No 251 - May, 2003

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Raimond Gaita on War and Justice
Clive James reviews The Best Australian Essays 2002
Ros Pesman reviews The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing and Venus in Transit
Donna Merwick reviews Thomas Keneally's Lincoln
Don Anderson reviews John Scott's Warra Warra
John Murphy reviews Michael Pusey's The Experience of Middle Australia
Peter Mares reviews Chris Lydgate's Lee's Law and Ian Stewart's The Mahathir Legacy


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 20 of 39
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    Rampaging Rationalism. "Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason" by Val Plumwood. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Thompson, Janna
    Val Plumwood, the author of a highly praised defence of eco-feminism, "Feminism and the Mastery of Nature", presents in this book a critique of 'rationalist culture' and explains why it harms nature as well as so many people. Plumwood’s criticism of rationalism centres on the thesis she advanced in her earlier book. From Plato onward, it has been regarded as rational to divide the world into polarised and homogeneous conceptual categories (reason/emotion, culture/nature, spirit/matter, masculine/feminine) and to regard things falling under the first term of these dichotomies as superior to those belonging to the second. This way of thinking, Plumwood argues, has given rationalists a licence to ignore the needs of beings deemed to be inferior - to dominate and exploit them for the sake of their 'superiors'. In particular, it has been used to justify the domination of nature and of women.
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    Phantom of the Prison. "Penal Populism and Public Opinion: Lessons From Five Countries" by Julian V. Roberts et al. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Hogg, Russell
    This new book provides a valuable analysis of the recent trend toward punitive justice and the populist politics that has nurtured it in five English-speaking countries: the USA, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. It describes the growing resort to more deeply punitive sentencing measures (such as mandatory sentencing laws) and devotes separate chapters to each of three areas in which penal populist politics have been particularly evident: juveniles, drugs and sex offenders (especially paedophiles).
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    Doctorates in Mateyness. "HIH: This Inside Story of Australia's Biggest Corporate Collapse" by Mark Westfield. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Haigh, Gideon
    If you like business bodice-rippers, these are blissful days. After the host of books that emerged from the dotcom Götterdämmerung, another wave of cautionary tales has hit the shelves. I reached for Mark Westfield’s "HIH" after reading my third book about Enron, Mimi Swartz’s "Power Failure", and was struck at once by a casual coincidence: that both Enron's Ken Lay and HIH’s Ray Williams insisted on being referred to as 'Doctor'. In Lay's case, this was on account of his PhD in economics. Williams laid rather flimsier claim to his honorific, after Monash University rewarded him for various endowments with an honorary doctorate in laws in 1999.
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    Degrees in Inequality. "Undemocratic Schooling: Equity and Quality in Mass Secondary Education in Australia" by Richard Teese and John Polesel. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Snyder, Ilana
    This book has a number of admirable qualities. In times when open subscription to a social justice agenda runs the risk of ridicule, it is a brave book. It does not shy away from identifying the universities - specifically, the sandstones - as integral to any explanation of why Australian secondary education is inequitable. And both authors work in one: the University of Melbourne. The book also builds a compelling case for curriculum and structural reform. Through the careful analysis of issues such as retention and dropout rates, the relation between poverty and achievement, and between gender and achievement, it argues potently that our education system is disturbingly riven by persistent inequalities of opportunity.
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    Making It Happen. "Sand" by Connie Barber and "A Momentary Stay" by William C. Clarke. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Arnott, Georgie
    William C. Clarke cuts an interesting figure. An anthropologist who has concentrated on Pacific populations, Clarke combined this discipline with an interest in poetry in his 2000 lecture 'Pacific Voices, Pacific Views: Poets as Commentators on the Contemporary Pacific'. Clarke used his poetry as a vehicle for considering issues such as land tenure, corruption and tourism. It is angry, astute poetry; this is not the tranquil Hawaii and Fiji of tourist literature. Such poetry is undoubtedly moving, despite Clarke's echo of W.H. Auden's assertion that 'poetry makes nothing happen'. "Sand" is Connie Barber’s third collection. Like Clarke, Barber uses the natural world as the subject of her poetry when considering weighty issues, such as ageing and death. The bulk of this volume, however, is taken up with suburban phenomena. Barber's poetry evokes a world where the domestic space is a serene refuge from the ugliness beyond one's door.
