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Gideon Haigh

In the last decade, Stuart Kells has become one of Australia’s most versatile and fecund non-fiction writers, responsible for a variety of diverting histories, of enterprises, institutions, and ideas. His thoroughly readable The Library: A catalogue of wonders (2017) was shortlisted for a Prime Minister’s Award; his Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the greatest mystery in literature (2018) felt rather more padded, if not unenjoyably so. Books about Argyle Diamonds (2021) and Melbourne University Publishing (2023) have been welcome. I imagine him in a medieval artisanal workshop, a kind of booksmith studiously occupied in multiple, simultaneous pursuits.

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Published in May 2024, no. 464

Books of the Year 2023

Kerryn Goldsworthy et al.
Monday, 27 November 2023

What the authors of these three wildly different books share is a gift for creating through language a kind of intimacy of presence, as though they were in the room with you. Emily Wilson’s much-awaited translation of The Iliad (W.W. Norton & Company) is a gorgeous, hefty hardback with substantial authorial commentary that manages to be both scholarly and engaging. The poem is translated into effortless-looking blank verse that reads like music. The Running Grave (Sphere) by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), the seventh novel in the Cormoran Strike crime series and one of the best so far, features Rowling’s gift for the creation of memorable characters and a cracking plot about a toxic religious cult. Charlotte Wood’s Stone Yard Devotional (Allen & Unwin, reviewed in this issue of ABR) lingers in the reader’s mind, with the haunting grammar of its title, the restrained artistry of its structure, and the elusive way that it explores modes of memory, grief, and regret.

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Published in December 2023, no. 460

Sharply observed mimicry of sporting commentary is a niche comic form, but from the late 1980s, Australian comedian Billy Birmingham took it to chart-topping ubiquity with a series of recordings that gathered his small legion of impersonations under the sobriquet The Twelfth Man. Most famous were his recreations of a goonish Nine Wide World of Sports team from that golden age of television cricket commentary in which an ecru/ivory/white/cream-blazered Richie Benaud led the likes of Bill Lawry, Tony Greig, Ian Chappell, and Max Walker. Birmingham had the vocal measure of all of them, to genuinely hilarious effect.

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Published in May 2023, no. 453

When you bump into people who know Gideon Haigh – and that happens a lot in Geelong – they will tell you about his encyclopedic knowledge of cricket, his dedication to detail, and his casualness with money. I want to add to this list of his idiosyncrasies a delicious ability to turn the mundane into the magnificent. For this is exactly what The Vincibles is to we weekend warriors – a magnificent vindication of our very existence.

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Published in April 2003, no. 250

During his first electoral campaign, Daniel Andrews hung a sign in his office containing a timeless political wisdom from Lyndon Baines Johnson: ‘If you do everything, you will win.’ He has continued taking it literally. Australian politics has, it is agreed, few harder workers than Victoria’s premier: he is in the same class as LBJ, who famously said that he seldom thought about politics more than eighteen hours a day.

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Published in October 2022, no. 447

New Year’s Day 2002 marks the centenary of Warwick Windridge Armstrong’s Test cricket début for Australia. At the age of twenty-two, the promising all-rounder carried his bat in both innings on the Melbourne Cricket Ground against Archie MacLaren’s English side. Almost twenty years later, a much heavier and more famous Armstrong, then aged forty-one and nicknamed ‘The Big Ship’ because of his size, captained Australia for the tenth time in his fiftieth and last Test match, played at The Oval in London.

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Kim Rubenstein’s biography of Joan Montgomery, the venerable former principal of Melbourne’s Presbyterian Ladies’ College (PLC), has been thirty years in the making and is the definition of a labour of love. It involves Rubenstein, a distinguished and worldly legal scholar and human rights campaigner, revisiting scenes from her own life. She was a pupil at Montgomery’s PLC. As a first-year law student, she addressed the remarkable public meeting in April 1984 that opposed Montgomery’s defenestration by Presbyterian reactionaries, who were avenging the formation of the Uniting Church seven years earlier by asserting control over the school. Rubenstein’s subsequent career has been that of a distinguished old girl following the tenets of a liberal education.

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To write of Herbert Vere Evatt (1894–1965) is to venture into a land where opinions are rarely held tentatively. While many aspects of his career have been controversial, his actions during the famous Split of 1955 arouse the most passionate criticism. Evatt is attacked, not only on the political right but frequently from within the Labor Party itself, for his alleged role in causing the catastrophic rupture that kept Labor out of office until 1972.

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Published in July 2021, no. 433

Gideon Haigh reviews 'Rage' by Bob Woodward

Gideon Haigh
Friday, 02 October 2020

Tom Lehrer famously believed that Henry Kissinger’s Nobel Prize for Peace rendered satire impossible. Has Donald Trump’s presidency made the same true of political journalism? This may sound counterintuitive. After all, Trump has been a boon for news outlets and book publishing, as well as for social media. Bob Woodward’s Rage sold 600,000 copies in its first week. And that the dean of White House scribes herein abandons his trademark disinterest and pronounces authoritatively that ‘Trump is the wrong man for the job’ has been treated as news in itself. Yet so what?

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Published in November 2020, no. 426

Gideon Haigh reviews 'On Cricket' by Mike Brearley

Gideon Haigh
Monday, 22 April 2019

The first words I ever read by Mike Brearley were in my first Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the 1976 edition: they were a tribute to his long-time teammate at Middlesex, wicketkeeper John Murray. The tone was warm, generous, and largely conventional, with a single shaft of ...

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Published in May 2019, no. 411
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