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Biography & Autobiography Political

Elusive Destiny

The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner

by (author) Paul Litt

UBC Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2011
Political, Post-Confederation (1867-), Presidents & Heads of State
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2011
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    Oct 2011
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A political biography extraordinaire, Elusive Destiny reveals the inner workings of the Liberal Party in its heyday as charted through the meteoric rise and fall of John Napier Turner. It highlights Turner’s vision for the country and tallies the political price he paid when he deviated from the Trudeau legacy on matters such as language rights, social spending, and Quebec. It also provides a new perspective on federal politics from the 1960s through the 1980s while giving John Turner his rightful place in Canadian history.

About the author

Paul Litt is a historian at Carleton University in Ottawa. His account of John Turner’s political career is based on extensive research in the Turner papers and other archival collections, contemporary journalism, and scores of interviews with friends, family, and colleagues of John Turner. He also spent considerable time with Turner himself, talking with him about his early career in politics, his relationship with Trudeau, his decision to leave politics for nearly a decade, what prompted him to come back, and the challenge of rebuilding a Liberal party that pundits declared was finished as a political force in Canada.

Paul Litt's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"With the advantage of time and the depth of Litt's book, the accusations that Turner was yesterday's man by the late 1980s seem more accurate than ever, especially given a media environment closer in time and tone to the Kardashian-Humphries wedding than the Kennedy-Nixon debate."

Quill and Quire

Exhaustively detailed and based on interviews with key people, including Turner himself, the book provides the first complete account of a man whose rise and fall still stands as one of Canada's most intriguing political stories.

Postmedia News

"Finally, at 82, Turner's life and career in politics receive appropriate recognition in Elusive Destiny, a biography by Carleton University historian Paul Litt that is one of the best Canadian political books of the year."

London Free Press

A compelling biography of a tragic political figure ... [and] an important history of Canadian politics in the 1970s and 1980s and, most important, chronicled the first years of the decades-long self-immolation of a once-great political party.

The Globe and Mail

If John Turner had been elected prime minister, Canada would be an entirely different country ... there would never have been a Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the Bloc Québécois and Reform parties would likely not have been formed and ‘the fiscal base for Canadian social democracy would have been stronger and social programs better preserved under a Turner administration,’ according to a new biography on the former prime minister by Carleton University professor Paul Litt.

The Hill Times

Former prime minister John Turner’s life and career receive appropriate recognition in Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner, one of the best Canadian political books of the year.

Montreal Gazette

Is it time to revisit the record of John Turner? Thanks to biographer Paul Litt, and his new book on John Turner, the answer is yes.


New biography of Turner ... is a valuable, new addition to that recorded history ... the book chronicles Turner’s political career through some powerful Liberal highs and lows of the latter half of the 20th century.

The Toronto Star

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