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Biography & Autobiography Presidents & Heads Of State


William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny

by (author) Allan Levine

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
Oct 2012
Presidents & Heads of State, Post-Confederation (1867-)
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2011
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2011
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2012
    List Price

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The first biography in a generation of Canada's most eccentric and most important prime minister -- Mackenzie King -- and his defining influence on our 20th century.

Most Canadian historians consider William Lyon Mackenzie King to be not only the country's greatest prime minister but also its most peculiar. From 1919 to 1948 he occasionally lorded over the Liberal Party, also serving as prime minister for much of that time.

Mackenzie King was a brilliant tactician, was passionately committed to Canadian unity, and was a protector of the underdog, introducing such cornerstones of Canada's social safety net as unemployment insurance, family allowances and old-age pensions. At the same time, he was insecure, craved flattery, became upset at minor criticism, and was prone to fantasy -- especially about the Tory conspiracy against him. King loosened the Imperial connection with Britain and was wary of American military and economic power. Yet he loved all things British and acted like a praised schoolboy when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill or U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt treated him as an equal.

King comes at a time when the Canadian people have resoundingly rebuffed the Liberal party under Michael Ignatieff; while the party's future remains uncertain, this definitive biography sheds light on its history under its greatest leader.

This first major biography of Mackenzie King in 30 years mines the pages of his remarkable diary. At 30,000 pages, King is one of the most significant and revealing political documents in Canada's history and a guide to the deep and often moving inner conflicts that haunted Mackenzie King. With animated prose and a subtle wit, Allan Levine draws a multidimensional portrait of this most compelling of politicians.

About the author

Allan Levine is an award-winning author and historian who has written thirteen books, including King (Douglas & McIntyre, 2011), the critically acclaimed biography of Mackenzie King that won the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction. He is a historical consultant on the documentary Jewish Partisans, currently under production by Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Julia Mintz. A versatile author who moves easily between popular non-fiction and fiction, Levine has written four historical mysteries. His first mystery, The Blood Libel, won the Margaret McWilliams Award for historical fiction and was nominated for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. He lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Allan Levine's profile page


  • Winner, Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction
  • Short-listed, McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award
  • Winner, Manitoba Book Award
  • Short-listed, J. W. Dafoe Book Prize

Editorial Reviews

" outstanding biography of Canada's longest-reigning prime minister."

Montreal Gazette

"Allan Levine had no shortage of peculiar personal details to make use of in his biography of Canada's longest serving P.M."

Quill & Quire

"...his book is perceptive and eminently readable. Levine's discussion of King's personality is excellent...(Levine) has ably shown that King was important and remarkable." "

Literary Review of Canada

"In King, Allan Levine gives us a readable, comprehensive account of a prime minister we ought to know about. He also reminds us that, in ever-changing ways, King haunts us still."

Globe & Mail

"In this endeavour, Levine has succeeded masterfully...By examining King's personality and politics as two sides of the same coin, Levine has produced a wonderfully comprehensive portrait of this intensely disagreeable -- yet critically important -- Canadian."

Quill & Quire

"King's writing is characterized by clarity, compassion, and humanist intelligence...The personal, political, and aesthetic obstacles they encountered are described here with sympathy, so that we feel we've actually met these individuals -- the goal of any good biography."

Library Journal

"If the world needed evidence to disprove the notion we need to know as much as possible about our political leaders, it's between the covers of Allan Levine's new biography of William Lyon Mackenzie King...William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny must therefore be treated as a skillful introduction to one of the most important and perplexing personalities to hold the highest political post in Canada."

National Post

"King fairly trips along, serving up great dollops from King's legendary diary to explain the lonely Victorian romantic behind the politics...Levine is a careful historian, and his judgments usually reflect the detailed work of earlier, more expert scholars, whom he credits generously in his text...Moreover, Levine's text is accessible and readable..."

Humanities and Social Sciences Net

"This first major biography of Mackenzie King in 30 years is a guide to the deep and often moving inner conflicts that haunted Mackenzie King. With animated prose and a subtle wit, Allan Levine draws a multidimensional portrait of this most compelling of politicians."

Canada's History

"...until now no one has ever done as magisterial a job as Levine in fusing King's many parts into a complex but comprehensible whole..."

Maclean's Magazine

"Allan Levine gave himself the mission of turning this dull but eccentric Canadian into a subject worthy of contemporary discussion. He succeeds, bringing to life the inner thoughts of his subject as best anyone can."

Winnipeg Free Press

"If anyone doubted that King spent a lot of time in la-la land, they need only read Mr. Levine's intriguing account, one that fleshes out new material from his voluminous diaries."

Globe & Mail

"...This is an informative, authoritative study that's also entertaining and even witty...The book has some delightfully waspish comments from Levine...This is a worthy biography of an important individual. If he could, I'm sure William Lyon Mackenzie King would read and enjoy it, in Levine's phrase, with 'as much humility as he was capable of showing.'"

Uptown Magazine

"Allan Levine's King: William Lyon MacKenzie King is more a biography of King the man than King the politician...Levineís biography of King is very much worth reading. Levine is skilled with his prose and entertaining in his conclusions."

The Business Post

"Here we have Allan Levine, one of the aces of Canadian historical chronicles, channelling Mackenzie King. And what a story they have to tell: our longest-serving prime minister, getting advice from his dog and having two-way conversations with his long-dead mother. If Canadian history was ever dull, it isn't now. Get this book."

Humanities and Social Sciences Net

User Reviews


I enjoyed this book. I knew he was a bit of a strange man but never understood how he was able to maintain power for such a long time. This book explains quite a lot. Perhaps not great, he was remarkable.

Other titles by Allan Levine