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James Walter

James Walter

James Walter is Emeritus Professor of Politics at Monash University, and has published widely on leadership, biography, and political ideas. Volume two of his history of the Australian prime ministership (with Paul Strangio and Paul ‘t Hart),The pivot of power: The Australian prime ministership 1950 –2016 (Miegunyah Press), was published in 2017.

James Walter reviews 'Inside the Greens: The origins and future of the party, the people and the politics' by Paddy Manning

November 2019, no. 416 23 October 2019
In 2016 John Kaye was dying. Once leader of the Greens in New South Wales, he had a final message for his party. ‘This isn’t and never has been about changing government … This is about changing what people expect from government.’ In our era, dogged by chronic distrust of parties and government, it might have served as a rallying cry for people to transform politics by demanding more of t ... (read more)

James Walter reviews 'Tiberius with a Telephone: The life and stories of William McMahon' by Patrick Mullins

January-February 2019, no. 408 18 December 2018
Billy McMahon, Australia’s twentieth prime minister, held the post for less than two years (March 1971–December 1972). In surveys of both public esteem and professional opinion, he is generally ranked as our least accomplished prime minister. He is also, until now, the only prime minister for whom there has been no serious biography published. No one, perhaps, thought it worth the effort. ... (read more)

James Walter reviews 'John Curtin’s War: Volume I' by John Edwards

April 2018, no. 400 22 March 2018
John Curtin may be our most extensively documented prime minister. He is the subject of many biographies (including one by the author of the volume reviewed here) and countless chapters and articles, and is necessarily a central figure in war histories of the 1940s. John Edwards ventures into a well-populated field. The publisher’s claim in promoting the book that Curtin is one of our most under ... (read more)

James Walter reviews 'Incorrigible Optimist: A political memoir' by Gareth Evans

November 2017, no. 396 25 October 2017
Gareth Evans is one of the more interesting figures from the Hawke–Keating governments, not alone as a high achiever in a talented team, nor in the tenacity that saw him remain so long in the inner circle, but unusual in forging a cosmopolitan career of such substance thereafter. His political memoir demonstrates the continuity of his principal concerns – identified in the thematic chapter hea ... (read more)

James Walter reviews 'Paul Keating: The Big-Picture Leader' by Troy Bramston

March 2017, no. 389 22 February 2017
Paul Keating has been much written about; his trajectory is familiar. His is a story of leadership and the exercise of power, about a man who led from the front and – like Gough Whitlam – was willing to ‘crash through or crash’ when following his convictions. No prime minister since has displayed a similar propensity. Troy Bramston’s biography conforms to that account. There is new mater ... (read more)

James Walter reviews 'Keating' by Kerry O'Brien

January-February 2016, no. 378 17 December 2015
Paul Keating continues to fascinate. Influential commentators such as Paul Kelly and George Megalogenis now celebrate the golden age of policy reform in which he was central, while lamenting the policy desert of recent years. Still, it is not enough: Keating, the master storyteller, wants to control the narrative of his legacy. Yet he professes disdain for biography and memoir, and is niggardly wi ... (read more)

James Walter reviews 'The Menzies Era: The years that shaped modern Australia' by John Howard

March 2015, no. 369 01 March 2015
John Howard has long been concerned with countering what he regards as the domination of Australian historical writing by the left. His project was initiated before he gained the prime ministership, most notably in his Menzies Lecture of 1996, in which he claimed that most of the distinctiveness and achievements of Australian politics were grounded in the liberal tradition. It continued during the ... (read more)

James Walter reviews 'Triumph and Demise: The broken promise of a Labor generation' by Paul Kelly

November 2014, no. 366 01 November 2014
Paul Kelly’s considerable research ability, enviable political knowledge, narrative skill, and indulgence in polemics all figure in his new book. The former qualities make it a must-read for the politically engaged; the latter is so pronounced that such readers may succumb to frustration and throw the book at the wall before reaching the valuable final chapter where at last we arrive at a cohere ... (read more)

James Walter reviews 'Not For Turning: The life of Margaret Thatcher' by Robin Harris and 'Margaret Thatcher: The authorized biography' by Charles Moore

November 2013, no. 356 30 October 2013
Our media treat leaders as personifying everything that matters, yet social scientists disdain leadership. Most of what we know about leaders comes from biographies. And biography, dominated by those wishing either to demonise, or to celebrate, their subject, is a craft monopolised by insiders, acolytes, and journalists. Regarding Margaret Thatcher, academics have discussed her premiership (1979 ... (read more)
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