BOOK REVIEW: Charles Bean by Ross Coulthart (Review by Justin Cahill)

Charles Bean, Australia’s official correspondent during the Great War, is one of Australia’s most influential historians. He was, almost single-handedly, responsible for creating one of the most treasured aspects of our national psyche – the Anzac legend.

To Bean, the men Australia sent to the Great War were a heroic ‘race apart’, whose self-sacrifice, courage and valour gave a new birth to our national identity. He later commemorated their achievements in his Official History of Australia in the War and his role in establishing the Australian War Memorial.

A century on, many thousands of descendants still gather at memorials each Anzac Day to remember those lost at war. With about 25 members of my extended family having served in the War, the Anzac legend is a significant part of my own history.

The legend has not remained unchallenged. Some have labelled it an embarrassing glorification of war. It was the target of Alan Seymour’s 1958 play, The One Day of the Year, and as the Great War generation slowly passed on, successive layers of the myth were peeled away. The efforts of Simpson and his donkey were, we are told, exaggerated. Anzacs, it appears, attacked Egyptian civilians, destroying their business premises and homes.

For decades, Bean’s name was a byword for nationalist propaganda. My generation certainly viewed his work with, at best, suspicion and, at worst, disdain. Was this fair? Coulthart’s sympathetic, yet scrupulously balanced account shows we may have rushed to judgement. Bean was a hands-on historian. He got as close to the front as possible, often exposing himself to considerable danger to find out what was happening, and showed great courage in rescuing wounded men under fire. He was meticulous in collecting accounts of battles and sifting fact from fiction. He walked the tightrope between his self-imposed duty to report on the War accurately and the restrictions of official censorship with some success.

Author: Ross Coulthart

Author: Ross Coulthart

Bean, like us all, was no paragon of virtue. He tended to forget his place and intrude into political decisions, especially those involving assignments to command positions. He shared his generation’s passive anti-Semitism, causing him to undervalue the work of the Australian commander, Sir John Monash. To his credit, Bean had a degree of insight into his shortcomings. He later acknowledged and regretted his errors – a further act of courage some current historians could learn from.

Ultimately, Coulthart asks us to confront the issue of whether historians can provide accurate accounts of what actually happened. This biography is a strong affirmation that they can achieve this. Coulthart has a lucid, engaging style which brings readers up close to this subject – so close I occasionally felt I was hovering over Bean’s shoulder as he worked.

This is among the best biographies of an Australian historian available, fittingly released during the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the events Bean meticulously recorded.

Order your Signed Copy of Charles Bean here!


Justin Cahill is a Sydney-based naturalist and historian. His publications include a biography of the ornithologist Alfred North and A New Life in our History, a history of the European settlement of Australia and New Zealand told from the perspective of ordinary people. He has also written on Chinese history, including the negotiations surrounding Britain’s acquisition of Hong Kong and its decolonisation in 1997. Justin’s most recent publication is the first part of Epitome for Eleanor: A Short History of the Known Universe, written for children. His current projects include a natural history of Sydney’s Wolli Creek Valley.

He regularly contributes reviews to Booktopia.

The life of Stephen Hawking to be adapted from book to screen

For much of his life, Stephen Hawking has been a cultural icon. The brilliant mind consigned to a wheelchair, the result of his crippling battle with motor neurone disease. His 1988 book A Brief History of Time changed the way science was looked at by the world, selling more than 10 million copies and being translated into over 40 languages.

Despite this, little is known of Hawking’s private life, from his carefree days as a 17 year-old undergrad at Oxford, excelling in academics and rowing, to his physical decline during his 20s, and marriage breakdown in the mid 90s.

This is all about to change with a new film The Theory of Everything, adapted from his first wife Jane’s acclaimed memoir Travelling to Infinity. Hopefully they do one of the greatest minds of our time justice.

travelling-to-infinityTravelling to Infinity

by Jane Hawking

In this compelling memoir his first wife, Jane Hawking, relates the inside story of their extraordinary marriage.

As Stephen’s academic renown soared, his body was collapsing under the assaults of motor neurone disease, and Jane’s candid account of trying to balance his 24-hour care with the needs of their growing family will be inspirational to anyone dealing with family illness.

