Writing a biography of any practising politician is a difficult task: you are more or less beholden to your subject, and the book can end up an exercise in diplomacy instead of perception. Writing a book about Bill Hayden, who has been called an enigma, a Hamlet, and a Cassandra, is double difficult. Writing about Hayden without Hayden’s help (he ‘was able to squeeze in only limited interviews’) is almost impossible.
So, Denis Murphy’s Hayden – a political biography is a useful, dull, and finally unrevealing book. Useful, because it does give a straightforward account of Hayden’s life and political career from 1933, when he was born into a poor working-class Catholic family in Brisbane, to his current election campaign for the Prime Ministership. Dull, because it isn’t more than that (much of the book relies on Hayden’s past speeches). And unrevealing because Murphy, who is a Reader in History at the University of Queensland, an accomplished academic historian, never seems to get close to Hayden’s character or understanding what the real wellsprings of his political actions are.