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Australia: A Biography of a Nation Paperback – 6 Sep 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (6 Sept. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099772914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099772910
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 101,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"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

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Shepherd on 24 Oct. 2003
Format: Paperback
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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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Rob on 5 Mar. 2003
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 By chewysays on 6 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
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 By Petite Fleur on 6 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I started reading this on the plane to Australia and finished it at my first port of call which was Canberra. It is a fascinating read and for me was absolutely brilliant in terms of understanding how the whole place 'fits together' in terms of history/politics/society. On my trip I went to the ACT, Queensland and Sydney and what I had read in this book made my visits to all of those places much more interesting than they otherwise would have been.

Each of the chapters is quite a detailed 'essay' on the subject in hand, so while I found myself hanging on every sentence in the sections about Federation and the forging of the Australian identity in WW1, I indulged in a bit of speed-reading when it came to the intricate twists and turns of some of the late 20th century politics (e.g. the chapter on the "Kerr's Cur" constitutional crisis). But I wouldn't recommend any outright chapter-skipping, because some of the themes in the book crop up again and again in very interesting ways. (e.g. the "white Australia" policy, the role of the Unions and the radical left, the continuing uncertainty/tension between Australia being essentially 'commonwealth' or essentially 'USA-lookalike'). For details on developments in the last 10 years or so you'll have to look elsewhere as this account only takes Australia up to the early years of the 2000's. But in terms of the main narrative ('the making of a nation and what makes it tick') I didn't find that that mattered very much - except for the fact that this book misses the Kevin Rudd apology to Aboriginal peoples about the national disgrace of the "stolen generation". And having seen the intensely moving video display about this in the Museum of Australia in Canberra, I'd say that this was a moment of national importance that the reader needs to know about.

For a one-stop read to get a proper intellectual view on Australian society, I strongly recommend this book.
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