underemployed population and questionable immigration, electoral, medical and educational practices. Union elites and an ignorant, burgeoning construction industry has a boot to the neck of public services that were once excellent and now substandard. They can do no wrong but is the direct reason the country is NOT in the right. Canada adores denial. Iggy should have brought this to light.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Vontel

    I have rated the book as a 5 star based on the flow of the writing and the thoughts, which make it accessible and 'easy to read' and rather captivating, as well as some of my own reflection on the political campaigns and successes of the past few years. I will leave the political analysis of this book to others who have already written reviews and made public comments about it in columns, since these are readily available to others who may wish to review them. This is ultimately the story of one I have rated the book as a 5 star based on the flow of the writing and the thoughts, which make it accessible and 'easy to read' and rather captivating, as well as some of my own reflection on the political campaigns and successes of the past few years. I will leave the political analysis of this book to others who have already written reviews and made public comments about it in columns, since these are readily available to others who may wish to review them. This is ultimately the story of one person's journey and lived experience of moving from theory into action, with some valuable insights both into his own character and development as well as the importance of the role of politics in our society, and some critiques of current trends in politics in democracies. His observation that most enduring political thoughts which are taught to students of politics are recorded by those who have been ultimately been defeated in this arena, regardless of the successes they may have had in engaging in it, offers another perspective. Or is it the 'flip side' version of "history is written by the victors"?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Wong

    Surprisingly frank, Ignatieff's memoir is one of a political loser – a remarkably refreshing work in a genre defined by self-aggrandizing tales of triumph and victory. The writing is stirring and nuanced, and Ignatieff's hope for Canada (and the generation that will usher in its next decades) is a pragmatic and inspiring one. The author comes off in this memoir as far more personable in writing than he ever did in politics. Though Ignatieff's prose is beautiful, it lacks a certain accessibility Surprisingly frank, Ignatieff's memoir is one of a political loser – a remarkably refreshing work in a genre defined by self-aggrandizing tales of triumph and victory. The writing is stirring and nuanced, and Ignatieff's hope for Canada (and the generation that will usher in its next decades) is a pragmatic and inspiring one. The author comes off in this memoir as far more personable in writing than he ever did in politics. Though Ignatieff's prose is beautiful, it lacks a certain accessibility – and his eloquence, although pleasing, belies his inability to escape from the academy. In this way, Ignatieff's writing reveals a tacit truth that he himself never concedes explicitly – that though the Conservative attack on his Ivy League pedigree was ruthless, it was also not off the mark. For while Ignatieff may have been a principled politician, it is clear that he is far more at home as an academic and a writer.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mauberley

    I was very pleasantly surprised by this book - Ignatieff is often insightful and wonderfully vivid as a writer - the encounter with Bob Rae's brother, John, is unforgettable. On the other hand, he has remarkably little to say about Chretien, Martin, and Dion. Ultimately, it is the story of a media personality and academic who thought he could make himself into a politician and, to be honest, failed miserably. What goes unsaid in this book is the story of how an astoundingly successful political I was very pleasantly surprised by this book - Ignatieff is often insightful and wonderfully vivid as a writer - the encounter with Bob Rae's brother, John, is unforgettable. On the other hand, he has remarkably little to say about Chretien, Martin, and Dion. Ultimately, it is the story of a media personality and academic who thought he could make himself into a politician and, to be honest, failed miserably. What goes unsaid in this book is the story of how an astoundingly successful political party (the Liberal Party of Canada) destroyed itself with a stuporous failure to remain in touch with the people that it was elected to govern. The party now resorts to dynasty politics is order to preserve its flagging 'brand'.

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