books

Diary of a Foreign Minister
Bob Carr
Newsouth, 2014
502 pages

Too often, Bob Carr’s diary sounds like an episode of Grumpy Old Ministers.

An 18-month stint as foreign minister in the doomed Rudd-Gillard-Rudd federal Labor government, the globe-trotting Carr gripes about the dead prose of his departmental talking points, the lifeless food and draining jetlag of plane travel, the awfulness of hotels, Canberra (“the City of the Dead”) and contracting viruses from shaking hands all day on the campaign trail “without a hand sanitiser in the car ― damn!”

The open letter below was submitted to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on May 23 at the Australian book industry awards in Sydney. Released by the editors of literary journals Meanjin and Overland, it has been signed by dozens of writers. You can read the full list here.

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Dear Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Minister for Arts George Brandis.

Taking God To School: The End of Australia’s Egalitarian Education?
Marion Maddox
Allen & Unwin, 2014
248 pages, $29.99 (pb)

To the traditional “three Rs”, Australia has added a fourth ― religion.

Religious private schools, religious instruction in public schools and religious counsellors have found generously-funded favour with successive federal and state governments, writes Macquarie University politics professor Marion Maddox, in Taking God to School.

A Spy in the Archives
By Sheila Fitzpatrick
Melbourne University Press, 2013
346 pages, $32.99 (pb)

When Sydney University Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick was doing some crafty archival sleuthing as a British PhD student in the late 1960s in Moscow, it was not unexpected that any state guardians might suspect a female spy at work.

Fitzpatrick could see some justification. “Any suspicious archives director who thought I was trying to find out the secrets of Narkompros was dead right”, she notes in Spy in the Archives.

Forgotten Voices of Mao's Great Famine, 1958-1962, An Oral History
By Zhou Xun
Yale University Press, 2013
336 pp, $35.00

In his excellent history book Timelines, John Rees has a graph, which in one image sums up the people’s history contained in Zhou Xun’s Forgotten Voices. The line showing improvements in life expectancy in China suddenly shows a total reversal, a deep plunge into an abyss and then a quick return to the original curve.

This abyss was Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward.

Land & Labour: Marxism, Ecology & Human History
Martin Empson
Bookmarks Publications
London, 2014

With several serious global environmental crises bearing down on us, the question of our age must be “what can we do?”

British socialist Martin Empson urges us to look into the past and into the future for answers in his new book Land and Labour. His message is that human destruction of its environment is not inevitable, although it is very likely if we don’t draw upon the best and worst examples from humanity’s diverse experience.

One of the greatest novelists and writers of the 20th century has died. Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away on April 17 in Mexico at the age of 87.

Commemorating the author, US-based progressive TV and radio show Democracy Now! said on April 18: “It has been reported that only the Bible has sold more copies in the Spanish language than the works of Garcia Marquez, who was affectionately known at 'Gabo' throughout Latin America.”

The Snowden Files
Luke Harding
Random House
February 2014
352 pages, $30

Luke Harding's The Snowden Files is a well-constructed overview of the biggest intelligence leak in history - but it is not without its flaws.

The Guardian journalist tells a detailed story of Edward Snowden - from his childhood in a military, Republican family, his short education and brief, failed army career, to his meteoric rise through the intelligence services that eventually enabled him to turn whistleblower.

Sense & Sensibility, an Annotated Edition
By Jane Austen (edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks)
Harvard University Press 2013
448 pp, $54.95
The Annotated Frankenstein
By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (edited by Susan J. Wolfson & Ronald Levao)
Harvard University Press 2012
400pp., $45.00

In January, federal education minister Christopher Pyne announced that he wants the national school history curriculum to recognise “the legacy of Western civilisation”.

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