2006 Profile

Being Michael Ignatieff

OTTAWA — From Saturday's Globe and Mail (Text includes a correction)

The Confederation Building on Wellington Street is the broom closet of Parliament Hill. It is here that neophyte MPs are assigned office space, and the first-term member for Toronto's Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding has three cramped rooms on the ninth floor without so much as a view of the Peace Tower.

I do the arithmetic as I get on the elevator in the lobby on a summer morning: I have known Michael Grant Ignatieff for 40 years, ever since we were both young reporters for this newspaper.

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I've spent the previous four weeks trying to make sense of him, a man who has spent all but a few years of his adult life outside the country until taking a plane home to become front-runner in the national Liberal Party's leadership campaign and a potential prime minister of Canada.

His welcome is cordial. We use first names. He fits his tall, lanky frame into a chair at a small table with two recording machines running - mine and one that belongs to his aide. There is no small talk. I am allowed one hour with him.

He knows that I have been poking into his private life, his discarded friendships, his family conflicts, his grimly failed first marriage, into his radical, almost brutal re-creations of himself over the years.

For one hour - 67 minutes, to be precise - he speaks eloquently of his journey through life and what has shaped his thoughts.Finally, as my allotted time nears its end, he turns to his latest incarnation, as a politician, and begins to talk about what he calls the dogfight to lead the party that has governed Canada for most of its history.

He says, "I think this is going to be tough and it's going to get tougher and tougher. I don't know whether I'm up to it. I mean, I think I'm up to the job, but I don't know whether I'm up to the price you have to pay."

I remind him he once said he lacked the ruthlessness to be a politician.

He replies slowly: "I think one says things like that to kind of flatter oneself. But I think that may have been a bit innocent on my part."

Then the next words come out in a rush: "I think there are people who would say I've been very ruthless in my life. I am someone who has worried greatly about the price my ruthlessness has inflicted on others. I have worried about that. I do worry about that.



I don't want to litter the slopes with bodies. There may be people who I've left behind who feel that I was ruthless, and if they feel that, then all I can say is - I wouldn't apologize - all I could say is, I don't want to hurt people. Michael Ignatieff


He does not break eye contact as he delivers this remarkable confession. It's as though he knows who I've spoken to and what I've been told about him, and he's meeting it head-on.

His curriculum vitae is dazzling: a thinker on global affairs lionized throughout the Western world; a Canadian who has garnered truckloads of awards, honorary degrees and distinguished lectureships; the eminent director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, an author of celebrated books published in 19 languages, and articles that have appeared in the leading periodicals of Britain, the United States and Europe; a novelist, journalist, screenwriter, documentary maker and television personality who has parsed the central moral and political issues of the times, as well as the Freudian recesses of the human soul. His IQ is off the Richter scale. He has been called impossibly handsome. Women delight in his company. His eloquence shames lesser men. He writes beautifully. He moves in the elite, cultured circles of Europe and North America. He has a house in Provence. His French is polished.

For those Liberals seeking the messianic new face last provided by Pierre Trudeau four decades ago, Mr. Ignatieff - who worked as a student on the Trudeau leadership campaign - is the prize. "It's like Garibaldi returning to Italy," enthuses one of his supporters, referring to the great 19th-century patriot and soldier who brought about the unification of Italy.

A clever comparison, except Giuseppe Garibaldi was actually in Italy for much of his life. Mr. Ignatieff, until he returned home 12 months ago, had last lived in Canada in 1978 and only then for a brief two years. He is the celebrity Canadians know only from a distance.

But his personality is a blank slate to his fellow citizens. His private life - better known in Britain than here at home - has not appeared on the radar of the Canadian media.

"Michael is like an iceberg, nine-tenths below the surface," says a friend who has known him since they were teenagers.

Almost all of his rivals - Bob Rae, Stéphane Dion, Gerard Kennedy, Scott Brison and Ken Dryden among them - have held elected office and, as such, been subjected to the invasive scrutiny of opposition researchers and an adversarial media.

But who is Michael Ignatieff really? Is he the pinkish liberal who champions human rights and carries Pierre Trudeau's torch for social justice? Or is he the conservative realist who embraced George W. Bush's attack on Iraq and flirted with the notion that torture could be acceptable? Is he a family man, a man of faith, a man of loyalties?

This iceberg wants to be our next prime minister, so what lies beneath the surface - why, for example, he says he doesn't want to hurt other people and yet so often in the past has done exactly that - becomes important to know.

1: THE PREPPIE

Michael Ignatieff was born in Toronto on May 12, 1947, and whisked away six weeks later to live in New York City, where his father George was deputy to General Andrew McNaughton, Canada's representative to the United Nations' Atomic Energy Commission.

His brother Andrew - named for Gen. McNaughton - arrived three years later.

His father was the son of Count Paul Ignatieff, minister of education under Russia's last czar, and Countess Natasha, a princess. When George was 6, the family had fled from the Russian revolution, eventually making their way to Canada nine years later.

Michael's mother, Alison Grant, came from a family of Scots-Canadian intellectuals - she was the sister of George Grant, the revered Red Tory philosopher and author of Lament for a Nation.

As George rose through the diplomatic ranks, his family moved every two years. Then, in 1959, when he was ambassador to Yugoslavia, he and Alison decided to send 11-year-old Michael back to Toronto as a boarder at the country's most prestigious English-speaking private school, Upper Canada College.

Young Michael would claim that he was shattered by the separation - an assertion of victimization, he later wrote, "that is a natural temptation for the sons of powerful fathers. Why did I cling to the grievance? The truth is, I loved going away from home."

The school was his solo debut. In an essay he contributed to James Fitzgerald's 1994 book Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College, he wrote: "I think my years at UCC were probably the most successful single period of my life."

When he graduated in 1965, he was steward - prefect - of his boarders' house, captain of the first soccer team, academically at the top of his class, president of the debating club, editor of The College Times yearbook, a member of the library and chapel committees, chair of UCC's United Appeal, winner of the school's Nesbitt Cup for debating and a sergeant in the college cadet corps.

He also revelled in being caned for a pillow fight, "a wild and joyful midnight explosion of feathers, the only true uprising I have ever taken part in. After such an uprising, the punishment - 12 stripes with a bamboo cane - was an honour."

His classmates remember him as being brilliant, focused, ambitious, intensely competitive - someone who was going places - and aloof. "Anybody who's like that, whose eye is always on the prize, you're a bit of a loner. You have to be in a certain way," says writer John Lownsbrough, who graduated the same year. "He liked people, he liked them around, but in a certain way it was no. He wasn't folksy, bless his heart."

Not with the guys, at any rate.

Girls found him sweet and solicitous, with a pixie-ish sense of humour. In his final years, he had an adoring girlfriend at Bishop Strachan, the nearby private school for girls. (His sexual initiation took place at a campground north of Toronto; he remembers the gravel against his knees and elbows was excruciating.)

"He was so interesting for a teenage girl," says a woman who has known him well since they were adolescents, "not your average dumb guy."

Boys were less enamoured. Chris Gilmour, who went on to become a commodities broker, disliked encountering him at school. "Michael Ignatieff was one of the people who was always implying that I was stupid. I used to dread seeing him because he was going to make some kind of put-down statement."

Another former classmate recalls him walking around with a copy of Paris Match under his arm, saying his goal was to be prime minister. A childhood friend remembers being lectured by Mr. Ignatieff on the meaning of the 1905 destruction of the Russian navy in the Russo-Japanese war.

The final four words beside his unsmiling graduation photograph in the yearbook read: "Intention: journalism or politics."

Forty-one years later, sitting in his office in the Confederation Building, Mr. Ignatieff is amused by this certainty of adolescence. "I'm slightly appalled at my younger self. I've wandered around a lot in my life being very, very unsure. But there must have been some moment back when I was 18, and thought, 'This is what I want to do.'"

In fact, a defining aspect of most of his life is its visible sureness, its consistency of intellectual interests, of behaviour, of serious purpose - along with a relentless, iron-fisted ambition to achieve his goals.

His political aspirations he attributes to growing up the son of a federal civil servant, who worked for external affairs minister and then prime minister Lester B. Pearson. "I grew up in a house where you knew, if you wanted to get stuff done, it was the politicians who carried the can. My dad could advise or propose or suggest, but it was Mike Pearson who made the decisions.

"So I grew up in that kind of a household, an earnest household. There was lots of stuff across the dinner table about what we would call public policy.

"And the journalism? Because I always wanted to be a writer. The magic of words."

Writing in Old Boys, however, he acknowledges that UCC also encouraged him to be an authoritarian prig. And nothing illustrates his youthful ego - and what could lie beneath the surface - quite like the way he treated his younger brother.

Andrew followed him to UCC in 1962. A self-described "fat little prick," he was absent his brother's talents. He was not an athlete, not adept at writing and public speaking, not competitive. While Michael was "God," and "everybody bowed and scraped when he passed," Andrew became known as "fatty," "piggy," "slob," "spaz," "big ass" - and "Iggy," a nickname he loathed.

He, too, contributed to Old Boys - it's the last public comment he has made about his brother.

"Before I started at age 12," he writes, "our parents sat down with my older brother and me. They said, 'Michael, you're the big brother, and Andrew is going to UCC for the first time. It's the first time he has ever been away. You have to understand you have to be good to him.'

"Michael was very sweet and he told me how wonderful UCC would be. Then we went to my Aunt Helen's house and again he was very sweet. My Aunt Helen [Ignatieff, the boys' in loco parentis in Canada]again impressed on him the importance of him looking out for me. Then we went to the school and he introduced me to all the masters in the prep.

"The next morning he said, 'How are things going? Did you sleep well?' I said, 'Yes, I slept well.' He said, 'How was the food?' I said. 'It was gross.' He said, 'Do you want to go for a walk?'

"We went for a walk, and he said, 'I want to make one thing absolutely clear to you. When we're at Aunt Helen's house or Aunt Charity's house [Charity Grant, their mother's sister] you can say whatever you want to me. But if you ever see me on the school grounds, you're not to talk to me. You're not to recognize that I'm your brother. You don't exist as far as I'm concerned. Do I make myself clear?'"

Not existing was for many years the sine qua non for Andrew in his relationship with both his brother and his father. For a 1992 article in Saturday Night magazine, he recounted to writer Sandra Martin his first memory of Ignatieff family life.

It is the early 1950s. The family is holidaying on Long Island. Alison Ignatieff is off to one side, sunbathing and reading. George and Michael are building a sand castle with turrets, moats and dikes to try to hold back the incoming tide. Pudgy Andrew is plunked in the middle of the castle, trapped and wailing, his distress escalating with each wave that washes over the walls and douses him with sand and sea.

Michael, wiry as a strand of tin, is shoring up walls to the magisterial commands of his father, and both of them are completely oblivious to Andrew's unhappiness.

"They were having the time of their lives and I was being ignored because I was fat and small and couldn't move around and I had sand in my bathing suit," he said.

It would get worse.

2: THE CAMPUS STAR

In the fall of 1965, Mr. Ignatieff began working toward a degree in history at University of Toronto's Trinity College, at that time another bastion of Anglo-Canadian elitism and privilege.

Margaret MacMillan, now the provost of Trinity and an internationally acclaimed historian, was in her fourth year at the college when he arrived. Senior students were not inclined to notice first-year students, but she noticed Michael Ignatieff: "His self-confidence and worldliness stood out."

With a federal election scheduled for that November, Michael's interest in politics led him to the campaign of Liberal candidate Marvin Gelber. A friend of George and Alison Ignatieff, Mr. Gelber was seeking re-election in York South, the Toronto riding he had taken from New Democrat David Lewis two years earlier.

Put in charge of 20 polls, the 18-year-old Michael Ignatieff recruited his friends from UCC and Bishop Strachan to canvass for Mr. Gelber. They lost. Mr. Lewis recaptured the riding and went on to become national leader of the NDP. The sixties, with their patina of student political radicalism, were a time of campus demonstrations, protests and the phenomenon of teach-ins - mass lectures and discussions on important and controversial issues of the day.

Mr. Ignatieff took part in a sit-in to protest against recruiting at U of T's engineering faculty by Dow Chemical Co., supplier of incendiary napalm and the Agent Orange defoliant to the U.S. military. And as a second-year student, he and Jeff Rose, later national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and a deputy minister in the NDP government of Premier Bob Rae, took charge of organizing the U of T teach-ins.

They brought in the big names, speakers such as United Nations secretary-general U Thant, renown anti-apartheid campaigner Trevor Huddleston, Irish writer Conor Cruise O'Brien, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who succeeded the assassinated Martin Luther King as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Mr. Ignatieff's philosopher uncle, George Grant.

They produced a book from the 1967 teach-in, Religion and International Affairs.

Mr. Rae also was on the U of T campus at the time - not at Anglican Trinity but at secular University College. His mother and diplomat father were friends of Alison and George Ignatieff, although the two sons had met only briefly as children. The future premier was a dervish in student politics, writing for the university newspaper, organizing protests against the Vietnam War, getting elected to student council, campaigning for student representation on the university's board of governors.

Late one Saturday morning, after breakfast in his residence dining hall, he was holding forth to an informal audience on his dim view of the campus teach-ins. A dyspeptic undergraduate with dark glasses listened with a look of visible irritation. Finally he asked Mr. Rae just who he thought he was.

Mr. Rae's response was equally vehement. And, as he writes in his 1996 autobiography, From Protest to Power: Personal Reflections on a Life in Politics, "thus began a remarkable friendship."

Today, both are pursuing the Liberal leadership, but back then they became inseparable. They moved out of residence into an apartment above Salamander Schmidt's shoe store on Bloor Street West, just north of the campus. They partied together, wrote political articles for The Varsity, travelled together - along with Jeff Rose - to a house owned by the Ignatieffs in France.



I had been too definite about my ideas, too broadminded about premarital sex, too willing to take out girls of another race or religion and too decided about my own characteristics. Michael Ignatieff


Claude Bissell, then U of T president, remembers Mr. Rae as having a glorious sense of humour, whereas Mr. Ignatieff was "serious, reserved and removed." Michael Levine, the Toronto entertainment lawyer who is agent to Canada's artistic luminaries (Mr. Ignatieff among them), was a student friend of both men, and recalls Mr. Rae as being "more nerdy and Michael more elegant and poised."

In the summer, Mr. Ignatieff worked as a reporter for The Globe and Mail, and I, too, remember him as being serious and reserved, but a wonderful person to have a conversation with. The newspaper's library contains articles written with a skill and maturity astonishing for a 19-year-old, including a first-person story from August, 1966, about trying to meet girls through a computerized dating service.

He reports that the dating service rejected him and returned his money, with the explanation that "I had been too definite about my ideas, too broadminded about premarital sex, too willing to take out girls of another race or religion and too decided about my own characteristics."

"Don't feel badly," he quotes the manager as saying. "It's just that college students aren't usually as formed in their opinions as you are."

He worked for Mr. Trudeau not only in the 1968 leadership campaign but in the summer election that followed. He also served briefly as national youth director, which he recalls as "a pretty transforming experience, one of the most exciting things I've ever done."

Senior Liberals, including James Coutts, then Mr. Trudeau's principal secretary, suggested that he leave university and work for the party full-time. Mr. Ignatieff said no.

"I had a very clear feeling that, first, I had to go back to school and, second that, I was too light - I didn't know a goddamned thing about anything, and I felt I needed some weight," he explains.

And then he says something that will apply to almost every turning point in his life: "I think I have a good sense of endings, when I'm spinning my wheels, when I'm no longer developing, when I've come to the end of something.

"I felt, if I just became a staffer, I'd just become a hack, and that would be it.

"So I went to Harvard."

With a first-class honours BA and a scholarship.

3: THE HARVARD MAN IN JAIL

In the spring of 1973, inmates at a Massachusetts state prison in Walpole, a town just south of Harvard, rioted in a fireball of rage, destroying much of the institution's interior (including the state's electric chair).

As the authorities prepared to retake control, the inmates - most of them black - asked for volunteer civilian observers to stay with them in their cellblocks as protection against violent retribution by the police and prison guards.

Michael Ignatieff, now 25 and working on his doctorate in history, not only volunteered himself but organized a group of fellow Harvard grad students to be locked up for two nights with the prisoners. He was no stranger to the place. For four years, he had spent almost every Tuesday night talking to black lifers at Walpole and its sister institution, Norfolk prison. It was his first encounter with people who had fallen through the gratings: young men whose lives were effectively over at 23, at 24 - his age.

After the riot, he took the toughest assignment: the maximum-security wing housing the most dangerous and unstable offenders, and one of the students he persuaded to come along was Alexander Keyssar, now a professor of history and social policy at Harvard.

"If you want to know how Michael works, he works by immersion," Prof. Keyssar says. "There is no more dramatic example of that than the prison experience. Michael is someone who immerses himself in a subject and then tries to figure out what he makes of it."

He went to the prison because his doctoral thesis was on the role of force in the maintenance of social order and the limits to coercion that the state can legitimately impose on those who deviate from society's rules.

His first book, his dissertation, A Just Measure of Pain, published in 1978, encompassed what he had learned from the prisoners. He saw what American society looked like at the bottom. It made an indelible impression.

But why would a product of Anglo-Canadian elitism and privilege be interested in violence and social order? Because of the man he tried ceaselessly to please: his father.

Michael Ignatieff would later write exquisitely of George. "There are thirty-four years between us: two wars and a revolution. There is also his success: what he gave me makes it difficult for us to understand each other. He gave me safety. He was never safe."

Not safe as a small boy fleeing Russia. Not safe as a young refugee in England subjected to ethnic taunts. Not safe from always feeling like an outsider in Canada (he was 15 when his family arrived here in 1928), of not feeling accepted by the elite, despite all his accomplishments as a diplomat and marrying the niece of Vincent Massey, Canada's first native-born governor-general and the closest thing to an Anglo aristocrat the country has likely known - and projecting these insecurities onto his son.

Sitting in his office off Parliament Hill three decades later, Mr. Ignatieff struggles to make sense of what Walpole meant to him: "I think going to that prison." He stops and tries again: "I'd had a sheltered Canadian middle-class life. I think my whole life I've been fascinated by this sense that the world is divided into zones of safety and zones of danger and violence, and the distance between the two is very small.

"In prisons, the violence is what maintains the social order. You can't think of these zones of safety as being happy, consensual, liberal. They're maintained with this, with violence."

The Harvard student in a cellblock - making links between his zones of safety and violence and those experienced by his father - may have looked like the worldly, self-confident kid from Trinity and UCC. In reality, he was feeling anything but cocky.

The Walpole ordeal was a nightmarish experience for him, and back in the hallowed halls of Harvard, he was finding life brutal. He had come from provincial University of Toronto where he had been at the top of his class and was now discovering that everyone he met at America's pre-eminent institution of higher learning was smarter than he was. He wrote letters to friends in Toronto telling them to do their graduate work elsewhere.

His chum Bob Rae was similarly unhappy. Mr. Rae had gone on from U of T to Oxford's Balliol College as a Rhodes scholar and was likewise intimidated by his encounter with the best and brightest from around the world.

He wrote in his autobiography: "I have rarely felt such loneliness and anxiety as I felt in that fall of 1972. Conversation was an effort; I couldn't read or write without feeling completely inadequate; my self-esteem was at zero. I tried travelling."

He turned up at Mr. Ignatieff's apartment for a weekend, and stayed six months, U of T's two former golden boys consoling each other far from home.

Mr. Rae eventually travelled on - staying with his friend, he wrote, "only delayed solving the problem" - leaving Mr. Ignatieff alone to brood on Harvard as "the court of the Manchu emperors" with its cult of The Professor surrounded by fawning students.

Years later, the anger still twisted inside him. "It's just too fucking grand," he told Sandra Martin. "It thinks the sun shines out of its ass, and that means it isn't as good at what it does as it thinks it is."

Another explanation for his vitriol may lie in a 1987 article in The New Republic by Martin Peretz, one of his Harvard professors who later became TNR's editor. Mr. Peretz recounts how efforts to have Mr. Ignatieff promoted to assistant professor were squelched by an influential member of the Harvard faculty who argued that, "given his advantages as a scion of the aristocracy, and an especially handsome one too, his accomplishments were less than they appeared."

Mr. Ignatieff now discounts this anecdote: "'Scion of the aristocracy' sounds unlikely. As far as accomplishments, I was still finishing my PhD. I think Marty is embroidering."

But he doesn't deny feeling ambivalent toward the Ivory Tower. "I've had a love-hate relationship with academic life all my life," he says. "I am a genuine academic; I have a tremendous respect for scholarship, and I'm always slightly nettled when people say, 'He's not really a scholar.' Because I have done actual boot-camp work as a scholar. So I genuinely respect scholarship and genuinely think the academy is where new ideas come from. But you can get suffocated."

He adds: "My mother had this wonderful phrase; she'd go out to some diplomatic cocktail party and she'd come back and you'd say, 'How was it, mum?' and she'd say, 'Life among the Aztecs.' Sometimes academic life was life among the Aztecs, so weird, so isolated from the real world."

In any event, he accepted a job teaching undergraduate history at the University of British Columbia. It was to begin in the fall of 1976. He was 29, and decided to go to England for a summer holiday.

4: THE OBJECT OF DESIRE

One evening at a street party on Charlotte Street in London's Soho district, he encountered Susan Barrowclough, a beautiful, vivacious film historian and rising young British intellectual who had studied under Federico Fellini - and sang Verdi off-key.

Cupid's arrow whacked them both.

Two weeks later, he took her to the house in Provence, "knowing," he later wrote, "that this was the place which would reveal us to each other."

He photographed her on the terrace walking toward him. She was wearing a white dress and a red Cretan sash. She was smiling. "It is the last photograph in which she is still a stranger before we fall in love."

They were married in time for the fall semester, and found a coach house to rent above Spanish Banks on Vancouver's West Point Grey hill.

Susan applied for a job at Cinémathèque, the city's non-profit film society, and Kirk Tougas, then its manager, says: "I immediately recognized her as a treasure, and a treasure she was."

She was erudite beyond her years, and wrote scholarly articles on Canadian cinema. She had a particular expertise on Quebec filmmaker Jean-Pierre Lefebvre.

She infected the Vancouver film community with her energy and enthusiasm. She was a dedicated programmer - Cinémathèque at the time was screening 300 films a year.

"She was exactly what we needed in Vancouver," says Mr. Tougas, who remains one of her few Canadian friends. "We had a lot of fun. She was having a lot of fun. Her life was very much part of Cinémathèque. It was one of the best experiences of her life."

But the fun didn't last long - in 1978, Mr. Ignatieff applied for a six-year research fellowship in the history of classical political economy at King's College, Cambridge.

He didn't like teaching Canadian history to young British Columbians. "It was impossible," he tells me. "The history you had was The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence from Donald Creighton, and it ended at Lake Superior, so they didn't know what the hell you were talking about."

He and Susan returned to England.

They became part of an intellectual collective of bright young socialist academics, writers and trade unionists calling themselves the History Workshop and described by one of its members as "a permanent maelstrom of inquiry into the working-class industrial city."

Its guru was radical Cambridge historian Raphael Samuel, with his scruffy canvas jackets and long, thin wispy hair pushed across his head to hide his baldness. Its nerve centre was his house, an 18th-century weaver's cottage in Spitalfields in London's East End. Its glue was the monthly journal members of the collective edited and their tight bonds of friendship.

They shared interests in the intersections of history, philosophy and politics. They wrote for avant-garde publications such as New Society. They had common enthusiasms for music, theatre and film. They met in each other's apartments to talk and party.

Like Mr. Ignatieff, they have since moved on in life. When I call and ask them to talk about him, they invite me to their homes in Islington, the north London enclave of the well-to-do intelligentsia. Or we meet in their academic offices or some fashionable wine bar off Fleet Street. Unlike Mr. Ignatieff, for the most part, they still feel an unalloyed bond with their past.

"It was a lovely time," says Sally Alexander, now head of the history department at University of London's Goldsmiths College. "We were all young, and, you know, kind of living."

Prof. Samuel and the group affectionately embraced the Ignatieffs, a couple everyone marked as being passionately in love and engrossed in each other's lives. They liked Susan's quick mind, her warmth and vitality, and her independence from Michael - indeed, her intellectual competitiveness with him.

They admired Michael's intelligence and knowledge, his supple political mind, his astonishing facility to write analytical prose and his rigorous discipline as an author. (He wrote two books in this period: Wealth and Virtue, on Scotland during the Enlightenment, and The Needs of Strangers, on the philosophical conflict between individualism and communitarianism.)

The women found him enormously charming, a sympathetic listener, a man who didn't talk down to them, who was self-deprecating, funny, always good for a giggle - two women friends used that same phrase to describe him - appealingly intense, and exotic with his Canadian accent.

He and another member of the collective, Hugh Brody, a talented filmmaker and anthropologist, found cerebral soulmates in each other. They critiqued each other's manuscripts, revelled in each other's ideas and decided to collaborate on a television series proposed by Mr. Ignatieff. "The Science of Desire" was to be a four-part documentary about men who are experts on female sexuality, but the first segment, an examination of Freud, got out of hand and turned into a screenplay for a feature-length drama. They got funding from the British Film Institute, persuaded actors Paul Scofield and Maria Schell to play the lead roles for a small fraction of their standard fees, and the result was Nineteen-Nineteen, directed by Mr. Brody and completed in 1983.

They made plans to collaborate again. They never did.

Instead, they drifted apart - as Michael Ignatieff would drift away from all but a very few in the group. He had arrived at an "ending." He had decided that he was no longer developing. He was about to reinvent himself, and friends would be hurt in the process.

As his Cambridge fellowship drew to a close, everyone could see his increasing restlessness. He was vocally unhappy. If he had found a Manchu court at Harvard, he found a medieval monastery at Cambridge - stultifying and suffocating. "And it was the mid-eighties, it was Thatcher's Britain," he now says. "The universities were getting clobbered [for lack of funding]and I didn't see anywhere else to go."

He didn't apply for a new post. He had had long talks with Sally Alexander, who had become a close friend, about finding a more satisfying definition of himself - about wanting to pursue a writing career and engage more publicly with the issues of the day.

No one was surprised when he suddenly announced in 1983 that he was leaving the academy to become a freelance journalist - "going over the monastery wall," as he put it.

5: THE TRAITOR

In December, 1984, John Fraser, then The Globe and Mail's London correspondent, reported: "This year has turned out be a good one for Mr. Ignatieff. He began it by withdrawing from a successful academic life at Cambridge for the uncertain world of a writer. A film script about Sigmund Freud, called Nineteen-Nineteen, has been turned into reality, with Paul Scofield in the main role. He has written a book of remarkable insight into human nature, The Needs of Strangers, which is having considerable success. His journalism is sprouting almost everywhere you look. And, most significantly, he and his wife Susan have had their first child, a son."

All true, but not the whole story. Shadows invaded that "good" year.

Margaret Thatcher had come to power in Britain with a mandate to reverse the country's economic decline and reduce the role of the state in the economy. She let unemployment rise from one million to three million and, by some estimates, five million. She slashed public services. She was determined to curtail the power of the trade unions.

In March, 1984, British miners went on strike against her plan to rationalize coal production by closing 20 mines and shedding 20,000 jobs. In response, she branded the strikers "the enemy within" whose values were not those of the British people, and vowed to destroy their union and its militant leader, Arthur Scargill. Within months, the miners and their families were destitute, starving, reduced to scavenging on the mines' slag heaps for bits of fuel to stay warm.

One night, Mr. Ignatieff went to a miners' benefit organized in a north London house by one of his friends. Some miners' wives had been invited. There were buckets on the floor to drop donations into. He found it one of the most uncomfortable gatherings he had ever attended.

It was a pivotal moment in his life. But there are conflicting versions of precisely what flowed from that evening.

In Mr. Ignatieff's account, he saw the manifest British class system in the house: a divide between the women from the mining towns and the condescending north London middle-class intelligentsia, his friends and acquaintances of the left, who didn't believe in the strike but couldn't bring themselves to tell the miners that Mr. Scargill was leading them over a cliff.

He says he became acutely aware of how much he hated the British class system. He saw how wrong he had been to think that, as an expatriate Canadian, he had been handed a sort of free pass to stand apart from what he saw as class games being played by his left-wing friends.

He realized that, despite the years he had spent with the History Workshop, he was not a socialist; he was a liberal - "left of centre, but always a liberal." He knew he was no Thatcherite, but he felt that Britain could not continue to produce so much coal and the left was being intellectually dishonest in not accepting the fact.

And so, while Mr. Fraser, now master of U of T's Massey College, was telling Globe readers about his "good year," Mr. Ignatieff wrote an article for the December, 1984, issue of New Statesman stating that the coal miners were indeed acting against the national interest.

He also regretted the absence of a rational political culture in Britain, so the issue could be discussed without fomenting class warfare. But what his article fomented was a furor around its author. He was accused of betraying the cause. People severed friendships with him. Raphael Samuel, guiding light of the History Workshop, was furious.

Mr. Ignatieff withdrew from the collective and dropped a wall between himself and all but a few of his former chums.

"The key thing is not only that I lost friends," he tells me, "but I realized I didn't belong in some deep way. These people had been my extended family for a long time, and they're people for whom I still have enormous affection. But I just felt I didn't belong to that kind of pious political correctness. I just felt it wasn't intellectually honest."

Canadian expatriate writer Lisa Appignanesi has been a friend and defender of Mr. Ignatieff since those days. In an interview in the kitchen of her Islington home, she recalls that "at the time of the miners strike, the purist left could not stand for any argument which said the miners might pragmatically be seen to be taking an ideologically self-immolatory position, that their leader wasn't close to God, that Thatcher [wasn't]a devil and so on.

"Michael's politics have always been left-liberal - in the Isaiah Berlin sense; it's not coincidental that he went on to write a bio of him - and certain of the entrenched moral and moralizing left took 'agin' him. I think this hurt Michael deeply, since these people had been his friends. Friendship and politics colliding is tough."

Sally Alexander, one of the few from the collective who stayed friendly, says he took a "deliberate risk" in writing the New Statesman article. "That's the kind of man he is. But being a Canadian he didn't have the same kind of tribal loyalty."

A different interpretation of Mr. Ignatieff's behaviour comes from several of the friends he and Susan lost. As they saw it, with the birth of his first child, he wanted to become an idealized, famous father like his own had been. He wanted to distance himself from polarized British politics so he could achieve the profile and earnings of an establishment media figure.

In their account, he decided that his left-wing friends no longer were useful to him and exaggerated differences with them over the strike in order to stage an opportunistic withdrawal from the collective. They say that, as his media career blossomed, they sensed a new Michael Ignatieff whenever they encountered him, one who was "patrician," "apostolic" and "arrogant."

"There was a period," one former acquaintance says, "when there were few things I enjoyed more than talking to him. He was one of the best people to take shape with at that period of one's life. But later he gave the impression that he was the only one of us who understood the complexities of the world. I thought he didn't take me as seriously as I took him. And, of course, he had moved into a more exotic, grander, more prestigious circle than I inhabited."

Another recalls walking along a street one day and seeing him drive by. "My memory is that he had a rather good car by then. I waved. He stopped. He wound the window down and we talked briefly. I think maybe he had collected one of his children from rather a posh school, not the local school, and I thought, 'Uh-uh, he's moved away from the rest of us without letting on.'

"He wasn't unfriendly. He just seemed distant and he didn't seem to want my company. In retrospect, I felt like he was saying goodbye. I felt rejected. I still do."

Son Theo was born in 1984, and his sister, Sophie, in 1987. Soon after her birth, it became apparent that Michael's relationship with Susan was running into trouble.

About that time, he wrote that "I'm yet another of these ghastly London males of around 40 who walk around believing they invented fatherhood, children, happy marriages, domesticity."

But acquaintances of the couple noticed that Susan was increasingly despondent and they were getting hints from Mr. Ignatieff that he did not know how to handle it.

It is interesting - given Mr. Ignatieff's social-class meditations on the miners' strike - that when discussing Susan, who refused to be interviewed for this story, the first observation Britons usually make is that she is working-class. Canadians who know her never mention it.

She came from a blue-collar background. Her mother walked out on the family when Susan was 13. As the oldest of five children, she was expected to care for the younger ones. There were dark and troubled moments in her childhood. She was the only member of her school graduating class to go on to university.

She acquired elegance, an education, culture, membership in the chattering classes - and she acquired Michael, whom she adored.

When she became pregnant with Theo in 1983, she quit her job with the British Film Institute to be a stay-at-home mum, and thereafter tried hard - desperately hard, said several friends - to keep pace with her husband as his life dramatically changed.

As a close acquaintance of the two says: "One moment there was complete passionate involvement in each other's lives. Then suddenly it wasn't there any more."

One friend had the impression Susan was jealous because Michael had made a film with someone else rather than her. Others picked up on occasional comments from Michael that Susan increasingly resented the time he spent on work.

A woman friend was astonished to see Susan at a cocktail party two weeks after Sophie's birth. Asked why, she replied that she was determined to stay active in Michael's life. Another friend says Susan was angry with a lyrical newspaper article Mr. Ignatieff had written about watching her sleep - because the article was really about Michael, and she appeared only as an object.

Still another friend, commenting on the growing distance between the couple, observes with a breath of class commentary: "He wanted bare floors. She wanted broadloom."

And a former close acquaintance recalls having lunch in a pub with the Ignatieffs while Theo was still in diapers, and being surprised when Michael said, "Susan, he needs his nappy changed." Says the friend: "That was the British norm. Michael was Canadian."

In the late 1980s, on a summer's visit the Ignatieffs made to Canada, one chum from Michael's university days found Susan antisocial, and another thought they were both depressed and were dragging each other down.

The leap over the monastery wall had taken Mr. Ignatieff into a patch of thorns.

6: THE FAMILY HISTORIAN

Something else at this time was stirring in Michael Ignatieff's mind: his near obsession with exploring the intimate private recesses of family life in his quest for self-understanding. It has produced some of his most incomparably beautiful writing, caused some of the greatest pain to those close to him and is the most difficult thing about him to understand.

His academic and journalistic inquiries into human rights, violence, ethnic nationalism and the moral obligations of liberal democracies have brought him international acclaim as a public intellectual. But it is his fixation with family, the relationships between family members, all the minutiae of family life that leaves him publicly undressed.

It can surface as a simple, lovely word-portrait from the final pages of The Russian Album, the book that won the Governor-General's Award for 1987. ("I think I chose my European past," he tells me, "because I wanted something exotic. I was also my father's son.")

It is a summer's afternoon in 1986. In Richmond in Quebec's Eastern Townships, he is following his Uncle Dima up the sloping hill above the St. Francis River to St. Andrew's Presbyterian cemetery. The old man and his nephew, visiting from London, pass one by one the solid Presbyterian names carved into marble until they come to the only two Russian names the graveyard contains.

They share the same black stone. "'In loving memory, Count Paul Ignatieff, 1870-1945; Countess Natasha Ignatieff, 1877-1944." Michael Ignatieff's grandparents.

Uncle Dima - George Ignatieff's brother Vladimir - spreads his hands to indicate the large plot of grass around the stone. There is room for everyone, the gesture says. He then makes the sign of the cross. He says: "And this, my dear boy, is where I join them."

Vladimir Ignatieff since then has joined his parents. As have Michael's three other Ignatieff uncles, his aunts, his mother, his father. And, he says, one dog. "Me, too, some day," he writes in an e-mail.

But these family paintings can also surface as something darker, more coldly scrutinizing, more baffling.

In the August, 1984 - the summer of Michael Ignatieff's "good year" - there was a family gathering at the house in a village in Provence that George and Alison had bought in 1962 as their only permanent residence.

The older Ignatieffs were there. Andrew had flown in from the shanty barrios of Peru where he worked for the Canadian arm of Save the Children. Michael, Susan and baby Theo had come from London - making it the first time three generations of the family were gathered under one roof.

It was a taxing time. Alison had begun her descent into Alzheimer's. George, the all-powerful force in his sons' lives, was showing signs of frailty. There were raw emotions and difficult conversations as the family struggled with its psychological past, with the unfamiliarity of living together, with the pain of coming to terms with Alison's illness.

The sons' difficult relationship with their father came to the surface.

George, who had had no real childhood of his own, had little idea of what to do with fatherhood when it came to him. He could appear warm and affectionate, but found it difficult to convey his hopes and aspirations to his sons beyond declamations of grand dynastic expectations.

Michael said things that wounded his father. He accused him of crushing his mother's creativity and independence by taking over her life and making her subservient to his needs.

A year later, as Andrew would tell Sandra Martin for Saturday Night, he came home to Toronto from Peru for a visit, walked into a bookstore and saw the entire story of his family's summer laid out in an article Michael had written for the British literary magazine Granta.

Or, almost the entire story: Andrew had been written out of the script. He just didn't appear.

"I just remember standing there and my eyes filling up with tears in the middle of the bookstore," he said.

Not long afterward, Andrew quit his job in Peru to return to Toronto to care for his parents, while Michael's career continued to flower in England - as a television host, newspaper commentator, author and screenplay-writer.

In early 1989, he came briefly to Toronto to spell Andrew off as caregiver - "'once or twice a year, it's my turn" - and shortly afterward, Granta published "Deficits," a deeply moving account of a son looking after his mother, with a forensically detailed description of Alison's deteriorating mental state.

Said Andrew: "I came in one evening and my father was really upset, and I said, 'What's the matter?' and he said, 'Michael's written an article about your mother'"

There were family members - for example, Alison's sister, Charity Grant, and her brother, George Grant, and his wife, Sheila - who could never bring themselves to forgive Michael for having publicly exposed his intensely private mother.

That summer, George Ignatieff died. Andrew was with him. Michael was in France.

"Writing about family," he says in our interview, "it's all about creating the ground under your own feet. It's kind of a process of self-invention, so that you're standing with your feet planted, you know who the hell you are, you know where the hell you came from, you know where the hell you're going."

Through the family stories he says, he gives himself away - whether they are biographical, fictional or some thicket of both fact and fiction. His relationship with George pervades much of what he writes, something he once called "working through stuff with my father."

Even the film he made with Hugh Brody, Nineteen-Nineteen, has a scene where the Paul Scofield character, a Russian, angrily tears family photos from the wall. George was delighted when he saw a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival and recognized the photos used in the film as those of his own family. He didn't twig to the subtext.

Two years after George died, Vancouver filmmaker Colin Browne made a National Film Board documentary about fathers and sons, and interviewed Michael. He is on a sofa with Theo sitting silently beside him, his eyes fixed on Michael as he speaks, while Sophie clambers along the back of the sofa at her father's shoulder, oblivious to what's going on.

He describes how, after his father's death, he felt "emancipated from the immense hold he had on my life. Our wars were over. There were no more hard words to say, also no more gentle words to say. I loved him and I certainly knew what he felt about me."

A man feels alone when his father dies, he says, "but I don't feel bereft, although I would give a great deal to spend another second in his company." His father, he says, taught him "ultimate loyalties - that's what fathers can do."

Andrew wasn't interviewed. However, he told Ms. Martin that, when their father died, his own resentment toward his brother vanished.

"I have reworked our relationship again and again," he said, "and now that I know him better, I think I can understand how he can have this wonderful, vulnerable childlike heart, which is protected by such a ruthless, cold, hard, ambitious exterior. He is so much like my father in this way. Neither one of them had any idea of the impact they had on other people.

"Michael floats above daily interaction and he thinks that force of will and force of intellect can override psychological and emotional factors. He's had to learn they can't. The thing that saves my relationship with him is that we can meet on an emotional level. His intellectual life is not real to me."

Also in 1991, Asya, the first Michael Ignatieff novel, was published - to brutal reviews from the British media. In her review, Sandra Martin said the problem with Asya was that it wasn't a novel at all, but a threnody - a song of mourning - to George Ignatieff. (Frank, the purportedly satirical magazine, was delighted that Mr. Ignatieff gave his heroine "raspberry nipples," a sobriquet it has recently taken to calling him by.)

Alison Ignatieff died in 1992, and the following year Scar Tissue, the second novel, appeared . This time, the critics were almost universal in their praise, the work was short-listed for the Booker Prize and turned into a television drama for which Mr. Ignatieff collaborated on the screenplay.

It is a first-person narrative of a man who cares for a mother with Alzheimer's and whose brother is intellectually and emotionally detached from her illness. Many reviewers described the novel as autobiographical, but only in a handful of instances was Mr. Ignatieff quoted as saying that Andrew, not he, was Alison's primary caregiver. "I was the absent brother," he told The Guardian.

Speaking to Ms. Martin just before the book came out, he said he felt compelled to honour his mother's suffering in the best way he knew - by writing about it. "I want to commemorate her courage and to say all the things I learned from her and my brother. She has taught me such an incredible amount about what it means to be alive through her impairment, her horror, her difficulty."

He also has said the family proclivity for Alzheimer's - his maternal grandmother was afflicted by it, too - frightens him and that, to ward it off, he stands on his head so that blood will rush into his brain.

As a footnote, Mr. Ignatieff's first-person character in the novel has a wife who resents the time he spends away from home caring for his mother. Their marriage collapses when the character has an affair with his mother's nurse. He tells his wife about it, and she orders him out of the house.

Shortly afterward, a British newspaper gossip columnist trumpeted that Michael Ignatieff - "the patron saint of the New Man" - had left his wife for another woman.

And during our interview, he says: "I did have a very bad patch in 1993. My marriage broke up. It was the closest thing to a near-death experience, and it was initiated by me. So it's difficult to talk about - because I don't want to hurt other people."

Four years later, the Ignatieffs divorced, and accounts of the marriage's disintegration are uniform: The separation proceedings were poisonous, the legal bills huge. Michael told friends of having to pay several thousand pounds just to vary his visiting time with Sophie by one hour.

7: FALL FROM GRACE

In 1999, Michael Ignatieff married Suzanna Zsohar in London's Hackney town hall.

The wedding reception was held in the third-floor apartment of a renovated warehouse - the entire third-floor: vast amounts of bare floors, white walls, groupings of modern furniture in pink and green - in hip, east-end Hoxton, where the two had been living together for three years.

One guest recalls walking into the reception and being stopped cold by the realization that almost everyone present was famous: novelists Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, husband and wife writers Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Monty Python's Michael Palin, the Berlin Philharmonic's Simon Rattle, film producer Lynda Myles, theatre and opera director Jonathan Miller, literary maven Lisa Appignanesi, Prospect editor David Goodhart, and on and on. The intellectual and artistic haute monde of London.

What also would have been apparent to the 50 or so guests, brother Andrew among them, was that Mr. Ignatieff had emerged from the dark cave of his soul, and was happy, the reason being the pleasant, fair-haired woman standing at his side.

Budapest-born Ms. Zsohar, a few months younger than her new husband, had been head of publicity at the BBC before embarking on a career as a freelance publicist. Her skill at nurturing sensitive media personalities was renowned - she had done a superb job with Mr. Palin and his Hemingway Adventure travel series, and had handled the promotion of one of Mr. Ignatieff's BBC documentaries.

She also had reassembled the man himself after his bitter divorce from Susan.

She is described by those who know her as intelligent, funny, warm, kind, caring, someone who can be called with a personal crisis in the middle of the night and offer excellent advice.

Above all, she is characterized as a woman who knows exactly who she is and what she wants to do - a very clear person with a firm personality who is unswerving in her affection for her husband.

"If I had not met her, I'd be very different," Mr. Ignatieff tells me. "She really did put me together in ways that gave me a sense of being well in the world. She's just a very exceptional person. I can't exaggerate the importance of that."

A long-time friend feels that Mr. Ignatieff "has found his life partner." They are a dyad. He constantly consults her, and has credited her with eradicating his chronic back pain, the result of two car accidents.

Andrew Ignatieff gave a speech at their wedding, thanking her for creating a space where he and Michael could finally meet as brothers. He has told friends in Toronto that he feels Michael has changed: the ruthlessness has gone.

Ms. Zsohar came into Mr. Ignatieff's life at the right moment. After his 15-year rise from the History Workshop collective, he was starting to come down.

On the crest of hard work, discipline and remarkable talent, he had travelled an awesome distance. University research fellows - even from Cambridge - just do not become television hosts, columnists for national newspapers and leading magazines on two continents, authors, documentary makers, screenwriters, war correspondents and members of international commissions on violence and peace, all more or less at the same time. Mr. Ignatieff did.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing violent eruptions of ethnic nationalism in the Balkans and elsewhere propelled him on to the global stage as an eloquent and forceful proponent of the obligations of liberal democracies to intervene in failed states to protect their inhabitants.

In television documentaries and books - Blood and Belonging, Guardians of Chaos, The Warrior's Honour, Virtual War, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, The Trial of Freedom and The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror - he explored the new violence of ethnicity and terror and the failure of traditional multilateral means to contain them.

The Observer gave him a weekly column. He was invited to give lectures at leading U.S. and Canadian universities and offered visiting professorships at the London School of Economics and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Blood and Belonging in 1993 won the $50,000 Lionel Gelber Prize for foreign-policy writing, beating out Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy.

His biography of Oxford philosopher and intellectual historian Isaiah Berlin was published in 1998 to huge acclaim.

He became a celebrity. When Salman Rushdie, still in hiding from Ayatollah Khomeini's execution fatwa, wrote his brilliant defence of free speech in 1990 to be read at a public assembly in London, Mr. Ignatieff was asked to preside at the event. And when Mr. Rushdie came out of hiding, he was the first TV host to interview the author.

He was referred to in print as "the elegant television pundit Michael Ignatieff," whose wife had an excellent recipe for fish pasta (so much for Susan's intellectual status). He was photographed in a pink suit for the cover of British GQ, and included in the lists of celebrities' birthdays published annually by The Times and The Guardian.

He was one of the first members of Groucho's, the fashionable Soho club for writers and editors that opened in 1985 - although he had a reputation for being shirty with the staff when service fell beneath his standards.

His opinion on Madonna was given media currency: "I don't mind that I see her face on every magazine cover; I certainly don't mind that she is obscene; I don't even mind that she can't sing, can't dance, can't act and is nonetheless the most famous person on the planet. What I can't stand about Madonna is that she thinks she's an artist."

It was gossiped around London that after Martin Amis's new lover, now his second wife - wealthy and beautiful American writer Isabel Fonseca - was introduced to Mr. Ignatieff in the early 1990s and spent several minutes talking to him, she murmured, "I'm so sorry that we did not have a chance to discuss philosophy."

But now all that was up. The British press had turned on its former darling. Reviewers mauled Asya. Academic critics denigrated his journalism as shallow. Media critics called him pompous, tedious, long-winded, a bore - and worse, "a Canadian bore."

One columnist wrote that the worst that could happen to someone watching weekend television would be to "fall asleep halfway through a Michael Ignatieff introduction and suddenly discover it was Monday." Another declared that he was a "cutting-edge Canadian thinker" with "all the allure of a Newfoundland fog." One paper kept referring to him as "Big Ig."

The attacks, according to Lisa Appignanesi, hurt him. "Once Michael had made the decision to opt for the freelance life, he worked hard at it, and success engendered a certain amount of envy from those who hadn't been quite so successful, and had been left behind.

"Nothing is begrudged as much as success from a supposed peer, and the way other academics can have of dealing with this is simply by attacking the person as less of a heavyweight, less pure."

At the same time, the fashion for earnest journalism popular in Britain in the 1980s was giving way to something cheekier, less reverential. Even as his media fame was still blossoming, outlets for his work were being pruned. He lost his column with The Observer in 1993; more precisely, he surrendered it before it could be taken away.

In the mid-1990s, he told me, his career as a television host stalled. He had a fresh mind, an engaging curiosity; he was easy to work with; he had the slightly larger head that cameras flatter. But he never broke through in the medium. In fact, to some degree, his television celebrity was more a product of media chatter - his documentaries were praised by newspaper critics - than a reflection of the ratings. Some of his audiences were so small, they barely registered.

A BBC executive says he never learned to let to let go in front of the camera, to project a strong personality and distinct voice, and the people who directed him didn't know how to fix it.

And so, two years later after, he and Ms. Zsohar married, Mr. Ignatieff was ready to make another radical change. He junked the fading media career; he junked the British, and he came back across the pond, having resurrected himself as an academic

8: THE HAWK

A quarter-century after leaving Harvard convinced that it was overrated, pompous and arrogant, he was back - as director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy, an academic think tank tucked beneath the umbrella of Harvard's prestigious Kennedy School of Government.

"It gave me a certain kind of feeling of vindication," he recalls, "even if no one cares but me."

Just two years old, the centre and its acting director - lawyer, journalist and human-rights activist Samantha Power - were looking for someone who would generate enough of a buzz to make America's government, media and academic elites take note.

Prof. Power did not want the position; she disliked administration. But she liked Mr. Ignatieff - his writing (sitting in England, he had noticed his books starting to turn up on course reading lists in northeastern U.S. universities), his thinking and his style.

He turned out to be made for the job. By every account, his four years at the Carr were among the most satisfying and exciting of his life. Within months of his arrival, he grabbed media attention with a colloquium on American exceptionalism: an exploration of America's long-standing practice of exempting itself from international human-rights obligations and international legal frameworks.

He turned the Carr into a dynamic intellectual salon, crackling with scholarly electricity in all directions - looking at human rights in the context of a global responsibility to protect, philosophically re-examining the social contract, investigating the failure of civil society in places such as the Balkans, analyzing how the strong use power on behalf of the weak.

"His understanding of the American landscape, his ability to deal with the military, with the media, with students, it was amazing," Prof. Power says.

"He threw a grenade into the whole debate on human rights," says Gwyn Prins, a leading research scholar on global security issues who has a joint academic posting to the London School of Economics and New York's Columbia University. '"His message was that you don't make progress about a big idea if you're complacent, and being ideological is the easy way out."

The distant, aloof and patrician Michael Ignatieff of London days seemed a man transformed. He also seemed a man bent on undoing everything he had hated about Harvard.

To the 120 students studying at the centre, he became the adored Harrison Ford character out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. They rated his lectures as mind-altering. His colleagues - particularly, as usual, women - found him gregarious, relaxed, playful, thoughtful, a ready friend and mentor.

He gave a folksy interview to Harvard Magazine soon after he had settled in, declaring that "sitting on the couch, watching pro sports with a beer in my hand, is pretty close to my idea of heaven."

The gruff, Pulitzer Prize-winning Prof. Power says their social relationship was based on three Bs: baseball, bottles and boys. They talked about the Boston Red Sox, of whom she is a fanatic supporter; they spent evenings together '"yelling and laughing" over bottles of wine, and she found him a kind and sympathetic confidant when it came to affairs of the heart.

He always remembered her birthday.

Fernande Raine, the centre's executive director, says Mr. Ignatieff was someone she instantly trusted, someone who cared about the people he worked with and their personal lives and families, someone who didn't believe in "a hierarchical totem pole" - no court of the Manchu emperors.

'"That was very rare at Harvard," she says. '"He was probably the least political person in a tactical way of thinking at the Kennedy School."

Amir Attaran, now Canada research chair in law, population health, and global development policy at the University of Ottawa, was a research fellow at the Kennedy School during Mr. Ignatieff's time at the Carr.

He ran afoul of an influential faculty member and the school's administration over a line of academic inquiry he insisted on pursuing, and found himself about to be booted out.

He brought his troubles to Mr. Ignatieff, who gave him office space and mentoring support until he could find another academic home. "Michael stuck up for me against some extremely nasty attacks," Prof. Attaran says.

And then in early 2003, he did something that not only shocked his colleagues but brought down on his head the condemnation of the entire U.S. left. In a Sunday magazine essay in The New York Times, he declared his support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

It was 1984 all over again: the British miners strike, the New Statesman article, the outrage of the History Workshop and the North London left - this time, writ large on a global stage.

"He could have fallen on his face," says Prof. Power, who vehemently disagreed with him.

Instead, he eloquently defended himself, writing in The Guardian, for example: "Now that combat has commenced, those, like me, who support the war need to be honest enough to address some painful questions. Who wants to live in a world where there are no stable rules for the use of force by states? Not me. Who wants to live in a world ruled by the military power of the strong? Not me. How will we oblige American military hegemony to pay 'decent respect to the opinions of mankind'? I don't know.

"To support the war entails a commitment to rebuild that order on new foundations. To support the war entails other discomforts as well. It means remaining distinct from the company you keep, supporting a swift and decisive victory, while maintaining your distance from the hawks, the triumphalists, the bellowing commentators who mistake machismo for maturity."

His support of the Iraq invasion would have appalled his father, but his arguments won him at least grudging respect from many who disagreed with him.

"I'm in the middle of the largest moral and political gamble of my adult life," he told The Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders the following year, as he held fast to his support for the invasion even though he had become critical of how President George W. Bush was handling it. "Everything I've said and believed since I was 18 is on the line over this war, and I could be very seriously wrong."

Then, in 2005, he again did something shocking - he suddenly resigned from the Carr to return to Canada .

What had happened? This ending didn't fit the pattern. There were no visible Aztecs around, his career at the Carr seemed anything but stalled, his status as a public intellectual in the United States had become nothing short of august.

Mr. Ignatieff's explanation, sitting in his MP's office, is that he wanted a new challenge, something tough. "You say, 'Let's do something really hard.' I don't want to be someone sitting in my rocking chair at the end saying, 'Well, I passed.' And that's been true all my life. My mum used to say life isn't for sissies."

He has said on other occasions that he felt in his soul it was time to come home, that he had always intended to enter public life one day. And there were those four words in his UCC yearbook.

Over lunch in London's Richoux Restaurant Gwyn Prins, the global security expert, hints that Mr. Ignatieff had a quite deliberate plan in mind: He wants to bring his ideas to where the action is.

Musing on how a Canadian prime minister could have great influence on a "re-animated debate" over global human rights, Prof. Prins says: "You've got admire a guy who follows his star."

Denis Smith, emeritus professor of political science at University of Western Ontario, puts it another way.

"His writings would be of no public significance, if he had continued his academic and literary career in Canada or abroad," Prof. Smith writes in his new book, Ignatieff's World: A Liberal Leader for the Twenty-first Century, to be published next month.

"But once he became a candidate for the Liberal leadership and a potential prime minister, what he has said about world affairs over two decades becomes relevant to members of the Liberal Party and to the Canadian electorate."

The observer wants to be a player.

9: THE CANDIDATE

Here is the moment Michael Ignatieff entered Canadian political life:

The venue was Il Posto in Toronto's Yorkville district, a restaurant favoured by Liberals of a certain stature. One night early in June, 2005, Senator David Smith, backroom eminence, had dinner with Mr. Ignatieff and Ms. Zsohar. Also present was lawyer Dan Brock, one of a small group of Liberals who had been working for more than a year to bring Mr. Ignatieff into politics.

Mr. Smith was being asked to place his imprimatur on Mr. Ignatieff, something he had been doing with promising candidates since Lester Pearson's final campaign in 1965 - "identifying a few key people across the country, the best and the brightest and quite frankly, if you leave it to happenstance, it doesn't happen that often."

He liked what he saw. "What you find when you have a conversation with Michael," he says, "it maybe takes you three minutes to conclude we've got a pretty fine mind here, there's a lot of depth here. You know, there's insight. This is not a routine person. This is a very special person."

Paul Martin, then prime minister, was reported to be aware of the get together, open-minded and curious about the outcome.

As the meal ran its course, it was clear to everyone at the table that Mr. Ignatieff's decision about running for Parliament had been made, and that the conversation was about the nuts-and-bolts logistics of his candidacy - although for media and public consumption, it would be said for the rest of the summer that he had yet to make up his mind.

(It would also be said that he was returning to Canada as a visiting professor at the U of T and to do a book and CBC television series on his maternal great-grandfather, George Monro (Ocean-to-Ocean) Grant, companion of Sanford Fleming on his 1872 cross-Canada expedition and principal of Queen's University until his death in 1902.)

Mr. Smith stressed that the dinner discussion was not about "the big job."

"The thought was that, if we formed a government, he wasn't looking for any promises, but he'd have a very good shot at being a minister.

"Chapter one would be getting the nomination.

"Chapter two would be winning the seat.

"Chapter three a minister.

"And then maybe down the road who knows?"

Chapter four. Which began sooner than expected.

On the night of Jan. 23, Michael Ignatieff - after a slightly dodgy acquisition of the nomination in Etobicoke-Lakeshore (all possible opponents were declared ineligible) - was elected to Parliament. But his party was pushed out of government, and Mr. Martin announced that he would step down as party leader.

On April 7, Mr. Ignatieff declared his candidacy for the leadership, bounding almost immediately to the front of the pack - where he has remained - with flocks of MPs and party notables handing him their endorsement, and many party members handing him cheques.

Former Ontario premier David Peterson, together with Dorothy Davey, wife of legendary Liberal organizer Keith Davey, held a fundraiser for him. When Toronto's Liberal elite gathered for super-mandarin Bernie Ostry's funeral in May, Mr. Ignatieff's name - Iggy, for the headline writers - was on every lip.

I had breakfast at the summer's outset with political journalist Peter C. Newman, who talked over bagels in his north Toronto apartment about how politicians who become accepted into the mythology of the country have nicknames bestowed on them: Rex for Mackenzie King. Mike Pearson. Dief for John Diefenbaker. PET for Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

"And now Iggy," Mr. Newman said.

Poor Andrew Ignatieff. Written out of the script again. Or maybe it's his revenge - Iggy was the nickname Andrew loathed at Upper Canada College. It was never Michael's.

As the campaign has progressed, Mr. Ignatieff's policy announcements - as well as his parliamentary vote with the Conservative government to extend Canada's military mission in Afghanistan - have regularly made front-page news. In July, the media waited eagerly for his return from a visit to his mother-in-law in Budapest, so they could record his views on the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.

Efforts by his opponents - most vigorously by old pal Bob Rae - to make an issue of Mr. Ignatieff's absence from the country throughout most of his adult life have not noticeably furrowed party members' brows. Yet, as recently as 2000, when he gave the CBC Massey Lectures on the development of human rights in Canada, he acknowledged being "a Martian outsider" who had not resided here "since 1969," overlooking, for some reason, the two years spent at UBC.

This week, Maclean's magazine, claiming an "exclusive," trumpets as its cover story "The Ignatieff Manifesto - The most intriguing new face in Canadian politics reveals how he'd change the country." Mr. Ignatieff wrote the article himself.

He still sparks a buzz, but the Trudeau comparisons are fading. Understandably so, perhaps. Mr. Ignatieff is light on charisma and his campaign style can be, well, wooden. A senior campaign aide confides: "He's not going to be made over."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff sips tea at Stornoway during a year-end interview on December 17, 2009.

In June, he travelled to the blue-collar Eastern Ontario city of Cornwall to meet a shirtsleeve crowd of Liberals in the Knights of Columbus hall. He came in, wearing a tight, European-cut suit with all three buttons of the jacket done up, and looking as out of place as a Harvard professor at a barn dance.

His radar didn't fail him entirely. When the time came to say a few words, he started dropping his g's.

Illustrating Canada as a land of opportunity, he said, referring to his father George: "You can start with nuthin' and you end up an ambassador."

There were people in the hall of Southeast Asian descent. He said of himself: "That's who I am, the son and grandson of immigrants."

There were farmers. He said: "I grew up in the barns of Uncle Vladimir."

He was talking to party members. He said: "I've been a Liberal since I was 17 and knocked on doors for the 1965 election."

There was even a question from a man wondering how divorced fathers can get better access to their children. "Without going into details of my personal life," Mr. Ignatieff told him, "I have special sympathies for the difficulties fathers sometimes have gaining access to their children."

So that's Mr. Ignatieff on his feet, connecting with the party faithful. But play the Cornwall tape again.

Growing up in Uncle Vladimir's barns? Michael Ignatieff grew up in diplomatic residences in New York and Europe and the dorm at Upper Canada College. His uncle's dairy farm he visited in the summer.

Yes, on his father's side, he is the son and grandson of immigrants. But the father who started with nothing and became an ambassador was the son of Russian aristocracy, attended private schools and went to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. And on his mother's side, Mr. Ignatieff is the grandson and great-grandson of a Canadian intellectual dynasty.

He did become a Liberal in 1965 - but left the country four years later. And, as for his children, he has had difficulty in the past gaining access to them. And he can deny access - turning down my request to talk to them, saying he did not want his political career to intrude on their privacy.

Theo, now 22, has followed his father to Toronto. He lived for a while with his Uncle Andrew but is now on his own and works in a restaurant. Like many men his age, he is trying to decide what to do with his life, and has been described as brooding and serious - like Michael.

In contrast, sister Sophie, 19, is characterized as tough, independent, spontaneous and the spitting image, both physically and in many of her mannerisms, of her grandmother, Alison. She is about to enter the University of Edinburgh.

10: THE FINAL PRODUCT

So, that's what it means to be Michael Ignatieff. Is he, to quote Prof. Denis Smith's book title, a Liberal leader for the 21st century? That's for his party to decide, of course.

He tells me he wants to connect with the romantic vision of the country that his great-grandfather held, that he wants to be a nation-builder like George Monro Grant.

A few days ago, I went to hear him speak to Liberals in the Georgian Bay town of Owen Sound. He wore the same suit as he had in Cornwall, but the jacket was unbuttoned and he had lost the tie. This was a different Michael Ignatieff from the one I had seen in Cornwall, without a breath of condescension, gimmickry or banality in his talk - maybe just a couple of dropped g's.

He delivered an articulate, engaging summary of his campaign ideas. He talked knowledgeably with his rural audience about combatting U.S. and European agricultural subsidies, about the need for a national food policy, about the environment.

I asked two women I was sitting with what they thought. Neither liked the suit. One said he went on five minutes too long. Both said they would vote for him as leader. The only candidate to come to town, he was the main story on the front page of the next day's Owen Sound Sun-Times.

When you look at Michael Ignatieff's life, you can't help but be impressed by his accomplishments and by the discipline he has imposed on himself to achieve them. He hasn't drifted for a moment since he was the authoritarian prig at Upper Canada College walking around with Paris Match tucked under his arm.

Despite what he may say to the contrary, he has made his life into an effective vehicle that travels from Point A to Point B. When he has recognized endings, he has ended things - wham-bam - and gone on to something else, at times reinventing himself dramatically in the process. Not a lot of people do that.

And, yes, it has meant being ruthless - and in the past, others have paid the price.

But as our 67 minutes in his Ottawa office come to an end, he tells me: "The point about ruthlessness that's important is that I am prepared to pay the price of my own life. You can pay your own bill, but inflicting the cost on other people is very hard - and you do get up in the night and think of that."

I still don't understand his obsession with writing about his family - the books and the articles that have laid out the intimate details of his life and the lives of those close to him. With only a few minutes left in our conversation, he tells me: "It may just be vanity. I spent a lot of time trying to sort out where I come from, where I belong."

I glance around the office and notice that, despite a few personal touches - he brought in his own desk and a wall of books, there's a kind of detached look to it. Like it's a way station on the road to somewhere else.

Michael Valpy is a senior writer for The Globe and Mail.

CORRECTION

Jeff Rose was national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees from 1983 to 1991. This story incorrectly stated he was the Ontario president when it was first published.

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