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John Thompson

John Thompson

John Thompson is a historian and writer now living in Sydney after a long career at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. He holds a doctorate in history from the Australian National University and has written for various journals. He is a frequent reviewer for Australian Book Review. The author of The Patrician and the Bloke: Geoffrey Serle and the Making of Australian History (2006), he co-edited (with Brenda Niall) The Oxford Book of Australian Letters (1998). His anthology Documents that Shaped Australia was published in 2010.

John Thompson reviews ‘T.W. Edgeworth David: A life’ by David Branagan

December 2005–January 2006, no. 277 01 December 2005
With the publication of Eminent Victorians in 1918, Lytton Strachey famously created a new mode of biographical writing – spare, ironic, satiric, detached. In his preface to that slim cathartic volume of portraits of four famous Victorian personalities, Strachey extolled the biographer’s virtue of what he called ‘a becoming brevity’. That preface has been called a ‘manifesto of modern bi ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews ‘The Big Picture: Diary of a nation’ edited by Max Prisk et al.

March 2006, no. 279 01 March 2006
For 175 years the Sydney Morning Herald has recorded the annals of colony, state and nation, never missing an issue. When the paper was established in 1831, the colony of New South Wales was still being opened up by exploration and settlement. Sydney’s population was little more than 15,000, while the colony itself numbered around 50,000 Europeans, including 20,000 convicts. Less certain was the ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'The Diaries of Donald Friend, Volume 2' edited by Paul Hetherington

December 2003–January 2004, no. 257 01 December 2003
When he died in 1989, the artist Donald Friend left a double legacy. The first was his artistic output, as various, dazzling and charming as it was vigorously contested in terms of its ultimate quality. The second was an accumulation of forty-nine diaries commenced precociously at the age of fourteen, kept briefly for a year or two and then, from the war years on, written lovingly and obsessively ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Political Tourists: Travellers from Australia to the Soviet Union in the 1920s–1940s' edited by Sheila Fitzpatrick and Carolyn

July–August 2008, no. 303 01 July 2008
In the years between the two world wars, the young Soviet Union was, for socialist intellectuals and many liberals in the West, a social laboratory, one that held the promise of a new world order. Inspired by the transforming power and promise of the October Revolution of 1917, some were drawn to admiration of the great Socialist Experiment ‘in a land where revolutionaries were trying to create ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Ever, Manning: Selected letters of Manning Clark 1938–1991' by Roslyn Russell (ed.)

September 2008, no. 304 01 September 2008
In death, as in life, Manning Clark casts a long shadow. The author of A History of Australia (1962–87) remains a figure of considerable interest and contention in intellectual and cultural debate. Clark’s imposing oeuvre has its detractors and admirers. In pioneering a fresh and richly imagined awareness of national history for a post-World War II generation of Australians, Clark was an inspi ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'The Fanfrolico Press: Satyrs, Fauns & Fine Books' by John Arnold

December 2009–January 2010, no. 317 01 December 2009
In what now seems to be the vanished country of the early years of my career, begun in the State Library of Victoria in the 1970s, I vividly remember John Arnold enthusing about his interest in the polymath Jack Lindsay (1900–90), son of Norman (another polymath) and one of the founders of the short-lived but gorgeously named Fanfrolico Press, whose legacy of fine books excited the keen interest ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'One Hundred: A Tribute to the Mitchell Library' by Richard Neville and Paul Brunton

July–August 2010, no. 323 01 July 2010
Since its official opening in March 1910, Sydney’s Mitchell Library has become one of Australia’s pre-eminent cultural assets. This remarkable institution was named in honour of the reclusive bachelor collector and bibliophile David Scott Mitchell (1836–1907), whose private library sits at its heart and whose fortune provided a rich endowment to support its continued growth and enrichment. ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'From the Mountains to the Bush: Italian immigrants write home from Australia' by Jacqueline Templeton, edited by John Lack and assisted by Gioconda di Lorenzo

March 2004, no. 259 01 March 2004
Posthumously and handsomely published, this book is a poignant tribute to its author’s ‘magnificent obsession’. For a decade before her sudden death in April 2000, the Melbourne historian Jacqueline Templeton had pursued her interest in the migrations to Australia of Italians from the Valtellina, a province of Sondrio in Lombardy, high up in the Alpine and prealpine zones of northern Italy, ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Magnificent Obsession: the story of the Mitchell Library, Sydney' by Brian H. Fletcher

February 2008, no. 298 01 February 2008
Under the umbrella of the State Library of New South Wales, the Mitchell Library in Sydney is one of Australia’s great cultural and collecting institutions. Opened to researchers in March 1910, the Mitchell Library was founded on the ‘peerless collection’ of books, manuscripts, maps, and pictures relating to Australia and the Pacific bequeathed to the then Public Library of New South Wales b ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Letters of John Reed: Defining Australian cultural life 1920–1981' edited by Barrett Reid and Nancy Underhill

December 2001–January 2002, no. 237 01 December 2001
The public legacy of the art patrons John and Sunday Reed endures in various ways. Their influence is a strand in the story of the notorious ‘Ern Malley’ literary hoax. They played a major role in the emergence in the 1940s of an important circle of Melbourne modernist painters, including Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, and Arthur Boyd. Against the forces of conservatism and resistance, John Reed ... (read more)
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