2017 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing Finalist

Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life, by Christopher Dummitt (Peterbourgh, ON), published by McGill-Queen’s University Press

Christopher Dummitt

Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life
McGill-Queen’s University Press


Christopher Dummitt

Jury Citation

Few politicians have suffered as dramatic a decline in posthumous reputation as William Lyon Mackenzie King. The key to his undoing: a 30,000-page diary documenting his private life in obsessive detail. Christopher Dummitt tells the story, not of the man, but rather of his diary, and the gradual process through which its intimate contents became known to the public. Unbuttoned is a masterpiece of sophisticated storytelling revealing a broader narrative about the momentous changes in Canadian political culture that occurred over the course of the 20th century.

About the Book

Presenting extensive research in a captivating narrative, Unbuttoned relates the strange posthumous tale of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s private diaries, which were ordered destroyed in his final will. Detailing the specific decisions of King’s literary executors, Christopher Dummitt traces the transformation of the public’s opinion of King’s character and offers a compelling look at the changing way Canadians measured the importance of their leaders’ personal lives. Along the way we learn about a thief in the public archives, stolen copies of King’s diaries being sold on the black market, and an RCMP hunt for a missing diary linked to the search for Russian spies at the highest levels of the Canadian government.

About the Author

Christopher Dummitt is an historian of Canadian culture and politics. He is a professor at Trent University and taught previously at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies in Berlin and at the University of London’s Institute for the Study of the Americas. He has written two other books exploring Canadian history and his work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Literary Review of Canada, and the Ottawa Citizen. Dummitt lives in Peterborough, Ontario.




Woodcock Fund



Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing


September 19 for books published between June 20 and September 18, 2018


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