Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values by Michael Adams

Fire and Ice by Michael Adams

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 224 pages (incl. 80 pages of appendix and index), 2003

Rating: 7/10

Reason for Reading: It sounded interesting.

Synopsis: Through a series of surveys conducted in 1992, 1996, and 2000, Adams explores how Canadians and Americans stack up against each other, values-wise, and argues that the two countries are actually growing apart in ideals rather than blending together as one.

Why you should read this book: Many Canadians have been arguing for years that we are not merely ‘America Junior,’ as Homer Simpson so succinctly put it, and with this book, Adams places proof in our hands. Taking into account age, geography, political history, gender, religion, and economic status, Adams makes a case that in any of these groups, Canadian values differ from American values, despite the rampant impact of American culture on most of the world.

Why you should avoid this book: While there are many interesting ideas proposed in this book, unfortunately the presentation leaves the reader trudging through a lot of background and repetition. The language Adams chooses to use is often prone to exaggeration, so it’s important to watch you’re not sucked into every idea Adams presents, because occasionally he just doesn’t back things up. For example, Adams makes a huge fuss about results being pre-September 11, 2001 and that results have probably changed a lot since the terrorist attacks. This, of course, is pure speculation – Adams’ research ended in 2000, and if he was so eager to include the aftermath of September 11, he should have waited and done more research rather than making unfounded guesses.

Opening paragraph:

The world has long watched the United States with a mixture of envy, admiration, resentment, fear, and disgust. Perhaps nowhere are these feelings more potent – or the watching more constant – than in Canada. We are under no illusions about our neighbour’s accomplishments: America is the economic engine of Western capitalism; it is the source of astounding technological innovation; it is the matrix of popular culture; it is a military power like no other in history.
We take pains to remind ourselves, too, though, that America’s crime rate in all categories are triple those in other industrialized nations; that its carnivalesque displays of wealth cannot conceal the rage and despair of its poorest; that Canada strives to be an upstanding citizen of the world while the United States has, under George W. Bush, reaffirmed its commitment to brash unilateralism; that Canada consistently outranks the U.S. in the United Nations’ Human Development Index, the planet’s de facto annual quality-of-life ranking.

Fabulous quotes:

As the horror receded and daily life slowly resumed, the differences that had seemed so trivial as to be almost non-existent on that Tuesday morning began to reassert themselves little by little. As 2001 wound shakily down and 2002 began, many Canadians once again found themselves beginning to roll their eyes at phrases like ‘axis of evil’ and shake their heads at George W. Bush’s repeated references to the women of Afghanistan as ‘women of cover.’ Without losing any of our sympathy for the lives lost or irrevocably altered on 11 September, Canadians began to regain some of their sense of distance and difference from the United States and its worldview.

The SUV owner, on the other hand, is, or at least aspires to be, a rugged individualist who can navigate with equal ease the dangers of the Sonoran Desert and more probably the (sub)urban jungle. For these owners, buying a minivan would mean forever being confined to the drudgery of suburbia and an acceptance that life is no longer an adventure. The fact that most SUV owners use their vehicles no differently from minivan owners, and that the most serious off-roading they ever see are the speed bumps in the local Home Depot parking lot, does not dissuade hundreds of thousands of SUV buyers every year. The SUV brilliantly appeals to Americans’ other-directed individualism…

Also recommended: Stupid White Men by Michael Moore; Dude, Where’s My Country? by Michael Moore; The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston.

Also by this author: Sex in the Snow: Canadian Social Values at the End of the Millennium; Better Happy Than Rich? Canadians, Money and the Meaning of Life.

Author’s website:

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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