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Biography & Autobiography Literary

Here Be Dragons

Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power

by (author) Peter C. Newman

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Sep 2005
Literary, NON-CLASSIFIABLE, Political
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2005
    List Price

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The #1 national bestseller now revised and updated with a new Epilogue.

Now aged 75, Peter C. Newman at last tells the story of his stranger-than-fiction life. Try to keep up as we follow his many lives: as a pampered child in a Czech chateau; a Jewish kid in short pants being machine-gunned by Nazi fighter planes on the beach at Biarritz, en route to the last ship to escape from France in 1940; as a refugee on an Ontario farm; as an outsider on a scholarship at Upper Canada College; as a Financial Post journalist, then an author whose Renegade in Power made Canadian politics dramatic and disrespectfully exciting for the first time; as the man who revealed the secrets of the rulers of the Canadian business world in The Canadian Establishment, and other huge business success stories, including The Establishment Man, on Conrad Black; or the millionaire who turned his back on business books and tackled Canadian history (Company of Adventurers and other triumphs), in a career where his work has dominated the bestseller lists in politics, business, history, and current affairs.

In the midst of all this were his years at the Toronto Star and Maclean’s where, as editor, he took the magazine weekly – a huge accomplishment. He is still a legend there, where his columns continue to run.

He knew and wrote about every prime minister from Louis St. Laurent to Paul Martin and every prominent Canadian – hero or villain – in between. Yet his most interesting character is – Peter C. Newman. Incredibly, this central figure known to millions of Canadians sees himself as a perennial outsider. In personal terms, the rich little Czech boy whose nannies never stayed talks frankly about his marriages and the women he has known before his ultimate marriage to his beloved Alvy. His enthusiasms – from jazz to the Canadian Navy, not to mention his adventures on his beloved sailboat – make for a rich portrait of an astonishingcharacter, one who never stops being controversial.

About the author

Peter C. Newman has been writing about Canadian history and politics for half a century. His previous works include the bestselling history of the Hudson Bay Company, Company of Adventurers, as well as books on prime ministers John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and Brian Mulroney. A former editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star and Maclean’s, Newman has won a half dozen of the country’s most illustrious literary awards, including the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize for his memoir, Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales of People, Passion, and Power. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada. Newman lives in Belleville, Ontario.

Peter C. Newman's profile page


  • Winner, Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize

Excerpt: Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power (by (author) Peter C. Newman)


as prime minister, John Diefenbaker always kept the red norad hotline telephone on prominent display in his East Block office. “Why, I can get the American president at any time!” he would boast to visitors. After Lester Bowles “Mike” Pearson took office in the spring of 1963, he removed the emergency instrument from its prominent location and hid it carelessly behind a curtain. When it suddenly began to ring one winter morning during Cold War tensions, he ­couldn’t find it. He had been interrupted in mid-­conversation with his External Affairs minister Paul Martin, and the two men began chasing each other around the room like a pair of Keystone Kops. “My God, Mike,” gasped Martin, as they failed to locate the source of the sound. “Do you realize this could mean war?”

“They ­can’t start a war,” puffed the optimistic Pearson, “if we ­don’t answer the phone.” As it turned out, the caller was a confused Bell subscriber who wanted to speak to “Charlie” and had mistakenly dialled the most highly classified number in the country.

That little vignette summed up the stewardship of Mike Pearson, Canada’s ace diplomat, who wore a dented political crown uneasily from April 1963 to April 1968. To this day, he is revered as having been unfailingly civil, engagingly friendly, and likeably unpretentious. Up close, however, his government had a different hue. Despite being groomed by a long career in the elite foreign service, Pearson was chronically ill prepared for power and despite its many accomplishments, the daily record of his government was a series of mishaps that threatened to blunder into farce.

Speaking of farce, I was the first to publish the norad hotline incident. I approached Pearson later, who confirmed my account’s veracity, so I asked him whether he had ever actually used the emergency telephone. “Certainly,” he replied, and even remembered the date. “On April 21, 1967, I was being driven to my summer residence on Harrington Lake when the car struck a rock and broke its transmission. I used the phone to call for a tow truck. I had to go through the American military, at a time they were urging us to spend more on national defence. They ­weren’t impressed, but did forward my message to a garage in Aylmer.”1

“Our Mike” had a deserved reputation for unassuming sincerity. The problem, as the impish Tory senator Grattan O’Leary liked to point out, was that “no one can be sure from day to day what he’s going to be sincere about.” Instead of offering leadership, Pearson presided over Canada as if he were still president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, with the provinces sitting in as member states. In 1965 alone, he staged 125 federal-­provincial conferences. His motto was the avoidance of catastrophe through the negotiation of a last-­minute compromise. “We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it,” he would reassure his nervous aides, while studiously leading from the rear.

His Cabinet, initially hailed as an assembly of the country’s brightest talents, was soon racked by scandal. Half a dozen of his ministers and their aides were forced to resign — instead of peace, order, and good government, Pearson’s time in office was characterized by blitzkrieg, bedlam, and bad government. Obviously, it was a fabulous time to be an Ottawa journalist.

Editorial Reviews

“Occasionally a book comes along that expands the human story to include history, political analysis, anecdote, gossip, self-critical autobiography and, most importantly, humour. Rarely is such a book written in an elegant style. Peter C. Newman’s Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales of People, Passion and Power manages to showcase the last fifty years of Canadian political theatre, and Newman himself as a commentator on that theatre, both humorously and elegantly. Dragons is a big, ambitious book — arguably the best of the many that Newman has written.”
—2004 Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize Jury

“We owe Peter C. Newman a large debt of gratitude for his riveting new memoir.”
—Roy MacGregor in the Globe and Mail
Far from being dry or dull, Here Be Dragons is scintillating, the sort of book one wants to read in a single sitting. … It ends all too soon.”
Quill & Quire

“Brisk, humorous, astute, and brimming with interest. . . . A must-read.”\
London Free Press

“Racy, readable . . . a sensational smorgasbord of stories.”
Halifax Daily News

“A disarming and reflective autobiography, candid and revealing to the point of self-laceration.”
Toronto Star

“A work of genuine wit and insight.”
—Rex Murphy

“His pointed, deeply affecting memoir deserves the applause of a grateful nation.”
Ottawa Citizen

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