Brown's magic is in his deep understanding — and scepticism — of the Canadian national identity, a set of smug myths and fairytales about the country's tolerance, sensibleness and even-keeled nature.
Puncturing these national myths is an old sport. Howard Zinn's seminal People's History of the United States demonstrated the enduring power of subjecting cherished illusions to a comprehensive look at the omissions that sustain them.
But the sport is best practiced by comedians, not historians. The clear precedent for the Canadaland Guide is John Stewart's still-wonderful 2004 book America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, which can't be a coincidence, given how significant Stewart himself is in the history of critiquing a nation by critiquing its press.
The Canadaland Guide is that perfect Stewartian mixture of scathing and hilarious, a style that has become critical to our modern politics from fellow Canadian Samantha Bee to John Oliver (both Daily Show alums). The media, after all, tell us what they think we want to hear, and so the stupidest excesses of the media are really just manifestations of our own awfulness.
Brown finds plenty of hilarious awfulness in Canada's past and present, especially in the way that Canadians talk about themselves when they expect Americans might be listening to them. From Justin Trudeau (who talks about refugees abandoned by Trump but takes no action to improve their lot, because he's too busy taking away the citizenship rights of naturalised Canadians with objectionable politics, greenlighting climate-destroying pipelines for the Tar Sands, and making the most of the sweeping surveillance powers he promised he'd abolish after taking office) to Rob Ford to Quebec separatism and the long, deplorable traditions of drunken, racist Canadian leaders who are remembered as wise, even-handed leaders, Brown punctures ever bubble that Canadians have ever blown over the border toward our American cousins.
I laughed aloud at many of these jokes, and they got under my skin, in just the same way that a perfect Samantha Bee rant will. This is a book of weaponised jokes about a country that has spent more than a century burnishing its credentials by blithely asserting its moral and temperamental superiority to its erratic and flamboyant southern neighbour — and every shot hits its mark.
Canadaland Guide to Canada (Published in America) [Jesse Brown, Vicky Mochama and Nick Zarzycki/Touchstone]