‘What Honest History read and reviewed during 2016: a round-up of book reviews (and reviewers)’, Honest History, 13 December 2016
The Honest History team gets to read a lot of books during a year and we are getting more and more to do as publishers seek us out. This post lists our book reviews by author. This is a mark of our appreciation for these souls who do the work for us – with no reward apart from the book they have just read and reviewed.
This round-up does not include any review posted today (13 December) and referred to in our newsletter of today’s date. We have more reviews to come in 2017. We also review periodicals, television shows, movies and exhibitions, and you can find these listed under ‘Reviews’.
We hope readers find a book in this list that they will chase down for holiday reading. If readers come across a book elsewhere that they think we should review, please let us know – or offer to do a review yourself and pitch it to us: firstname.lastname@example.org . Naturally, we expect everyone to read The Honest History Book, coming in April 2017.
Derek, a retired Senate officer, reviewed five books for us during the year. Most recently, he looked at The Conscription Conflict and the Great War, edited by Archer et al, and containing eight papers from this underexplored part of Australia’s war. He said the collection brought ‘many new and welcome perspectives to the study of the conscription votes’ but he looked forward to more work in the area. Derek also reviewed Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, which threw up a 1797 quote from Napoleon which may be useful to keep in mind over the next few years: ‘Europe is but a molehill, all the great reputations have come from Asia’.
Earlier, Derek enjoyed Gideon Haigh’s Stroke of Genius, about the significance of Beldam’s famous photograph of Victor Trumper, and felt Adam Henry’s The Gatekeepers, on Australian foreign policy mandarins of the 1950s and 60s ‘should give us pause to reflect on institutional cultures, how they develop and how they might be changed’. He found Connor, Stanley and Yule’s The War at Home (Volume 4 in the Oxford History) illuminating on the country the men of Anzac thought they were fighting for and to which they returned much changed.
Kristen, a Canberra bookshop owner, writer and PhD candidate, reviewed Mark Baker’s biography of war correspondent Phillip Schuler and found it disappointing.
Diane is Professor Emerita in anthropology at George Washington University and a Writer-in-residence at Flinders University. She reviewed Yorick Smaal’s Sex, Soldiers and the South Pacific, 1939-45, which she said was ‘a complex tapestry of the hitherto under-reported and little-celebrated lives of diverse “Australian queer men”, their cultures, practices, pasts and futures, as they negotiate their place in wartime Australia’. Then she reviewed Tom Griffiths’ The Art of Time Travel, of which she concluded: ‘Read this extraordinary work as a series of satisfying tributes to Australian women and men of account; enjoy the momentum; relish the finely-tuned ear for nurturing ideas as Griffiths brings us back to the home note: the past is prologue’.
A former diplomat, our Honest History vice-president, and co-editor of The Honest History Book, Alison reviewed Rachel Landers’ Who Bombed the Hilton?, which she saw as a valiant attempt to explore one of Australia’s ‘no-go zones’.
Richard, a former senior diplomat, read Elizabeth Tynan’s Atomic Thunder, about the Maralinga nuclear tests, and said it was an accurate record which should be read by all concerned Australians.
Pamela is a retired Canberra solicitor and is now a member of Honest History’s committee. She reviewed Annabelle Brayley’s Our Vietnam Nurses, which she said recounted a story too long untold.
Ashleigh is a secondary school teacher and a PhD candidate. She posted a review note on Stephens’ and Seal’s Remembering the Wars, about Western Australian memorials, and found it a ‘welcome addition’ to the literature of commemoration.
Paddy, a retired senior public servant in Canberra, reviewed Anzac Day: Then & Now, edited by Tom Frame, which he felt had ‘the potential to make many interested parties wiser and better informed’.
Gareth, author of the just published Race and British Colonialism in South-East Asia, 1770-1870, kindly reviewed Babkenian and Stanley’s Armenia, Australia and the Great War, which he thought was ‘skilfully constructed’ and ‘an excellent account’.
Sharon, journalism academic and writer, found Kristen Alexander’s Taking Flight, a biography of flyer Lores Bonney, ‘highly readable and accessible’.
A former librarian and the contributor of a series of ‘Online Gems’ to the Honest History site, John reviewed Graham Seal’s Great Australian Journeys (summer holiday reading without going very deeply) and Stephen Dando-Collins’ The Hero Maker, about author Paul Brickhill, a thorough coverage of a complex and troubled man.
A Canberra lawyer and voracious reader, Gentle Reader reviewed Anthony Hill’s For Love of Country, a realistic description of the impact of war on a family, and Caroline Beecham’s Maggie’s Kitchen, an easily digestible book about eating during World War II London.
Honest History’s foundation president, and now Associate Director of the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society at UNSW Canberra, reviewed Richard Braithwaite’s Fighting Monsters, on the Sandakan camp and death march. ‘It is fitting ‘, Peter said, ‘that [the story] should be told again, and by a man who brought to the task a life-long knowledge and consuming interest in the event and its effects, and in a manner that illuminates and deepens our understanding’. Before that, Peter reviewed Martin Woods’s Where are Our Boys? This book was about the maps of the Great War, and Peter thought it was a book of ‘quality and value’. He also reviewed Burak Turna’s The Hidden Victory of Anzacs, which he thought was nonsense.
David is the secretary of the Honest History coalition, editor of its website and co-editor of The Honest History Book. He reviewed Beyond Gallipoli, a collection of conference papers, edited by Raelene Frances and Bruce Scates. He agreed with the editors that the book ‘approaches old questions in a new way’ but thought the papers were of uneven quality and the politics attending the conference (in Turkey) a salutary lesson for the future.
David reviewed the true crime story, Certain Admissions, by Gideon Haigh, and thought it was ‘a very Melbourne story’ but still great fun, with many twists and turns and showing prodigious research. Before that, David reviewed After the Fall, edited by Walsh and Varnava, a wide-ranging set of papers from a conference in Singapore. David felt the book worthy of wide dissemination, particularly for its paper by Ayhan Aktar about the strange effect wrought by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on Britishers and Australians ever since 1915.
Earlier in the year, there was Remembering Ben Chifley, by Suzanne Martin, which David thought was well-meant but flawed – make that deeply flawed. Even further back, David did a note on Peter FitzSimons’ doorstopper on Fromelles and Pozieres, a book which was better than David expected, although Honest History will not be reviewing 2016’s FitzSimons Christmas offering, which is about Villers-Bretonneux. Peter Stanley’s review of that doorstopper is discussed in the New Daily.
A long-time officer of the Parliamentary Library in Canberra and now there as a volunteer, Janet reviewed De Moore and Westmore’s Finding Sanity, about John Cade and the use of lithium in treating bipolar disorder. She found the story fascinating though Cade remained to some degree opaque.