William Heinemann

In August of this year, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report was published, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, described its findings as ‘code red for humanity’. For those of us working in climate change communication, the alarm was familiar, another scream into the void to punctuate the prevailing astonishment at a world so insouciant in the face of its imminent environmental collapse. The aptly titled Bewilderment, Richard Powers’ first book since his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Overstory (2018), examines our code-red present with unnerving clarity, testing the viability of human life on this planet. As with The Overstory, a novel to which Bewilderment is very much a companion, humankind is on trial. Even by the gruelling standards of Anthropocene literature, it makes for unsettling reading.

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Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Shaun Whiteside

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December 2019, no. 417

Serotonin is Michel Houellebecq’s eighth novel and appears four years after the scandalous and critically successful Submission (2015), a dystopian novel that depicts France under sharia law. In Serotonin, we are again presented with the standard Houellebecquian narrator: white, middle-aged, and middle class, seemingly in the throes of some mid-life crisis of a predominantly – but not exclusively – sexual nature.

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The link between fundamentalist religion, violence, and madness is well established. The conviction of absolute truth becomes especially toxic when believers are convinced that the end of the world is nigh. This is exacerbated in times of major socio-economic change and political instability, such as during the Protestant Reformation ...

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Gina Rinehart by Adele Ferguson & The House of Hancock by Debi Marshall

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November 2012, no. 346

Reading two books about Gina Rinehart back to back is far from edifying. So rich, so controlling, so opinionated, so entitled – and these are among her less objectionable qualities, as described in the two biographies published since she burst into the headlines amid reports of family litigation, media buy-ins, and escalating wealth. Indeed, whatever she did would captivate widespread interest, given that her worth ballooned from a tidy $900 million in 2006 to $20 billion this year.

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Thinking the Twentieth Century by Tony Judt, with Timothy Snyder

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June 2012, no. 342

This author, this book, and its composition are all extraordinary. Tony Judt, one of the most distinguished historians of his generation, made his name with studies of French intellectual history, then in 2005 he published his masterwork, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. ...

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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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Australian war historians usually find their theme in the army. Mike Carlton, a well-known journalist, thinks it is time to praise the Australian warship Perth and its men: ‘They were the flower of Australia’s greatest generation. No other has been so tested.’

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Late in November 1916, the German commerce raider Wolf, laden with 100 tonnes of mines, set out on a journey of 100,000 kilometres across three oceans. After the ship reached home, in February 1918, 442 days later, its guns and mines had destroyed more than twenty Allied vessels. Hundreds of their crews and passengers had been held captive. When the voyage of the Wolf began, German U-boats were sinking hundreds of thousands of tonnes of shipping each month. The belated adoption of the convoy system drastically reduced those losses, so that the Germans, rather than the British, suffered the worse privation in the last year of the Great War. In that time, Wolf was the only German surface warship not penned up by the British naval blockade.

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Family is surely the house of all feeling. Yet when we are in our early twenties, if not before, part of our dream of being grown up is to imagine the day when we will leave this house. Years later, many of us realise that we never did, that the building may be prison or comfort, but it is also us. How one adapts to this sage correction by time and maturity largely determines the emo­tional comfort of middle life and beyond.

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There were no winners in the first round of the Orr Case. Sydney Sparkes Orr lost his job as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tasmania in 1955. Suzanne Kemp, who had accused him of seduction, lost her reputation. Her father, who had supported her accusations, was subjected to all manner of speculation and innuendo. Edwin Tanner, a mature-age student who had complained about Orr’s poor teaching and his requests for professional favours, had his life ruined. Dr Milanov, Orr’s colleague who had protested that Orr was harassing him professionally, found himself subjected to just the kind of persecution he had fled in his native Serbia.

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