When asked to review Sea People: The puzzle of Polynesia, I thought it might be hard work – improving, but not necessarily fun. I could not have been more wrong. The book is a triumph. Exploring the remarkable history of Polynesian migration to the ‘vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island’, it is magnificently researched, assured, and elegant in both structure and style. Marrying careful, probing scholarship with masterful storytelling, Sea People deserves a wide audience, one well beyond those who are from, or conduct research, in the region.

Christina Thompson, born and raised in the United States, is best known in Australia as a former editor of Meanjin (1994–98). After fifteen years in Australia, Thompson holds dual citizenship here and in the United States, where she lives outside Boston with her family. Now editing Harvard Review, Thompson is an award-winning writer, including a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award.

In her youth, Thompson was fascinated by Australia, the region, and southern colonial encounters. Crossing the seas in her twenties to complete a PhD in English at the University of Melbourne turned out to be a boundary-breaking experience in more ways than one. To write her doctorate, Thompson drew on anthropology and history as much as literature, thus bringing together insights from the diverse disciplines she continues to interweave in her writing.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Ceridwen Spark reviews Sea People: The puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson
  • Contents Category History
  • Custom Highlight Text

    When asked to review Sea People: The puzzle of Polynesia, I thought it might be hard work – improving, but not necessarily fun. I could not have been more wrong. The book is a triumph. Exploring the remarkable history of Polynesian migration to the ‘vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island’, it is magnificently researched, assured, and elegant ...

  • Book Title Sea People
  • Book Author Christina Thompson
  • Book Subtitle The puzzle of Polynesia
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio HarperCollins, $34.99 pb, 384 pp, 9780008339029

Recently I was speaking with a friend about the impact of the #MeToo movement on gender politics and the implications for male academics. He suggested that there are only two speaking positions for men. The first is as a cheerleader from the sidelines. The second is as a critic, offering challenges or raising questions. But, he said, for those who would like to be viewed as politically left, the first is the only real option, because the second entails too many risks. Chief among these is the likelihood of being labelled a dinosaur with a vested interest in defending the patriarchy. Men on the conservative side of politics may be willing to wear such charges, but those who are more liberal understandably are cautious about risking the damage to their reputations that raising questions about feminist orthodoxies may imply.

The dilemma inherent in this example – namely the risk of exploring views that deviate from current, accepted norms – lies at the heart of Russell Blackford’s The Tyranny of Opinion: Conformity and the future of liberalism. Though not focused specifically on contemporary discussions about gender equity, the book explores arguments of relevance for debates on this hot topic, as well as those relating to the politics of religion and identity, including racial identity. Accessibly written and well-structured, it offers an excellent overview of the complex issues at stake when we talk about freedom of speech and the ways in which civility, privacy, and personal stability are undermined by call-out culture and social media.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Ceridwen Spark reviews The Tyranny of Opinion: Conformity and the future of liberalism by Russell Blackford
  • Contents Category Politics
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Recently I was speaking with a friend about the impact of the #MeToo movement on gender politics and the implications for male academics. He suggested that there are only two speaking positions for men. The first is as a cheerleader from the sidelines. The second is as a critic, offering challenges or raising questions ...

  • Book Title The Tyranny of Opinion: Conformity and the future of liberalism
  • Book Author Russell Blackford
  • Biblio Bloomsbury, $43.99 pb, 256 pp, 9781350056008

At first glance, Traumata seems to provide an exception to the rule not to judge a book by its cover. Featuring photos of the author’s mother, a woman in her forties, alongside photos of the young Atkinson on the precipice of adolescence, the cover portrays the filial relationship that is central in this memoir. But Atkinson’s exploration is much more kaleidoscopic than the cover suggests. While the familial bonds and betrayal hinted at in these pictures are evident in the book, the author is chiefly concerned with what lies outside the frame: namely, the social forces that shape our selves and our intimate relationships.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Ceridwen Spark reviews 'Traumata' by Meera Atkinson
  • Contents Category Memoir
  • Custom Highlight Text

    At first glance, Traumata seems to provide an exception to the rule not to judge a book by its cover. Featuring photos of the author’s mother, a woman in her forties, alongside photos of the young Atkinson on the precipice of adolescence, the cover portrays the filial relationship that is central in this memoir ...

  • Book Title Traumata
  • Book Author Meera Atkinson
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press, $29.95 pb, 285 pp, 9780702259890

Every Saturday around Australia, the suburbs hum with the sound of lawnmowers. While cutting grass, the mowers simultaneously decapitate the milk thistles (also known as sow thistles) that sprout in most gardens around the country. But this rude beheading is little more than an inconvenience from which these hardy plants soon recover. Perhaps this is why, despite their benign name, milk thistles rate a mention on the webpage of a company that is synonymous with weedkillers. The Roundup page describes milk thistles as ‘a common weed’ that ‘can reach over two meters if not controlled’. Given the apparent threat, the solution to managing these seemingly triffid-like proportions appears obvious and unavoidable. Homeowners must take part in the ‘war on weeds’.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Ceridwen Spark reviews 'The Book of Thistles' by Noëlle Janaczewska
  • Contents Category Memoir
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Every Saturday around Australia, the suburbs hum with the sound of lawnmowers. While cutting grass, the mowers simultaneously decapitate the milk thistles (also known as sow thistles) that sprout in most gardens around the country. But this rude beheading is little more than an inconvenience from which these hardy plants soon recover. Perhaps this is ...

  • Book Title The Book of Thistles
  • Book Author Noëlle Janaczewska
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio UWA Publishing, $29.99 pb, 303 pp, 9781742588049

In 2009, pop star Michael Jackson, desperate to sleep, called his personal physician, Conrad Murray. To relieve the troubled star, Murray administered Propofol and anti-anxiety medications, then left. Jackson was found dead the next morning. Murray was later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Most people who have had a general anesthetic in the last twenty years have had Propofol. It is the drug that helps us ‘go under’ and stay there as necessary. But where is ‘there’. Where do we go under an anaesthetic? And who are ‘we’ when we enter this oblivion? These questions are at the heart of Kate Cole-Adams’s book Anaesthesia. Subtitled ‘the gift of oblivion, the mystery of consciousness’, the book, like Michael Jackson’s death, highlights the slippery boundaries between sleep, anaesthesia, and death. The subtitle is suggestive, conjuring the allure of a black and silent world. While it replicates entering an abyss, the experience of being anaesthetised can be strangely unremarkable. Most of us think of it as the path by which we can avoid the pain of a day procedure or the trauma of a major operation. Indeed, as the author notes, the respite from consciousness that anaesthesia offers can be a ‘gift’, a resting place, but one from which we are likely to return.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Ceridwen Spark reviews 'Anaesthesia: The gift of oblivion and the mystery of consciousness' by Kate Cole-Adams
  • Contents Category Medicine
  • Custom Highlight Text

    In 2009, pop star Michael Jackson, desperate to sleep, called his personal physician, Conrad Murray. To relieve the troubled star, Murray administered Propofol and anti-anxiety medications, then left. Jackson was found dead the next morning. Murray was later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

  • Book Title Anaesthesia
  • Book Author Kate Cole-Adams
  • Book Subtitle The gift of oblivion and the mystery of consciousness
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Text Publishing, $32.99 pb, 405 pp, 9781925498202