Australian Book Review

Alison Broinowski: Malcolm Fraser on Foreign Policy

Alison Broinowski
Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Coinciding with the World War I anniversaries, Malcolm Fraser’s book will polarise Australian opinion on a fundamental issue. It has never been raised in this way, for Australian leaders have not discussed decisions to go to war in public, nor sought popular approval of Australia’s alliances. Yet successive generations of young Australians have fought in British ...

'History vs Memoir' by Sheila Fitzpatrick

Sheila Fitzpatrick
Tuesday, 27 May 2014

In Iris Murdoch’s novel, The Sandcastle (1957), a young artist called Rain Carter is commissioned to paint a retired schoolmaster, Demoyte, an eccentric with an offbeat sense of humour. Instead of his usual attire – a shabby red velvet jacket with tobacco stains and bow tie – Demoyte turns up ...

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Trivialising the Anzacs

Joan Beaumont
Monday, 28 April 2014

In a year sure to be glutted with military commemorations, leading historian Joan Beaumont highlights the commodification and triviliasation of the Anzac legend.

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Published in May 2014, no. 361

Geoff Page reviews 'From the Trenches'

Geoff Page
Friday, 28 March 2014

Mark Dapin’s anthology, From the Trenches, is a timely but not opportunistic book. At more than 400 pages, it is long enough to suggest the sheer scale of the war and its centrality to European (if not world) history ever since. It samples all the relevant genres (letters, memoir, journalism, fiction, poetry) and offers a multiplicity of viewpoints (senior ranks, subalterns, NCOs, priv ...

Published in April 2014, no. 360

2014 Calibre Prize (Winner): Unearthing the Past

Christine Piper
Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Christine Piper is the winner of the 2014 Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay, worth $5,000. In this powerful essay, she writes about Japanese biological weapons and wartime experiments on living human beings.

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Published in April 2014, no. 360

Robert O'Neill reviews 'Hanoi's War'

Robert O'Neill
Thursday, 27 February 2014

Although the Vietnam War ended thirty-nine years ago, we have had to wait until now for a full and rigorous scholarly analysis of Hanoi’s policies during that war. Much important material from the war years survived in the archives of the former North Vietnamese ministries, but for a long time it was off limits to Westerners. Gradually, over the past twenty years, ...

Published in March 2014, no. 359

Stephanie Owen Reeder reviews new picture books addressing war

Stephanie Owen Reeder
Thursday, 27 June 2013

Depicting war in a picture book requires a deft hand. Historical imperatives need to be considered, while also avoiding glorifying war for a young and impressionable audience. Ideally, such books should promote informed discussion rather than mindless militarism.

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To go into any bookshop, if you can still find one, is to be amazed at the space devoted to militaria: endless shelves of books not just about the two world wars and Vietnam, but all wars in all times. This vicarious fascination with war echoes another phenomenon of our time: the rise of overt public respect for soldiers.

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Too often histories of World War II either have ‘total’ in their title or make great play with total war as a concept. Essentially this is meaningless, because all that is meant by total war is big war. Antony Beevor mercifully does not call World War II ‘total’ or make any reference to total war.

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Published in November 2012, no. 346

W hat book would you want to read in hell, or in one of humanity’s remarkably competent imitations of it? Tristram Shandy seemed about right to one young Yorkshireman who reached the Western Front in 1915. A year later he found an anthology for soldiers edited by Robert Bridges, the poet laureate, but it seemed so lofty in purpose, so earnest in its morality, and so abstract in its idealism that it simply wilted in the mud and blood. When World War II began, the Yorkshireman, now famous as the poet and art critic Herbert Read, assembled his own sturdier anthology, The Knapsack (1944), mixing Spinoza with Edward Lear. Read’s little volume seemed perfectly pitched to William Loh, a Western Australian soldier in New Guinea in 1943, where ‘hardship and boredom walked hand in hand’, films and concert tours rarely reached the front line, and newspapers and precious letters from home arrived far too late, or so Loh complained. He suggested getting an Australian version of Read’s book to the troops. Just give it a different title, he advised: ‘Knapsacks are too bulky up here.’

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Published in October 2012, no. 345