Toronto: biography of a cityDouglas & McIntyre, 2014
In the last sixty years, Toronto has been transformed from a provincial town to significant urban heavyweight. Few cities have experienced such sustained growth, and the packed streets of North America’s fourth-largest city are a far cry from the origins of the city as “Little York,” which was comprised of the lieutenant-governor’s muddy tent—which he shared with his wife and many children—and some barracks.
Between then and now, fervent Orangemen have imposed strict morals on the growing provincial town, and an influx of immigrants changed the face of the city.
Allan Levine delves into the character of a city that strives to balance urban development with the preservation of its distinct neighbourhoods, to maintain its status without losing its individuality.
Its inhabitants have fought tooth and nail to prevent an expressway being built to the downtown core, have called in the army to clear the city of snow after a blizzard and consistently pack the Maple Leafs’ arena every game, win or lose, making the hockey team the most valuable franchise in the NHL.
The city can also claim one of the first Canadian politicians to stand up for gay rights, a store owner who almost single-handedly preserved theatre in Toronto, and then there’s Mayor Rob Ford…
With the same eye for character, anecdote and circumstance that made Peter Ackroyd’s London and Colin Jones’s Paris so successful, Levine’s captivating prose integrates the sights, sounds and feel of Toronto with a broad historical perspective, linking the city’s present with its past through themes such as politics, transportation, public health, ethnic diversity and sports. Toronto invites readers to discover the city’s lively spirit over four centuries and to wander purposefully through the city’s many unique neighborhoods, where they can encounter the striking and peculiar characters who have inhabited them: the powerful and powerless, the entrepreneurs and the entertainers, and the moral and the corrupt, all of whom have contributed to Toronto’s collective identity.
Praise for Toronto: Biography of a City
"History buffs will thoroughly enjoy Allan Levine’s volume Toronto.
This huge book is the result of (obviously) years of painstaking
research and thorough writing.” Five Stars.
—San Francisco Book Review
“This highly informative and easy-to- read account accumulates four centuries of history that have transformed “a quiet and family-friendly green space on the rolling land alongside the Humber River” into one of the biggest urban centers in North America. Award-winning author and historian Levine (King) has produced a popular-styled biography” of Toronto, the biggest, the richest, the most multicultural, and the most hated city in Canada.”
“A colourful, comprehensive cultural history of Canada’s largest metropolis…In the same vein as Peter Ackroyd’s literary portrait of London, or Colin Jones’s remarkable study of Paris, author Allan Levine has penned an almost-novelistic account of the city’s rise (and some falls)… Mayor-elect John Tory would be well served by reading Mr. Levine’s book to see what he’s in for.”
—Mark Medley, Books Editor, Globe and Mail
“The subtitle of Allan Levine’s ambitious history of Toronto may seem stolid as the city’s British founding families, but it doesn't take long for the reader to realize how carefully chosen it is. Levine, who won high praise for his 2011 biography of Mackenzie King, treats the city as he would any biographical subject: as a constantly changing personality rooted to the historical moment by a set of defining passions, idiosyncrasies, blind spots, and complex relations with family members… Love it or hate it, Toronto is a slippery city to pin down... Levine’s excellent biography goes a long way to explaining why.”
—Quill & Quire
“…a fond but not uncritical history of Canada's largest city… his handsome book…abounds with punchy portraits of the city's leading citizens: many scoundrels and a few tarnished saints. Levine is adept at linking historical events today's news… Levine enlivens his tale with judicious helpings of sex, drugs and rock and roll…"
—Winnipeg Free Press
“…Levine’s shrewd and lively account of two centuries of Toronto history….”
—Brian Bethune, Maclean’s
“Ambitious in scope and masterful in execution, Allan Levine’s panoramic portrait of our city from its beginnings to the present is sweeping and opinionated, judicious and clever, insightful and gossipy all at once… His summation of the Ford years is simply superb…Let’s face it: for a writer like Levine, a mayor like Ford is a gift from heaven. And, for all of us who love Toronto, so is this book. Toronto: Biography of a City is a timely, vibrant history of our modern megacity as it comes of age.”
—The Canadian Jewish News
"Allan Levine’s biography of Toronto is a triumph of historical storytelling. Avoiding the worn path of grand themes and broad concepts of civic evolution, he instead ventures out, engagingly marshalling real-time encounters of people, places and events—the good, the bad and the ugly of it all. This fresh take on Toronto evokes a saga of the city that keeps the delighted reader turning the pages, eager to enjoy—and learn—more.
—David Crombie, Former mayor of Toronto
“Allan Levine has done us all a favour by devoting his considerable talents and imagination to writing a “biography” of Toronto. The city becomes more real and alive under his microscope, and his powers of narration and storytelling make this a lively and informative read.”
—Bob Rae, Canada’s History
Interviews on Toronto: Biography of a City
Interview with Joseph Planta on “The Commentary”
Mark Medley, “A Winnipegger tells Toronto’s story,”
Globe and Mail, October 31, 2014
Richard Warnica, “New book on Toronto’s odd history shows the city was weird before Rob Ford,”
National Post, September 29, 2014
Our Toronto: Biography of a City, CBC,
October 4, 2014
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