Friday, August 14, 2015

Book: Writing History by Michael Bliss

Bliss, Michael. 2011. Writing History: A Professor's Life. Toronto: Dundurn.

I read Michael Bliss' collective biography of the Canadian prime ministers, Right Honourable Men, shortly after I arrived at Western Ontario, I think on the recommendation of my then-colleague economic historian Knick Harley. It was a great introduction to Canadian history that I still recommend to my Canadian friends and relatives.

So, when I saw that Bliss has written his memoirs (while skipping out on the Society of Labor Economists meetings at the excellent Paragraphe bookstore in Montreal) I bought it immediately and, indeed, read it immediately. I enjoyed the book a lot. It was fun to read about life in small-town Ontario in the 1950s and to follow the full arc of an academic career. Because most of Bliss' researchers consisted of books, each of which required several years of his time, he thought hard about which projects to pursue and which not to - harder I think than most economists, including me, think about which paper ideas to pursue and which not to. These decisions are described in some detail in the book

I would have liked to learn more about Bliss' actual research process, and about his views of trends in historical research more broadly. I suppose that is a way of saying that I would have liked a bit more of an intellectual memoir in addition to the personal memoir. But still, I raced through the book and really enjoyed it, including in particular all the bits about department and university politics.

Recommended if you are in the mood for an academic memoir.

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