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    Not Helping the Cause. "The Snow Queen" by Mardi McConnochie. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Armstrong, Judith
    When Armstrong was about ten, she used to devour the books of an English children's author named Noel Streatfield. The most famous was called "Ballet Shoes", which took young antipodeans onto the stage and into the wings of another world, the London theatre scene. Galina Koslova, a Russian-born émigrée to South Australia and the heroine of "The Snow Queen", gives "Ballet Shoes" to a step-granddaughter, correctly designating it a classic. Armstrong wonders whether Mardi McConnochie’s novel was designed to fill the gap left on adult bookshelves by long-abandoned copies of "Ballet Shoes", even if our reading requirements have matured.
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    Urban Capers. "Fantastic Street" by David Kelly and "Falling Glass" by Julia Osborne. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Rivers, Bronwyn
    These two first novels confront the ongoing complaints of literary commentators that new novels are too often set in the past rather than dealing with present realities. David Kelly and Julia Osborne have set their novels predominantly in the Australian suburbia of the past few decades, and focus on attempts by liminal characters to negotiate their place in these sometimes harsh environs.
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    Bestsellers / Subscription.
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05)
    This item includes the April 2003 Bestsellers and the subscription page from this issue.
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    Orchid Business. "Orchids of Australia" by John J. Riley and David P. Banks. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Clifford-Smith, Silas
    This beautiful book showcases the botanical orchid illustrations of John Riley, a retired shearer whom some regard as Australia's finest living botanical illustrator. Riley started drawing Australian orchids in the 1970s, and this volume includes subjects that date back to 1992. It lists 150 works. Those who take book titles literally will assume that this volume contains illustrations of all our native orchids. This is not the case. We have a rich flora of about 1200 species. This, therefore, is the first in a planned series intended to describe and illustrate all our orchidaceous flora.
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    Media Mass-ness. Review of "Media and Society in the Twentieth Century: A Historical Introduction" by Lyn Gorman and David McLean. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Flew, Terry
    Lyn Gorman and David McLean's book is a valuable contribution, and one that Flew hopes will be widely adopted in media and communications courses. While it has the narrative account common to the mass communication histories - with chapters focused on a medium such as print or film, or the emergence of a new media industry such as advertising - the authors present it in a manner that is very much attuned to the social and cultural contexts in which new media forms arose. "Media and Society in the Twentieth Century" was writtenas a text to accompany courses in media history at Charles Sturt University. As such, it has the best attributes of a book targeted at the undergraduate student readership. Its coverage of developments is comprehensive, its treatment is concise, it doesn't get bogged down in side issues, and the authors are always reminding the reader how particular issues connect up to a bigger picture. It also has what Flew considers to be the best attribute of a history book: its availability for repeated referencing.
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    Mimesis of What? "Prefiguring Cyberculture: An Intellectual History" by Darren Tofts, Annemarie Jonson and Alessio Cavallaro (eds). [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Dena, Christy
    Many people regard cyberculture as the territory of boffins, sci-fi enthusiasts and 'itinerant wanderers', and inescapably limited to computer technology. However, the term is also applied to a field of research, one that has always been interdisciplinary: traversing philosophy, mathematics, physiology, biology, linguistics, cognitive sciences, physics and sociology. "Prefiguring Cyberculture: An Intellectual History" exemplifies this cross-disciplinary approach. The notion of using seminal texts as a spring-board, advanced by Alessio Cavallaro five years ago, ensures that the discussions are anchored for the new media novice, promotes a unique elucidation for the scholarly, but, more importantly, demonstrates how cyberculture was anticipated before the new technology.
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    The Nietzschean Slide. "Sympathy: A Philosophical Analysis" by Craig Taylor. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Evans, Eamon
    In 1958 Oxford philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, whose demolition of C.S. Lewis in a Union debate a few years earlier was said to have driven that colleague to fiction, turned her sights on a bigger target: modern moral philosophy. The then-dominant notions of obligation and duty 'ought to be jettisoned', she declared, as they make no sense in the absence of a lawgiver, or at least of some external source of value, and these days their presence is no longer assumed. But 'If there is no God,' said Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor, 'then anything is permitted.' If reason, religion and utility can't field our moral questions, what tells us to not lie and steal?
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    A Sorry Challenge. "Taking Responsibility for the Past: Reparation and Historical Justice" by Janna Thompson. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Dunn, Kristie
    This book gives us new ways of thinking about questions regarding an apology for historical wrongs sommitted against Indigenous Australians. In a tight and coherent argument, philosopher Janna Thompson develops a moral (as opposed to a legal) theory of reparative justice that helps us understand why we might have obligations to remedy the wrongs of our predecessors. Thompson draws on a number of examples, including white Australia’s obligations towards members of the Stolen Generations, indigenous claims to land in Australia and elsewhere, and claims for compensation for victims of slavery and the Holocaust. Her argument, in a nutshell, is that we owe it to each other to remedy historical injustices because only then can we expect that our own experience of injustice will be remedied by future generations.
