books | Political Science | 9780864926227
What We Talk About When We Talk About War
What We Talk About When We Talk About War
376 pages
Pub date: April 20, 2012
Rights: Canada
What We Talk About When We Talk About War
Noah Richler (Author)

Finalist, John W. Dafoe Book Prize

Finalist, Shaughnessey Cohen Prize for Political Writing

Finalist, Governor General's Award for Non-fiction

Longlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction

Globe & Mail Top 100 Book of 2012

Editor's Pick for 2012,

“I have to say that I was stunned by Richler's courage and insight: if he were our Prime Minister, there would never have been an Afghanistan!” — Stephen Lewis, former Canadian Ambassador to the UN

“You don’t have to agree with everything Noah Richler says — I don’t — but you must take him seriously.” — Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919

A tonic to the spirit, Richler’s book explores the rootedness of Canadian values and connects them to the experience of life in an enormous and damn lucky country.”  — James Laxer, author of Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812

Did Lester B. Pearson get it wrong? The Liberal prime minister envisioned Canada as a nation of peacekeepers, and won the Nobel Prize for his vision. However, throughout the last decade, Canada’s identity crisis has deepened. The concept of the Canadian soldier as peacekeeper has been transformed into one of confident and able war-maker. We are told we are, and must be, a warrior nation. In What We Talk About When We Talk About War, Noah Richler examines the rhetoric of conflict, how story and information is used to convince a society to pursue a particular path, or not. This clear-eyed polemic looks at the narrative employed by politicians and the military and takes the media to task for our revised national mythology and re-interpretation of the events of past wars. Richler suggests that our changing narrative about war speaks volumes about our collective consciousness and how we have conceived and redefined ourselves as a nation as we talked ourselves into, through, and ultimately out of our participation in war. 

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“A hard-hitting polemic aimed at the new “philistines” laying siege to Lester B.Pearson’s legacy of liberal internationalism and peacekeeping ... Richler’s War catapults him to the front line of the ongoing Canadian culture war. He brings to the task the unique talents and perceptions of a novelist. It’s rare to find in Canadian political discourse precise references to Homer’s The Iliad and the Trojan War.” — The (Halifax) Chronicle Herald

“There is a wealth of information here that is designed to wake us up to the dangers of accepting war as a part of the Canadian psyche just because the government says it is so ... Richler’s eloquent review of the history of a nation forged in trade, treaty, compromise and peace refutes this presumption.” — The Catholic Register

“It may be a polemic, but Richler’s book is a decidedly literate one ... Richler’s argument is backed by a mind-boggling amount of literary references. Using everything from ancient myths to modern literature about war, the author shows how storytelling shapes a nation’s identity.” — The Calgary Herald

“Provocative and well-researched ... [Richler] has raised some important issues that have not been, and should have been, fully debated in Parliament and in the rest of the country this past decade.” — The Ottawa Citizen

“In this thought-provoking and erudite work, Richler explores what he sees as a fundamental shift in Canadian politics, discourse and identity ... [Richler’ reveals that in the aftermath of Afghanistan, Canadians may once more need to rethink who we are and what we believe.” — Canadian Military History

“A book worthy of joining some of the greatest examinations of human behaviour. Noah Richler writes in a bold and provocative way ... I couldn’t recommend it more." — Esprit de Corps

“Noah Richler has raised serious questions about how Canada’s elites, including major newspaper columnists, have embraced a more warlike national identity, less peacekeeping, and a more aggressive Canadian military.” — Georgia Straight

“An epic tale in the style of Greek mythology ... I’m glad to have read it. It won’t likely resurrect Pearsonian peacekeeping, but it may help us imagine an alternative more suited to the 21st century.” — The Globe and Mail

“It’s a rare accomplishment to write a book in which even people of the author’s side can find something to quibble about on every second page. That outcome, however, is not only inherent in what Richler wrote, but is the chief achievement of this densely textured work. For his argument is as literary as it is political: [it’s] about the words we have chosen to describe – and to hide – what we are doing as a nation. And they do nothing to obscure just how fundamentally correct Richler is, and what a service he’s done in unpacking those words.” — Maclean’s

“Richler assembles his evidence from a dizzying array of sources ... If nothing else, Richler’s opponents should welcome this new, sharply framed chance to make their case over and against his passionate polemic, about what Canada – which has both fought wars and kept the peace – has been, is now, and ought to be in the future.” — The National Post

“What We Talk About When We Talk About War is an eloquent meditation on the nature of modern warfare, and one of the best books I’ve read about Canada in years – not the surprisingly colourful, forgotten history of, but a biting analysis of who we are in the twenty-first century, and why ... Don’t leave this one to the critics. Buy the book, sink back, get mad and enjoy.” — Roverarts

“Richler’s points are thought-provoking and perceptive ... good ideas and well worth considering.” — The Toronto Star

“Richler must have anticipated polarizing his readers ... One can’t agree with everything in it, but with its challenging ideas and provocative theme, it’s worth the effort. If this book does not fire a debate, then it will be because we are not up for it.” — The Winnipeg Free Press

“Richler’s description and analysis ... is nothing short of masterful.” — The Winnipeg Review

“A scathing attack that won’t sit well with veterans ... [Richler] urges readers to cut through the ‘epic’ talk that surrounds war and see it as it truly is: hell.” — Zoomer

Other titles by this author:

Noah Richler on What We Talk About When We Talk About War - from The Writers Trust of Canada


Noah Richler (05/12) from KOVE productions on Vimeo.


What We Talk About When We Talk About War - Official book trailer
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