Reading corner: Common Ground

Common Ground: A Political Life

By Justin Trudeau

Oneworld Publications


“Because it’s 2015.”

With those few words Justin Trudeau, the newly elected prime minister of Canada, announced himself to the world. The answer – in response to a question about why he had established a 50-50 gender split in his Cabinet –encapsulated much of his appeal: fresh, bold, telegenic.

Since then there are others which have inspired news clips and memes aplenty – like his answer on quantum computing or viral images of him out jogging – but what is he really like as a man? As a husband, father and political leader? Trudeau sought to answer such questions with this memoir, published prior to his election.

His is quite the life story, one that you would think would be well suited to an autobiography.

After all, he is the son of a former Canadian prime minister,  his photo albums (many of which have been liberally harvested for this book) include images of him meeting presidents or participating in state events – there’s even a shot of him in Red Square the night before Brezhnev’s funeral in 1982. Throw in an English literature degree, his self-confessed status a bookworm (he peppers the narrative with references to books and reading), and you’d think that he has all the ingredients to produce a real page-turner. He succeeds – but only to a point.

Part of the problem comes down timing. Sure, Trudeau is hardly the first politician to publish a book prior to an election. They are seen as a useful way to introduce yourself as a human being while at the same time injecting some intellectual ballast to a candidacy. But the fact that this comes before the vote, rather than after he has sheathed his political sword, means that the large tracts of the book read less warts-and-all and more election manifesto. Yawn.

That said, Trudeau does make you keep turning the page. And there are surprises, too. I suspect that not many outside of Canada knew of his passion for boxing, and even fewer knew that he once fought – and easily defeated –a Conservative rival in a charity match.

There has been much comment about Trudeau’s ongoing kinship with Barack Obama. And it was Obama who I thought of while reading this book. The former American president also wrote a bestseller before his election, two, in fact, but it was his first, Dreams from my Father, which sprung to mind while reading Trudeau’s. Sadly for the Canadian prime minister, his offering falls far short of Obama’s when it comes to powerful, lyrical prose.

Trudeau, though, remains someone who has captured global attention in a way that his predecessors failed to do. And there remains much to admire about him.

Chances are that he will write another memoir after he has stepped down from office. Here’s another few words for him to bear in mind: Less manifesto, better book.