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

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

John Curtin’s War: Volume I

by John Edwards

Viking, $49.99 hb, 560 pp, 9780670073474

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 underrated prime ministers is specious – in every comparative poll undertaken, Curtin is ranked at, or close to, the top.

In his earlier book (Curtin’s Gift, 2005), Edwards was explicit about his purpose in recovering Curtin from Labor partisans and war sacrifice narratives. There is no such declaration of purpose this time. He avoids framing his enterprise as a contribution to a larger debate, or explicitly engaging with differences in interpretation. His intention, evidently, is to tell the story anew, for the general reader, specifically focusing on wartime decision making. He makes judicious use of existing work when needed, but writes as if this is a tale never told before. It is an approach well-suited to the general reader. It may provoke peer researchers.

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Published in April 2018, no. 400
James Walter

James Walter

James Walter is professor of politics at Monash University, and has published widely on leadership, biography, and political ideas. His last book was What Were They Thinking? The Politics of Ideas in Australia (UNSW Press, 2010).