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Monash University Publishing

In Working: Researching, interviewing, writing, published in 2019, the great biographer Robert A. Caro tells of his writing methods and the lengths to which he goes to gain a better understanding of his subject. Reading Tim McNamara’s Paul and Paula, I was reminded of Caro’s way of research and writing and of his determination to place himself in his subject’s milieu. McNamara spent considerable time in Vienna researching Paul and Paula, stalking the streets for clues, and his efforts show. He writes with verve about the book’s three main characters – Paul Kurz and his wife, Paula, and the city of Vienna, before and during the Nazi occupation – and his search to uncover and understand their stories.

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Back in the day, I was wary about making a career in science. It wasn’t just the lack of women; it was also a sense of moving into alien territory. After all, I had absorbed feminist critiques suggesting that modern science had been shaped by (male) scientists’ urge to ‘penetrate’ nature by reducing it to its parts – an urge that had blinded them to the power of the whole. And I was all for the whole – for Gaia, the whole Earth, not for atom splitting and nuclear bombs. But it was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) that offered the most famous argument against reductionism. Carson pointed out that when scientists developed pesticides to kill specific insects, they didn’t take sufficient account of the knock-on effect on the environment, including the starved or poisoned birds whose absent songs would manifest in increasingly silent springs. Half a century on, we are aware of many examples of the damage reductive thinking can do, especially the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity, changing the whole climate in the process. In Here Be Monsters, Richard King deftly explores another area of concern, which he calls ‘technoscience’, a mix of science, technology, and neoliberal capitalism that reduces everything to its parts – to genes, bits of information, and individual consumers, losing sight of the whole person and their whole community.

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The historian Jordana Silverstein’s masterful new book, Cruel Care, begins with an account of the Murugappan family. Many Australians will remember this family: the hard-working parents seeking asylum from Sri Lanka, and their two Australian-born children, taken from their home in Biloela by the Australian government at five o’clock one morning in 2018. The family was detained for four years in Melbourne and Perth and on Christmas Island. The case was so drawn out that, in the rare photographs released to the public, we saw the children growing up. Their treatment was illogical, unjust, unkind, and expensive, and provoked a sharp emotional response from the public.

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Reading a book about online polarisation is a bit like reading a murder mystery novel where the murderer is revealed on page one. We all know it was social media, on our devices, with the trolls, in the bedroom. What we don’t know is the human cost of our newly fragmented online world: the lives destroyed, the families torn apart, the friends permanently estranged when someone falls down an online rabbit hole.

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In 1943, of the 101 science graduates of the University of Sydney, 55.4 per cent were women. That same year at the University of Melbourne the proportion was 46.2 per cent, and by 1945 women made up 37.4 per cent of all science graduates across Australia. Given contemporary anxieties about women’s involvement in science, these statistics appear unbelievable. Yet, as Jane Carey explores in Taking to the Field, between the 1880s and the 1950s women were not only completing science degrees in notable numbers but, even outside the unusual war years, were contributing valuably to Australian science through research, teaching, and social reform.

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Shadowline: The Dunera diaries of Uwe Radok edited by Jacquie Houlden and Seumas Spark

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March 2023, no. 451

Uwe Radok was born in 1916 in East Prussia to a family of Christian converts who identified as German Protestant. Nevertheless, after the Nazis came to power in Germany, the Radoks were classified as Jews – their five children Mischlinge, of mixed ancestry. In 1938, the family applied to emigrate to Australia. When their visas finally arrived in August 1939, it was too late.

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The Teal Revolution by Margot Saville & The Big Teal by Simon Holmes à Court

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January-February 2023, no. 450

One of the by-products of every election is the instant analysis, often in the form of small books that read like extended newspaper articles. The success of the teals at the 2022 federal election has already produced extensive speculation about whether this signals a sea change in Australian politics.

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Over the course of a long and distinguished public life, Gareth Evans has held fast to his conviction that as individuals aspire to personal decency and moral behaviour, the same should be replicated among nations. As a foreign minister and an author, and in his international organisations and academic roles, Evans has consistently advocated ‘good international citizenship’. Care for our common humanity he sees as both a moral imperative and a national interest.

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Class in Australia edited by Steven Threadgold and Jessica Gerrard

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May 2022, no. 442

To contemplate class in Australia is to be confronted immediately by paradox. Australia has over the past forty years become much more unequal, and yet those institutions formed to contest class inequality – the trade unions and the Labor Party – have become weaker and less militant. The labour movement has largely avoided a language of class as divisive and old-fashioned, and yet right-wing propagandists have successfully deployed a rhetoric of ‘battlers’, ‘aspirationals’, and ‘élites’ to draw support and win elections. The university system has been transformed, so that its leadership is akin to a corporate class of ‘change agents’ and much of its workforce is insecurely employed. Within the halls of learning, class analysis has not for some time been an area of vigorous research; in the humanities and social sciences, the action (and the research funding) has long been elsewhere.

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Contemporary Australian parliamentarians tend to be focused firmly on the present. Speechwriters may liberally sprinkle the speeches of politicians with references to a political party’s golden past, but an MP’s sincerest interest in history often emerges when he or she gets around to publishing a memoir of their time in office. A politician’s autobiography is an exercise that encourages selective, rather than frank, reflection on how history will portray them, their enemies and friends. Some politicians, thankfully, embrace a broader, less self-interested view of the importance of history. Labor Opposition frontbencher Chris Bowen is the latest serving politician to display a commendable fascination with historical research. His new book tells the stories of six relatively forgotten figures who made a strong contribution to the Australian Labor Party.

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