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    Edgar's Finesse. "Lost in the Foreground" by Stephen Edgar. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Beveridge, Judith
    Stephen Edgar's fifth volume, "Lost in the Foreground", is a book of marvels, both technically and in the elegant, magisterial reach of its content. He is wonderfully inventive, and his complex rhyme schemes and forms are achieved with such precision and finesse that one can only conjecture as to how long each piece must have taken to become so lovingly and artfully realised.
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    The Long Trek. "Burke's Soldier" by Alan Attwood. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) McGirr, Michael
    Alan Attwood's fictional account of the Victorian Exploration Expedition, long known as the Burke and Wills Expedition, is told through the eyes of a man who has often been overlooked. John King - a soldier, not a gentleman - was the sole survivor of the mission.There is an inventive twist in "Burke's Soldier". It is a pity that it takes so long to get to it. The last quarter of the book meanders past every person and event of the 1860s. Marcus Clarke, Captain Moonlite, the first Test cricket team, the first Melbourne Cup and the US Civil War all turn up to dissipate the focus of the novel in its closing stages. Attwood takes the long way home, but at least, unlike Burke and Wills, he makes it. The real survivor is the one who controls the story.
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    Black Jests. "The Mindless Ferocity of Sharks" by Brett D'Arcy. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Pierce, Peter
    Brett D'Arcy's novel, arrestingly titled "The Mindless Ferocity of Sharks", is one of the most unusual and accomplished to be published in Australia for years. The setting is a decaying town called the Bay on the coast of Western Australia, south of Perth. Its abattoir and tanneries have long since closed. The locals are sufficiently hostile to have fended off development - so far. They endure the summer invasion of the 'townies' who come for the great surfing. During the rest of the year, they enjoy it without interruption.
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    Fraying Nerves. "The Hamilton Case" by Michelle de Kretser. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Jones, Gail
    "The Hamilton Case", Michelle de Kretser’s magnificent second novel, takes as its philosophical focus the opposition of forms of knowledge, but presumes from the outset that fiction knows more than the law does. Its modes of inquiry - following casuistically the odd detail, the quirky story, the ineluctably precious registers of affect and memory - reveal what in stricter forms is inadmissible. Significantly, the 'case' itself is given little narrative space; what preoccupies the author are the lives loosely constellated around its historical moment, and the ramification of themes of witness, judgment and loss. "The Hamilton Case" is an eloquent, sophisticated and immensely satisfying work of art. But its chief claim lies in its intelligent consideration of the ethics of judgment, and a process in which the serendipitous imaginary recovers the faces that defeat the faceless barbarities of history.
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    Bestsellerdoom. "Warra Warra: A Ghost Story" by John Scott. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Anderson, Don
    This novel has a controlled opening, a reasonable tone. But soon control will not avail and the irrational will hold sway, though Scott will maintain a firm control over his plot, with developments and reversals proceeding calmly, which is more than can be said for the unfortunate townsfolk of Warra Warra. Anderson would like to wish John Scott all the successes of bestsellerdom, if that be what he wants. He can't, however, help feeling that he has fallen between two stools. "The Architect" should have received the rewards and recognition it deserved.
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    No Promised Land. "Shanghai Dancing" by Brian Castro. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Broinowski, Alison
    If we lived in the kind of country - and there are some - where people not only chose their presidents but chose as leaders poets, philosophers and novelists, a new novel by Brian Castro would be a sensation, even a political event. Students would be hawking pirated copies, queues would form outside bookshops, long debates would steam up the coffee shops, and the magazines would be full of it. Alas, China and Australia from the 1930s to the 1960s, where Castro takes us in memory, were not such places then any more than they are now.
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    Vodka Odyssey. "Off The Rails" by Tim Cope and Chris Hatherly. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Wheeler, Tony
    Tim Cope and Chris Hatherly don’t so much ride from Moscow to Beijing as squabble their way across Siberia. The twenty-year-old Australians decide to take a year off and bicycle across Russia, Siberia and Mongolia. Just to make it more unusual, they do it on recumbent bicycles, those weird lay-back-with-your-feet-out-front contraptions. Somehow they make it, though not without many problems along the way. Remarkably, despite the arguments along the way, they are still reporting to each other by the end.
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