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History North America

Cold Fire

Kennedy's Northern Front

by (author) John Boyko

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Feb 2016
North America, General, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2016
    List Price

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Forget all you think you know about the Kennedy years. With narrative flair and sparkling storytelling, acclaimed historian John Boyko explores the crucial period when America and its allies were fighting the Cold War's most treacherous battles, Canadians were trading sovereignty for security, and everyone feared a nuclear holocaust.
At the centre of this story are three leaders. President John F. Kennedy pledged to pay any price to advance his vision for America's defence and needed Canada to step smartly in line. Fighting him at every turn was Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker, an unapologetic nationalist trying to bolster Canada's autonomy. Liberal leader Lester Pearson, the Nobel Prize-winning diplomat, sought a middle ground.
Boyko employs meticulous research and newly released documents to present shocking revelations. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Canadian warships guarded America's Atlantic coast and Canada suffered a silent coup d'état. Canada was involved in Kennedy's sliding America into Vietnam. Kennedy knew the nuclear missiles he was forcing on Canada would be decoys, there only to draw Soviet nuclear fire. Kennedy's pollster and political adviser travelled to Ottawa under a fake passport to help defeat the Canadian government. And, perhaps most startlingly, if not for Diefenbaker, Kennedy may have survived the bullets in Dallas.

About the author

John Boyko has earned degrees from McMaster, Queen's, and Trent universities. Bennett is his fourth book addressing Canadian history and politics. Reviews of this biography of Bennett, praise him for his "encyclopaedic knowledge of Canadian history," his "engaging style," and his ability to "make the most arid political debate interesting." He has written a bi-weekly newspaper column and a number of op. ed. articles, has spoken throughout the country, and appeared on regional and national radio and television programs. He has been elected to municipal council and served on a number of boards. John Boyko is also an educator. He is the Director of Entrepreneurial Programs and Northcote Campus at Lakefield College School. He lives in Lakefield, Ontario.

John Boyko's profile page


  • Short-listed, Dafoe Book Prize

Editorial Reviews

Shortlisted for the 2017 John W. Dafoe Book Prize

“Boyko’s detail and fluid storytelling make some of what is now ancient history come alive. . . . This book pumps life into the people and times and is an object lesson for current politicians, diplomats and followers of the news. And it busts myths.” —Allan Bonner, author of Political Conventions, Troy Media

“[E]ngaging. . . . Cold Fire is a well-researched political page-turner featuring penetrating portraits of the key players, behind-the-scenes manoeuvring, and backbiting comments. Boyko also shows, as others have, that in the most anxious days of the Cold War, Canada was one of America’s most trusted allies, yet Canadian leaders could not be pushed around or taken for granted.” —Allan Levine, Maclean’s
“I love how he interweaves Canadian and American history. . . . While countless books have been written about John F. Kennedy, Cold Fire examines his presidency through the specific lens of his relationship with two Canadian prime ministers—first John Diefenbaker, then Lester Pearson. . . . What is impressive is the way Boyko extends these biographies to illustrate how the politicians’ backgrounds influenced their personal philosophies. . . . Modern readers will likely be sympathetic with Boyko’s disdain for Canadians who appeared so enamored with Kennedy that they were willing to ignore Diefenbaker’s warnings in order to bask in Camelot’s glow. . . . Boyko pulls no punches in laying out his belief that by pushing back against American demands, Diefenbaker ‘put Canada on the right side of history.’ Kennedy and Pearson, by contrast, come across as a bully and a yes-man. This perspective should spark readers to consider our past priorities and our future goals.” —Megan Moore Burns, Quill & Quire
“Clearly, Boyko has done his homework. Heavily footnoted and brimming with quotes from primary sources (talking both on and off the record), Cold Fire ably recreates the tense and dangerous era of the early 1960s. Conversational accounts offer a compelling fly-on-the-wall viewpoint. . . . [R]efreshingly assertive analysis. . . . Cold Fire illustrates a crucially important pivot point in Canadian politics.” —The Georgia Straight

“[Boyko shows that] the cold fire of Canadian-American relations is still blazing hot.”The Washington Times

“Superb.” —David Olive, The Toronto Star

“I learned a great deal from the book and came away an admirer of John’s prose and his strong narrative voice. By the latter I mean that he has the ability to grab your attention and make you want to read on; capably he leads you into fascinating byways of Canadian history that he has discovered. . . . Blood and Daring is an undertaking of great historical importance. . . . Boyko’s book is ingeniously constructed. It contains six chapters. Each is an entity in itself and each is presented by means of a particular ‘guide.’ Taken together, they comprise a vivid and seamless narrative of Canada’s involvement in the Civil War. . . . It is a splendid read and a heartening revision of events usually seen through American eyes.” —Michael Peterman, The Peterborough Examiner

Blood and Daring takes aim at the Civil War’s impact on Canada and recreates a tumultuous decade that witnessed the birth of one country and the near-destruction of another. . . . Boyko, an Ontario educator and accomplished historian with four other books to his credit, enlists [John] Anderson and five other ‘guides’ to give this sprawling story a human face. Their personal struggles and triumphs provide the framework for a complex tale of military campaigns and political intrigue. . . . Boyko injects new life and drama into the narrative for a general audience. He builds on the large body of scholarly work on the era and adds insights gleaned from his own extensive research into the archival record.” —Canada’s History

“Confederation may be one of the best-known events in Canadian history, with countless volumes devoted to the subject. Despite this, historian John Boyko manages to find a fresh lens through which to examine this foundational moment in our nationhood. . . . The individual stories are as compelling as the larger topic. . . . Boyko weaves together newspaper articles, speeches and historical analysis to draw the reader into the era, and integrates explanations of Canadian, American and British history without losing the narrative flow. This book is an excellent addition to the story of how we came to define ourselves as a nation, and a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the bedrock on which this country was built.” —Megan Moore Burns, Quill and Quire (starred review)

Boyko’s writing offers the first comprehensive book for a general audience on how the American Civil War affected Canadians and Maritimers, and how this war, raging from 1861–1865, was instrumental to Confederation in 1867. . . . If you are interested in this time period in the life of Canada and the United States, you are guaranteed to learn things you never knew.” —David Johnson, Cape Breton Post
An important new book. . . . What makes John [Boyko]’s work special among the hundreds of other books on the subject of the American Civil War is that it deals with a half-dozen little known aspects of that tumultuous conflict, each of which contributed to the ultimate creation of the new Dominion of Canada. . . . Must reading for all patriotic Canadians.” —Mike Filey, Toronto Sun

“Boyko’s . . . fluid prose carries the story forward. This is Boyko’s strength, and the result is a compelling narrative of the civil war conflict, and the constant endeavours on the part of Canadians . . . to pacify the Americans, draw together the squabbling colonial governments toward Confederation and ensure that Britain’s sometimes antagonistic actions toward the North did not lead to a full-scale invasion. . . . Blood and Daring is a fast-paced read, and Boyko skillfully weaves together the complex and conflict-filled Canadian, British and American wartime policy.” —The Globe and Mail

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