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Australia: A Biography of a Nation [Paperback]

R M Crawford , Phillip Knightley
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Sep 2001
Australia celebrated one hundred years as a nation in 2001. This book - part history, part travelogue, part memoir - tells the inspiring story of how a one-time British colony of convicts turned itself into a prosperous and confident country. Through the eyes of ordinary people, Phillip Knightley describes Australia's journey, from federation and the trauma of the First World War, the desperate poverty of the Depression, with its attendant spectres of secret armies and near-civil war, the threat of invasion in the Second World War and the immigration that followed it, and the slow but steady decline in the relationship with Britain, the 'Mother Country', as Australia forged its own unique identity.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (6 Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099772914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099772910
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 104,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Catches the feel of Australia brilliantly. His 350 pages tell you more of Australia's public history and secret life than any academic study ever could. Wonderful" (The Times)

"Knightley deals skilfully and generously with all the great issues his country has faced" (Independent)

"Gripping and comprehensive" (Irish Times)

"A fine book...fascinating" (Economist)

Book Description

'A grand encapsulation of all Australia, past and present sharp, racy and irreverent' Independent

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Defining the National Character 24 Oct 2003
Far too many history books are deadly dry, a compilation of facts and dates that often leave out the human element and with little sense of drama. This book does not fall into that trap, being something of a mix of memoir, short vignettes of many, many people, both famous and ordinary, and the more normal recounting of the happenings of history. Often the people stories are insightful, sometimes humorous, and do much to help illustrate Knightley's main thesis of just what an Australian really is.
The downside of this method of narration is that it is easy to lose objectivity, something I'm afraid Knightley is guilty of in at least a few places. His political bias is very much in evidence throughout this book, most glaringly in his depiction of the various Prime Ministers and the battles between the working man and the rich landholders/business executives. At the same time, his depiction of the items that have gone into the making of the essential Australian character is well told, forming a mosaic of events and people that put this character into clear focus. Having lived in Australia myself (a very long time ago, but I don't think there has been any basic change in this item since), I can testify that the traits of wishing everyone to 'have a fair go' and mateship really do seem to be defining items of that character.
One item that would definitely have improved this book would have been the inclusion of some maps of the country. Unless one is intimately aware of the geography of this continent-country, the references to literally hundreds of place names and towns can be daunting without some way to place them spatially.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb. A must read 5 Mar 2003
By Rob
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's hard to describe this book without gushing about how well written it is. What can I say other than "Superb!".
It covers all the topics you'd expect to find in a history of the young country continent and it's clear the author has done his research. Controversial issues and events are explained from both sides of the argument and the author doesn't force an opinion of his own, but he does hint at which explanation he finds most plausible. He also shares stories from his life in Oz and does a fine job of describing his life as a kid during the great depression.
A week before starting this book I'd read "A Concise History of Australia" by Stuart Macintyre, an academic's view of Oz history. With that fresh in my mind I thought there wouldn't be much extra that Phillip Knightley could add. Boy was I wrong. The writing styles are so different that it's as if Macintyre is painting in black and white (not even greyscale), while Knightley creates his own colours. Knightley brings the stories and history to life and keeps your attention. It'd take a man with a heart of stone not to be affected by his description of the policy of removal of Aboriginal children from their parents in the middle part of the 1900s. Others explain it in terms of policy, Knightley brings life to it.
I could go on, but shouldn't.
Read this book. You will not be disappointed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! 6 Dec 2010
A wonderful, detailed account of my home country. It deals with some of the most important issues Australia has faced - the two World Wars, Vietnam, relations with the UK and USA, Aboriginal reconciliation, and developing its own identity. There is also so much in this book that Australians are not taught in school. I was amazed to read about how close we came to civil war in the 1930s and the origin of ANZAC day. Truly a great read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book on Australian History 7 Dec 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good book. Starts out a bit all over the place, but then as you read the book you see that the start was kind-of like giving the reader excerpts from all areas that the author then talks about in detail as you read through the chapters, so it all makes sense. Has given me insights to alot of the things I was interested to know about Australian history, most of which I had no idea ever happened (and neither did most people in Oz, it seems - you'll have to read the book to know what I'm talking about.)

Recommended reading :)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Want to know Australia? Then read this book! 6 Feb 2009
I was given this book as a Christmas gift and once opened the giver said, "bit lacking in pictures, what a disappointment". I opened it and looked at how small the print was and thought, eh-up this might be a bit hard going. But no, it's starts in a great way that captivates you, shame the theme wears off but I guess it has to in order to cover the complex history of this young nation. I am off to Australia for a holiday soon, and to scout it out as far as a place to live. Did this book help with this issue? Well, yes it did. I feel I can enter Australia with a greater understanding of why the people tick in the fashion they do.

If you have even the slightest interest in Australia and are okay with a book crammed with small text and no pretty pictures, then read it. I don't doubt you'll be enlightened. Enjoy!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Top read! 4 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this book as a first step in preparing a trip to Australia later this year. If I don't read any other, this will have provided a more than adequate briefing.

This is an extraordinary overview of the country in the 20th century and touches on - in some cases more than that - all the major issues that have helped to define modern Australia. It is very entertaining and reads almost like a novel; I was able to finish it in no time and now feel more able to be more at ease in dinner-table conversations with the folks Down Under.

Even if you are Australian, or know the country well, or have recently visited there, you will find this an excellent read from a respected author and observer. How nice it would be to have such a book for the earlier period of Australian colonisation! Highly recommended.

PS I read the book on Kindle but will buy it in paperback, to re-read, be able to mark up and refer to easily.
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