Great Canadian Lives: A Cultural History of Modern Canada through the Art of the Obit

Great Canadian Lives by Sandra MartinHouse of Anansi Press, 2014 paperback with an Epilogue

Also named Working the Dead Beat: 50 Lives that Changed Canada
House of Anansi Press, 2012, hardcover

Longlisted for the RBCTaylor Prize, a Globe and Mail Top 100 book

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Working the Dead Beat is a history of obituary writing from poetic odes and laments to tweets and Facebook posts combined with profiles of 50 people who died in the first decade of the 20th century. There is no such thing as an uninteresting life—as I demonstrate in my book. My subjects, include the famous—Pierre Trudeau, Rocket Richard, Celia Franca, Jane Jacobs and Kananginak Pootoogook—and the overlooked, but all of them helped shape modern Canada from the First World War to the Internet Age.

From the foreword by William Thorsell:

Sandra Martin observes that “context is everything” in writing obituaries, defending the role of the journalist as disinterested observer in parsing a dead person’s nature and deeds. In this volume of fifty lives spent and done, Sandra Martin provides context about the obituary form itself, which makes her telling of tales all the more pungent. She demonstrates through these often gripping portraits that rumours of the obituary’s death in the digital age have been grossly exaggerated. The gauzy eulogy is ultimately no competition for journalism’s obituary, whose purpose is “to bring the subject alive for readers—warts and all.”

From the reviews:

“Martin presents us with loving portraits of people…[she] also provides many reminders, if we need them, that recent public life in Canada has included many fascinating and worthwhile characters.”
—Roger Currie, Winnipeg Free Press

“…a dizzying, dazzling, ultimately affirming collection…[Martin] finds the human meaning in death [others] are only able to hint at.”
—Robert Wiersema, Quill & Quire

“We rarely encounter a book that so clearly marks a new sensibility…the most engaging and enlivening book about Canada that I’ve come across this year.”
—Robert Fulford, National Post

“Martin’s is a select history of Canada told through extended obituaries of both the known and the unknown, researched energetically and written graciously by one of the country’s leading journalists.”
—Paula Todd, The Globe and Mail

“…the greatest treasure Martin offers comes from the insights that appear with each entry — these insights tell a great story about the human journey.”
—Deborah Morrison,

“Martin gifts her subjects with a real and lasting life. Working the Dead Beat is a beautiful book.”
—Linda L. Richards, January Magazine Best Books of 2012: Non-Fiction