I've learned my lesson: Don't expect too much dirt in a biography of a guy written while the author is living in his guest house.
Five minutes with Google will tell you more interesting things about E.P. Taylor than 350 pages of Richard Rohmer’s E.P. Taylor. There’s the Stalinist brother Fred, who paints in Mexico and shoots people, like for instance himself. There’s the war correspondent son in Vietnam and Nigeria. There’s the entire question of whether the government has some sort of obligation to protect consumers from monopolies and trusts, and the big question: What drives the very rich to want more? The question Jake Gittes asks Noah Cross in Chinatown:
“Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can’t already afford?”
“The future, Mr. Gittes. The future.”
If you’re going to write a book about someone’s life and leave out everything but their business deals, and describe those deals in terms so rosy and circumspect as to be almost incomprehensible, don’t you owe it to your readers to at least ask: Why was he doing it?
The closest we come:
“Expansion and diversification continued to be major personal objectives for E.P. Taylor, and the middle 1950s saw no abatement of his desire.”
The future, General Rohmer. The future.
Rohmer is not an inquisitive man. He also has a toadying affection for rich people, royalty, politicians and celebrities, so the question probably never came up. Was E.P. Taylor put on earth to make sure that Canadians had fewer choices in beer? Why buy out your competitors and shut them down?
Beyond that, you sense that this book is more-or-less E.P. Taylor’s authorized version of events. It feels like reading heavily censored material that was fawning in the first place. You feel the blacked out passages. Sinister if they weren’t so ridiculous. Half-truths and fairy tales. Kim Jong Un level nonsense like E.P. Taylor inventing the toaster. Or:
“Back in Ottawa, and living with his parents, Edward could not find employment. ‘There had been a sharp deflationary period and the country was in a depressed state. Jobs were not available for university graduates. To keep myself busy, I played some golf and met some people.’ In fact, he became an excellent golfer.”
He’s “living with his parents” in a mansion. His family were bankers and they owned a brewery. I’ll bet, if he’d really looked, he could have found employment at the bank or in the brewery. (And guess what, he does.) But don’t get the idea that he’s some lazy bum either; he would have gotten a job (with his grandfather) sooner, except for deflation. And he didn’t just golf; he became an excellent golfer.
E.P. Taylor says it, and Rohmer writes it down.
Okay, now no one is forcing me to read these things, but if we’d started here I would have quit.
I’m dreading Golden Eagle.