When I first saw a copy of Fire and Ashes, Michael Ignatieff’s recent book about his experience trying to become Canada’s prime minister, it seemed too decadent to actually pick it up.
It was the sort of book I’ve mostly avoided in the three-plus years since my run for city council in Seattle. It has seemed more productive to focus on other ways to contribute the community, including my new career as a Foreign Service Officer.
When I finally gave in and bought a copy of Ignatieff’s book, however, I could hardly put it down. I found myself highlighting passages every few Kindle pages and pondering each episode. It may be the best book about participating in politics since Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes – and a must-read for anyone thinking about running.
Ignatieff, a well-known political science intellectual, left a tenured position at Harvard after, as he puts it, being recruited to return to Toronto to run for office.
After 31 years outside Canada, the plan was to eventually become head of the storied Liberal Party and lead it to victory, becoming prime minister. Instead he led the party to its worst-ever defeat.
The book is personal, almost self-indulgent: you have to be in order to run for office. While the parallel to my experience has limits – he actually won a seat and became party leader, after all – the book is applicable for any level of politics. It hits several essential ideas: