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How to Find Canadian Facts Fast?
Reviewed by Barrie Zwicker
This book delivers.
It delivers on its full title, which is Finding Canadian Facts Fast: How to Find and Use Information About Almost Anybody or Anything Quickly, Cheaply and Legally Whether It's Any of Your Business or Not.
But it delivers more. As well as being a how-to book, it's a reference work in itself, with a fine bibliography and index. It also provides a fascinating look at how novelists, detectives, scientists, historians, skip tracers, lawyers, union organizers and others go about gathering the information which is all-important to them in their work.
For a journalist, even a practiced one, reading this book is something like attending a top-flight workshop at the Centre for Investigative Journalism, with someone like investigative reporter John Zaritsky sharing his secrets.
Except that this book is comprehensive, detailed, permanent, indexed and costs less than the price of registering for a CIJ workshop. (Mind you. I'm not for a moment suggesting that it's an either/or situation; I daresay no serious journalist should miss either the book or CIJ or Periodical Writers Association of Canada workshops.)
And speaking of John Zaritsky, he is one of those sharing information in this book about his investigative techniques.
I bring a particular bias to this review. I met the young author, Stephen Overbury, about 10 years ago when he was even younger but just as intense and committed to serious journalism as he is today. He would become deeply interested, even concerned, about whatever issue he was tackling. This led to his having difficulty being accepted by a number of people he encountered in the jouralistic establishment.
He could be a bit difficult to work with because of his unflagging dedication and desire to be immensely thorough. Even though I could not publish the story that was the most ambitious we agreed he should tackle, it was in part his failing for the best of reasons that gave me faith that he eventually would succeed handsomely, and I told him so. This book is proof that my faith was not misplaced.
To return to his book, that drive for comprehensiveness shows here. But Finding Canadian Facts Fast is never heavy reading. This is because the information about investigative techniques is narrated in their own words by Zaritsky, by novelist Timothy Findley, by detective Calvin Hill, by medical scientist Dr. Louis Siminovitch and the others. Additionally, most of the chapters are short some being only three or four pages and the longer chapters are broken into easy-to-identify sections.
The book cannot be considered complete, in the sense that no one reading it would think of any further sources to add. (I would selfishly hope, for instance, that in a future edition, SOURCES would be listed as a journalistic reference work, especially with the addition of Parliamentarv Names & Numbers.) But if I know the author he will incorporate good suggestions into the next edition with the same degree of care he has shown in compiling and writing the first.
The only deficiency I noted, and this is slim pickin's indeed, is that subjects such as "special libraries" and "computer services," which rate sub-sections in the chapter Using Libraries in Canada, are not listed in the index. Perhaps a careful check of the book would reveal a decision not to list chapter sub-sections, as such, in the index. It seems an unfortunate omission from the user's point of view.
This book is literate, scrupulously proofread and as practical as can be. It delivers.
Barrie Zwicker is Editor and Publisher of SOURCES.
Published in Sources, Summer 1985