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Tom Griffiths

Tom Griffiths

Tom Griffiths is Emeritus Professor of History at the Australian National University. His prize-winning books include Hunters and Collectors, Forests of Ash and Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica. His latest book, The Art of Time Travel: Historians and their Craft, was released by Black Inc. in July 2016.

‘Truth and fiction: Judith Wright as historian’ by Tom Griffiths

August 2006, no. 283 01 August 2006
Early last year, Phillip Adams interviewed the British author Pat Barker on his radio programme, Late Night Live. Pat Barker is a novelist who has journeyed into history, most famously in her Regeneration trilogy about World War I, where she fictionalises real, historical individuals. Adams asked her: ‘Which is better at getting at the truth? Fiction or history?’ Her answer was: ‘Oh, fiction ... (read more)

Tom Griffiths reviews 'Burn: The epis story of bushfire in Australia' by Paul Collins

December 2006–January 2007, no. 287 01 December 2006
In November 2002 Paul Collins fulfilled ‘that dream of the urban middle class’ and bought a bush block and a shack in the Snowy Mountains ‘where I could be close to the environment’. In late January 2003 his block was scorched by probably the most widespread bushfire since European settlement, and certainly the worst one since the horrific bushfires of 1939. Those two archetypal fires – ... (read more)

Tom Griffiths reviews 'The Passion of Private White' by Don Watson

January-February 2023, no. 450 26 December 2022
No publisher or literary agent could have dreamt up or commissioned this remarkable book. It is wholly unexpected and original. It is about some Yolngu clans in north-east Arnhem Land, a group of Vietnam veterans, and an anthropologist named Neville White, who happens to be an old friend of one of Australia’s finest writers, Don Watson. Watson observes Neville, who systematically observes the Yo ... (read more)

Tom Griffiths reviews 'Words Are Eagles: Selected writings on the nature and language of place' by Gregory Day

July 2022, no. 444 26 June 2022
Across Australia today, exciting work is being done to strengthen and renew Aboriginal languages and their deep associations with Country. In those parts of the continent where the history of dispossession has been most traumatic, language regeneration calls for research and reconstruction, for the rediscovery of the old words for places, features, and life itself. Gregory Day’s new book is a di ... (read more)

'History as Therapy' by Tom Griffiths

March 2004, no. 259 01 March 2004
At the height of summer fire danger, on Friday, 13 February 2004, the ABC launched on its website an online documentary about the most awesome bushfires since the European occupation of Australia. The Black Friday fires of 1939 still represent the ‘worst possible’ conditions in a continent of fire. The website reveals just how deeply Black Friday burned into the national conscience, and how pr ... (read more)

Tom Griffiths reviews 'Inga Clendinnen: Selected writing' edited by James Boyce

June 2021, no. 432 26 May 2021
It is wonderful to immerse oneself for days in the precise, elegant, passionate words of historian Inga Clendinnen (1934–2016), as this welcome collection of her writings enables one to do. Clendinnen’s distinctive voice comes through: warm, confidential, witty, and driven by a fierce intelligence. All her major writings are here – essays, articles, lectures, memoirs, and extracts from her b ... (read more)

'Season of reckoning' by Tom Griffiths

March 2020, no. 419 21 February 2020
What do we call this terrifying summer? The special bushfire edition of ABC’s Four Corners predictably called it Black Summer. Perhaps the name will stick, for it builds on a vernacular tradition. Firestorms are always given names, generally after the day of the week they struck. There are enough ‘Black’ days in modern Australian history to fill up a week several times over – Black Sundays ... (read more)

Tom Griffiths reviews 'Alexander von Humboldt: Selected writings' edited by Andrea Wulf

September 2019, no. 414 26 August 2019
It can be revelatory to read the original words of a famous writer and thus meet them on the page. Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) has been so much quoted and written about that it might be rare even for his admirers to be exposed to his original prose at length and in context. It is a rewarding experience, especially when the writer cared so much for the ‘melody’ of his sentences. Humbol ... (read more)

Tom Griffiths reviews 'Hugh Stretton: Selected writings' edited by Graeme Davison

December 2018, no. 407 26 November 2018
This is a deeply rewarding and timely book. Hugh Stretton (1924–2015) was one of Australia’s finest public intellectuals, a historian, ABC Boyer Lecturer, and social democrat with a steely mind and a calm, clear voice of wisdom. Stretton spent thirty years arguing thoughtfully against neoliberalism, a critique he developed at the beginnings of the ideological lurch to the right in the 1980s. P ... (read more)

Tom Griffiths reviews 'The Great Derangement: Climate change and the unthinkable' by Amitav Ghosh

August 2017, no. 393 23 July 2017
The planet is alive, says Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh, and only for the last three centuries have we forgotten that. This is because humans are suffering from ‘The Great Derangement’, a disturbing condition which this book analyses with wisdom and grace. Ghosh foresees that future citizens of a world transformed by climate change will look back at our time and perceive that ‘most forms of a ... (read more)
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