Books focus on the careers of powerful men
Wheeling and dealing may be more fun to read about than to practise.
Certainly the antics of Joey Smallwood and Frank Moores, the first two premiers of Newfoundland as a Canadian province, are delightful; one asks oneself: “What will he do next?”
These men are not held back by morality or usually even common sense. If the Catholic Index of condemned books still existed, “The Premiers Joey and Frank” (subtitled “Greed, Power, and Lust”) by Bill Rowe (Flanker, $22) would undoubtedly be on it.
On the other hand, “The Intrigues of Archbishop John T. McNally and the Rise of Saint Mary’s University” by Peter McGuigan (Fernwood Publishing, $19.95) is just as full of wheeling and dealing as Rowe’s book, but not nearly as funny.
The archbishop suffered from greed, though it was for power and even more, perhaps, for money to build — cathedrals, universities and any kind of lesser public buildings. McNally also suffered from another ambition: to become the first English-speaking cardinal in Canada. In this he was defeated or, better, never considered by the Vatican, which he had cheated by not reporting how much his building projects cost.
Rowe’s life and adventures are also worth reading about; they are inextricably entwined with those of Joey and Frank. He was a member of Smallwood’s Liberal party as a young man and often close to the premier, but no hero-worshipper. Rather, his attitude appears to have been one of amusement, exasperation and, at times, incredulity.
Nevertheless, he states: “I consider Joey to have been by far the greater man overall...” but adds: “I consider Frankie to have been the better premier.”
He explains his judgment by adding in the book’s final chapter: “by becoming premier, Frank Moores created a modern epoch of political thinking and participation in our province. He did this by torpedoing the unsinkable Joey Smallwood at the polls, terminating what looked like a “leader for life” and ushering in a brand new era of politics.”
Even if you’re not interested in politics, any student of human nature will enjoy this book.
As for McNally, it would be hard to disagree with the author’s summing-up: “McNally should never have been given any power despite his obvious intellectual gifts. He was too selfish, too authoritarian, too willing to impose on the faithful and on the Vatican.
Even his last and most important educational, spiritual and charitable effort was corrupted. He died before the church could banish him to a convent.”
Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at Her new address is: 95 Orange Street, Apt. 101, Saint John NB, E2L 1M5 or call her at 506-693-5498.