VIC contributor

‘If you want peace, prepare for war,’ Vegetius wrote in a fourth-century CE Roman military manual. From the classical world to the twenty-first-century Sino-American cold war, Margaret MacMillan’s book is broad in its sweep. Judging by the content, one might gain the impression that war is a purely European invention, but that would be erroneous; it is only because Europeans spent 2,400 years carefully archiving their literary, artistic, and technological endeavours in ‘the art of war’ that so much survives – except the victims. The soldiers and civilians are long gone, their names largely forgotten; what lives on is the representation of war in text, the visual arts, cinema, and oral history.

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‘Exile is a profound stimulus to the human anxiety for literary representation,’ writes Harold Bloom. Whether voluntary or involuntary, this impetus is the driving force behind the works in The Penguin Book of Migration Literature.

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Facing the ‘global refugee crisis’, politicians in Europe and Australia claim they are protecting their countries from the arrival of untold multitudes. Yet the ‘crisis’ is not global but highly specific. In 2019, seventy-six per cent of refugees came from just three countries (Congo, Myanmar, and Ukraine), while eighty-six per cent of refugees are hosted in a handful of countries in what is known as the Global South (especially Turkey, Jordan, Columbia, and Lebanon). Despite the significant contribution of Germany to hosting refugees, only ten per cent of the global refugee population live in Europe, comprising 0.6 per cent of the continent’s total population. There are 2,600,000 refugees in Europe today, compared with 11,000,000 at the end of World War II. The European Union’s challenges can scarcely be said to be at ‘crisis’ levels.

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Australia’s nearest neighbour, the fabulous New Guinea, is one of the least developed and least known islands on earth. The largest and highest tropical island, it boasts extensive tracts of old-growth tropical forest (second only to the Amazon following massive destruction in Borneo and Sumatra), equatorial alpine environments, extensive lowland swamp forests, and huge abundances and diversities of orchids, rhododendrons, forest tree species, frogs, freshwater fish, and leeches. The fauna, exotic as well as diverse, include the richest radiations of tree kangaroos, echidnas, birds of paradise, and bowerbirds.

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If you have ever wondered about the imaginative, wondrous side of science – for instance, how Einstein used maths to predict the existence of gravitational waves, or how a metaphor led to the astonishing discovery that the spinning earth drags space-time around it like molasses around a spoon, this is not the book for you. But if you want to know why scientists had the patience to keep refining their experiments until they detected this barely perceptible rippling of space-time, or why they have the kind of grit made legendary by Marie and Pierre Curie, sifting through tonnes of pitchblende for a speck of radium, you will find an intriguing, bold, and controversial answer in The Knowledge Machine.

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Founded in 1831, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) sought to redress impediments to scientific progress that arose in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, determining that the BAAS would ‘give a stronger impulse and more systematic direction to scientific inquiry … [and] promote the intercourse of cultivators of science’.

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President Joe Biden has given cause to hope that the position of Science Advisor to the President of the United States might be returned to a position of influence after years of neglect under Donald Trump’s presidency. Biden nominated Eric Lander of MIT and, for the first time, elevated the advisor’s role to a Cabinet-level position. Lander will also sit on the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which coordinates science and technology policy across the various federal research and development agencies, and which is chaired by the president.

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These three new poetry collections are works by established poets at the top of their game in terms of poetic craft and the honing of insights into both life and art. These are voices developed across a significant number of previous collections, allowing for an emergence of innovation, confidence, and ease of style and mood.

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Oliver Driscoll’s note on his first book I Don’t Know How That Happened (Recent Work Press, $19.95 pb, 74 pp) praises the inclusive flatness of David Hockney’s still life paintings, and it is to this inclusiveness that his poems and prose pieces aspire. Droll reported speech creates a comic atmosphere but also moves into Kafkaesque alienation where nothing seems to follow any pattern.

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To survey concurrent works of art is to take the temperature of a particular time, in a particular place. And the temperature of the time and place in these four début Australian novels? It is searching for a sense of belonging, and, at least in part, it’s coming out of western Sydney in the wake of the 2005 Cronulla riots. All four novels are set in New South Wales, three of them in suburban Sydney. Each is concerned with who is entitled to land and the stories we tell while making ourselves at home in the world, sometimes at the expense of others.

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