World Leaders

A year before he ascended to the prime ministership of India in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru proclaimed that his nation was ‘a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads’. Yet, in the seventy-five years since India’s independence, secularist tolerance of religious and cultural difference has been eroded by a rising tide of Hindu majoritarianism. In this week’s episode of The ABR Podcast, John Zubrzycki reads his commentary on India’s transformation under Narendra Modi’s leadership ...

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Curators at old Parliament House – now known as the Museum for Australian Democracy – have for many years maintained the prime minister’s suite much as it was when Bob Hawke vacated it in 1988. Visitors can gaze at a reproduction of the Arthur Boyd painting that hung opposite Hawke’s desk, gawk at the enormous, faux-timber panelled telephone Hawke used, and cast a wry eye over the prime ministerial bathroom, where curators have laid on the vanity toiletries and accoutrements belonging to the office’s last occupant: a box of contact lenses, a pair of black shoelaces, and a tube of hair dye.

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The books we read and collect can provide telling insight into our lives. Indeed, bookshelves often draw the immediate attention of our guests, who seek to discern clues about us from the titles that we have accumulated. With Stalin’s Library: A dictator and his books, Geoffrey Roberts takes on the role of a curious visitor perusing the impressive library of Joseph Stalin (1878–1953), who, as head of the Soviet Union, amassed a collection of some 25,000 items. Conceptualised as a biography and intellectual portrait, Stalin’s Library joins a crowded field of works aimed at cracking the Stalin enigma. Setting this latest biography apart is its focus on Stalin’s personal library as a basis for constructing a ‘picture of the reading life of the twentieth century’s most self-consciously intellectual dictator’.

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At last we have it – the much-anticipated first volume of the definitive biography of President Soeharto (1921–2008). It is the culminating work in the distinguished career of Australian journalist David Jenkins. This startling volume, covering the years 1921–45, will appeal to the general reader and the Indonesia specialist. It has been described as ‘truly extraordinary’ by the late Benedict Anderson, the prominent Indonesia scholar.

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Letter writing thrives on distance. Out of necessity, in the early years of European settlement, Australia became a nation of letter writers. The remoteness of the island continent gave the letter a special importance. Even those unused to writing had so much to say, and such a strong need to hear from home, that the laborious business of pen and ink and the struggles with spelling were overcome. Early letters reflected the homesickness of settlers as well as their sense of achievement and their need to hold on to a former life. It’s possible to see the emergence of a democratic tradition of letter writing in those needful times. Rich or poor, well educated or semi-literate, they all felt the urge to connect.

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Scott Morrison has now been prime minister longer than any of his four predecessors: Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, or Malcolm Turnbull. He has won one election by the skin of his teeth and faces another by May next year. So what sort of man is he and how good a prime minister? These three publications give us slightly different takes on these questions.

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Because the United States was born in a revolution against Great Britain, the relationship between them, as the child decisively supplanted the parent, has remained key to world history for more than two centuries. Indeed, the ‘unspecialing’ of this relationship in recent decades, argues Ian Buruma, represents a psychological condition that British officials refuse to self-diagnose. He calls this the ‘Churchill complex’ – the persistent delusion, despite obvious evidence to the contrary, that US power requires British facilitation and approval. Winston Churchill began it; his successors have yet to escape it.

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Speechless, Adolf Hitler sat glowering at Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Since 1933 the führer had gambled repeatedly that France and Britain would capitulate to his latest demands. Now he tried again, reassured by Ribbentrop (no aristocrat, a vain man who had purchased his title) that the feckless Allies would not intervene if ...

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Joseph Stalin wanted this wartime correspondence published, and one can see why: he comes off best. As the authors comment, ‘the transcript of the Big Three meetings demonstrates Stalin’s careful mastery of the issues and his superior skill as a diplomatist, regularly keeping his silence but then speaking out in a terse and timely manner at key moments’. He is ...

The president of the United States looms large in contemporary politics, a powerful figure dominating news and popular culture: from newly elected president Donald Trump bestriding (or, depending on your political leanings, besmirching) the world stage, to Kevin Spacey as the Machiavellian Frank Underwood in House of Cards. For the modern observer, it is di ...

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