NewSouth

Reading good science writing is not just pleasurable and informative: it’s also necessary if we want to live engaged and examined lives in today’s hyper-technological, climate-changing world. The Best Australian Science Writing 2019 offers readers all these things – the delight in good writing, the satisfaction of learning, and the sobering reckoning with our society’s environmental impact and lack of political engagement with science. Yet it’s not afraid to challenge science itself on occasion – showing ‘its flaws as well as its finer moments’, as editor Bianca Nogrady puts it.

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Fred Watson’s inspiration as a lad was the legendary telly astronomer Patrick Moore, who presented the BBC’s show The Sky At Night for more than fifty years. At the end, when others such as Chris Lintott began taking over, Moore was simply wheeled in at the start of the show in his wheelchair, to mumble a couple of sentences, then wheeled off again, out of the way, looking on wistfully.

Watson and Moore have a lot in common: both British, both immensely informed, both musical performers. And they both showed not just deep knowledge of deep space but also the essential emotional commitment to the vast tapestry they were investigating. I well remember the night when the first pictures of the far side of the moon came to Moore, live on air. As he showed them to the television audience, he simply cried, talking in choked tones as tears streamed down his face.

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The commons, the common good, the commonwealth: all words for humans’ shared right to the fruits of the earth to sustain their lives, and all words with deep political histories. In The Politics of the Common Good, Jane R. Goodall excavates some of these deep histories, beginning with the Diggers and Levellers of mid-seventeenth-century England who, in pr ...

If you’ve somehow avoided listening to podcasts, you will have missed out on the recent explosion of long-form audio storytelling – and I mean it, you’ve really missed out. The show which pioneered the form, This American Life (TAL), pulls a cool four to five million listeners each week ...

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Alan Atkinson reviews Bedlam at Botany Bay by James Dunk

Alan Atkinson
Thursday, 23 May 2019

James Dunk is not the first Australian historian to notice that mental breakdown was surprisingly common during the first two European generations in New South Wales. Malcolm Ellis linked the ‘Botany Bay disease’ to rheumatic fever, rife on shipboard, which ‘ruined the lives or unbalanced the minds of … many pioneers’. Manning Clark spoke of ...

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Almost all historical events are attended by myths, some of them remarkably persistent, but Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War has perhaps more than its fair share. Mark Dapin has set out to dispel what he sees as six of these myths, which he first encountered working on his book The Nashos’ War ...

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The photographic resources of museums and their archives have emerged as key sources for studying the natural world and human cultures, particularly as those studies have widened to include the techniques and modus operandi of scientists and anthropologists themselves. Their notebooks and field equipment ...

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Glitter canons erupted at colourful gatherings across the country on 15 November 2017 as the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that 61.6 per cent of participants had voted yes in the marriage equality plebiscite. Yes Yes Yes: Australia’s journey to marriage equality, published on the anniversary of that historic day ...

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Johanna Leggatt reviews The Thinking Woman by Julienne van Loon

Johanna Leggatt
Monday, 25 February 2019

Novelist and academic Julienne van Loon does not doubt that the thinking woman is ‘alive and well’, but when she scans the (mostly) male names in bookstore philosophy sections and the (mostly) male staff lists of university philosophy departments, she wonders where they are hiding ...

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There is much to admire about this detailed and painstaking book. The authors have entered a field that is replete with stereotypes and even gags. They will have none of it. The result is an account of the Irish in Australia subtly modulated and insistent on evidence. It is suspicious of the lore and yarns that have sometimes been made to take their place ...

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