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There was a time when books about business companies were staid and boring and read only by other historians. That age passed when popular authors such as Canadian Peter C. Newman wrote their biographies of some of the great companies of the world. Newmans claim to fame, in this realm, is his two volume history of the Hudson Bay Company - the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world.What makes the story of the HBC so fascinating is that the corporation, more than any other company or institution, was responsible for the founding and establishment of Canada. Although founded in 1670 as a Company of Adventurers to discover a sea route via the Northwest passage to China, this was little more than window dressing for a trade monopoly on fur; specifically beaver skins that were processed into hats for European men. Its area of monopoly covered some 3 million square miles of land occupied by numerous aboriginal peoples. The company traded directly with few of them - tribes near the forts the company established in Hudson Bay and beyond were careful to maintain their own monopolies of supplying trade goods such as knives and blankets to inland tribes in exchange for a lot more beaver pelts.Ive been reading and thoroughly enjoying Volume I of Newmans biography (which is now out of print); though the edition highlighted here is the reissued combination of Volumes I and II. Volume I is a great read for anyone with an interest in the human history of commercial activities. Newman managed to dig up numerous fascinating details that bring the story of the men in the first two hundred years of the companys history to life. Yet, at the same time, he never loses sight of the broad sweep and the drama of the story hes telling. Canadian author and naturalist Farley Mowat has come in for heavy criticism in recent years for falsifying and hugely embellishing parts of his books. For example, when Mowat said he had spent two summers and a winter studying wolves, the Toronto Star, a newspaper in Toronto, Canada, wrote that Mowat had only spent 90 hours studying the wolves. Mowat has admitted he doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.While this may be very disappointing - personally, I like to be...more Canadian author and naturalist Farley Mowat has come in for heavy criticism in recent years for falsifying and hugely embellishing parts of his books. For example, when Mowat said he had spent two summers and a winter studying wolves, the Toronto Star, a newspaper in Toronto, Canada, wrote that Mowat had only spent 90 hours studying the wolves. Mowat has admitted he doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.While this may be very disappointing - personally, I like to be able to trust the information in a non-fiction book and dislike the modern fashion of “creative non-fiction”. The world as it is is fascinating without need of embellishment. True, sometimes situations need to be simplified in order to keep a storylike manageable, but the problem with making too free with the facts is that everything in the story then becomes a fairy-story. Defenders of the techniques would correctly argue – as with Farley Mowat’s books – that massaging the facts to serve a greater mission is admissable. This is what politicians and lobbyists and spin-doctors also propound. The result is that all public discourse becomes debased.Mowat’s first book was “People of the Deer” published in 1952. It tells the story of his time with the Ihalmiut, a group of Inuit (Eskimo) who live on the great Barrens plains of northern central Canada in an area now known as the Kivalliq Region of present-day Nunavut. They are the only Inuit not to live by the sea. Caribou (reindeer), not seal meat, is an important part of their diet.When Mowat lived with them in the late 1940s, he estimated that the Ihalmiut had numbered 7,000 in 1886, down to 40 by 1947-48. By 1950, only 30 remained. Their destruction was due to changes in their hunting dynamics (from hunting for food to hunting for furs), introduction of flour and sugar into their diet (through fur trader contact), disease (probably diphtheria), the failure of their primary food source (barren-ground caribou), and sickened sled dogs (possibly rabies).It was Mowat’s book, ‘People of the Deer” that rescued the Ihalmiut from extinction. His book made Mowat into a literary celebrity and without its publication the Canadian government could have conveniently continued to ignore these people.Instead, Mowat’s indignation, his explanations of the ways of the people and his entertaining storytelling contributed to the shift in the Canadian government’s Inuit policy that – despite many cruel blunders – did eventually ensure their survival.So if some of the information in “People ofthe Deer” is oversimplified or just plain wrong (as revealed by later studies that have had the luxury of longer research time and greater research dollars) perhaps Mowat can be forgiven for deciding that reaching a wide audience by entertaining them was more important than academic exactness. His works have been translated into 52 languages and he has sold more than 14 million books.For more reviews, essays and stories, please visit my website:Serendipities of a Writers life www.dennisonberwick.info

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