Bruce Grant

Opposite a handsome portrait of him by Louis Kahan, Bruce Grant introduces his memoir of a ‘life’s journey’ by proposing that it is also a biography of Australia, and promising to revisit that on the last page. There, he summarises the plots of ‘Love in the Asian Century’, his recent trilogy of e-books, in which affairs between older men and younger women, ...

Politics is a demanding profession that calls for skills of leadership and oratory, as well as management, analysis, and even theatre. Asking a politician to be truthful as well may be looking a gift-horse in the mouth. But we do. Misleading parliament by being ‘untruthful’ (‘lying’ is so reprehensible that it is unparliamentary to accuse a member of it) is a serious offence. In the US presidential system, where the executive is independent of the legislature and the head of government is also head of state, the great deterrent to lying is the authority that Congress has to censure and expel its members and to impeach officials, including the president.

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On China by Henry Kissinger

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September 2011, no. 334

Henry Kissinger has never seemed at home in the United States, although he has served in its highest councils and received its richest rewards. When I was one of his students at Harvard, we called him Henry, to distinguish him from professorial luminaries such as Galbraith, Riesman, and Schlesinger. He did not fit the insistent reasonableness of the Harvard faculty. His guttural voice, anxiety to please, mischievous, self-deprecating humour, and fearsome views on nuclear warfare made him an almost unbelievable figure of playful profundity.

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Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt & The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt

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March 2011, no. 329

These two books were written in the last stages of a fatal illness. What is remarkable about them is their poise. They show no signs of anguish, anger, or remorse. They remind us of the discipline of a trained and responsible mind, nimble and true to its calling until the end.

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When the book arrived for review, a paperback of 656 pages, my heart sank. Americans are the world’s greatest researchers. Reading it would be like drinking from a fire hose. But it began incisively, with a turning point in the 2008 presidential campaign that established Obama’s audacity as a ‘complex, cautious, intelligent, shrewd, young African-American man’ who would project his ambitions and hopes as the aspirations of the United States of America itself. Soon we were in Kenya, with Tom Mboya, Jomo Kenyatta, the Mau Mau uprising, and Barack Hussein Obama Sr, a promising young economist with a rich, musical voice and a confident manner on his way to the University of Hawaii. We also meet the most compelling character in the book, perhaps in Obama’s life: his mother, a seventeen-year-old from Kansas, intrepid and idealistic, who takes up with the dasher from Kenya, becomes pregnant and marries him.

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Needless to say, yet needing to be said, Australia’s twenty-third prime minister, R.J.L. Hawke, emerges from this interesting, sometimes engrossing yet disconcerting book smelling like roses. When MUP decided to publish, it must have seemed like a good idea. Deployed on television, Bob and Blanche were a marketing dream. But the result has a fatal flaw; it neither enlarges Hawke as a political leader nor advances d’Alpuget as a writer.

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At a time when one is reading of Cabinet decisions to cut many of the remaining constitutional links with Britain (Premiers’ Conference, June), thus moving Australia closer to national sovereignty, it is timely to be reminded of events only just over the contemporary horizon which could be said to have matured this nation into quickening the pace towards that independence of British dominion – no matter how tenuous politically, yet still incipiently present in the Statute Books and by Privy Council.

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