The inner-strength of the author, and the self-evident character and achievements of her husband, make for an incredible tale that is always presented with unflinching honesty; the author’s candour is no less evident when the marriage finally ends in a high-profile meltdown, with Stephen leaving Jane for one of his nurses, while Jane goes on to marry an old family friend.

In this exceptionally open, moving and often funny memoir, Jane Hawking confronts not only the acutely complicated and painful dilemmas of her first marriage, but also the faultlines exposed in a relationship by the pervasive effects of fame and wealth.

The result is a book about optimism, love and change that will resonate with readers everywhere.

Grab a copy of Travelling to Infinity here

my-brief-historyMy Brief History

by Stephen Hawking

The extraordinary personal autobiography of the world’s most famous scientist, written solely and exclusively by Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Hawking has dazzled readers worldwide with a string of bestsellers exploring the mysteries of the universe. Now, for the first time, the most brilliant cosmologist of our age turns his gaze inward for a revealing look at his own life and intellectual evolution.

My Brief History recounts Stephen Hawking’s improbable journey, from his post-war London boyhood to his years of international acclaim and celebrity. Lavishly illustrated with rarely seen photographs, this concise, witty and candid account introduces readers to a Hawking rarely glimpsed in previous books: the inquisitive schoolboy whose classmates nicknamed him ‘Einstein'; the jokester who once placed a bet with a colleague over the existence of a black hole; and the young husband and father struggling to gain a foothold in the world of academia.

Writing with characteristic humility and humour, Hawking opens up about the challenges that confronted him following his diagnosis of ALS aged twenty-one. Tracing his development as a thinker, he explains how the prospect of an early death urged him onward through numerous intellectual breakthroughs, and talks about the genesis of his masterpiece A Brief History of Time – one of the iconic books of the twentieth century.

Clear-eyed, intimate and wise, My Brief History opens a window for the rest of us into Hawking’s personal cosmos.

Grab a copy of My Brief History here

a-brief-history-of-timeA Brief History Of Time

by Stephen Hawking

Was there a beginning of time? Could time run backwards? Is the universe infinite or does it have boundaries?

These are just some of the questions considered in an internationally acclaimed masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest thinkers. It begins by reviewing the great theories of the cosmos from Newton to Einstein, before delving into the secrets which still lie at the heart of space and time, from the Big Bang to black holes, via spiral galaxies and strong theory.

To this day A Brief History of Time remains a staple of the scientific canon, and its succinct and clear language continues to introduce millions to the universe and its wonders.

Grab a copy of A Brief History of Time here

BOOK REVIEW: Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant (Review by Caroline Baum)

It’s not just the fact that this novel is set at my university in the north of England that makes me love it. It’s Grant’s superb ability to capture the feeling of the times in this terrifically authentic story about student life, especially the first awkward foray into relationships, friendships, infatuations and other uneasy human manoeuvrings on the road to self-awareness.

Personalities are tried on like clothes, and discarded just as easily. The same goes for identities. Class, intellect, sex appeal and success become increasingly significant markers together with envy and popularity. Mental illness hovers on the periphery, its dark presence prompting tragedy, together with inevitable guilt and regret.

Many readers will recognise something of their student selves in these psychologically acute pages. Grant creates utterly believable, three-dimensional characters with the same clear-eyed wisdom as Margaret Drabble before her.

Grab a copy of Upstairs at the Party here

——————————————————-

Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

——————————————————-

upstairs-at-the-partyUpstairs at the Party

by Linda Grant

The brilliant new novel from the Man Booker shortlisted author of The Clothes on Their Backs

‘If you go back and look at your life there are certain scenes, acts, or maybe just incidents on which everything that follows seems to depend. If only you could narrate them, then you might be understood. I mean the part of yourself that you don’t know how to explain.’

In the early Seventies a glamorous and androgynous couple known collectively as Evie/Stevie appear out of nowhere on the isolated concrete campus of a new university. To a group of teenagers experimenting with radical ideas they seem blown back from the future, unsettling everything and uncovering covert desires. But the varnished patina of youth and flamboyant self-expression hides deep anxieties and hidden histories. For Adele, with the most to conceal, Evie/Stevie become a lifelong obsession, as she examines what happened on the night of her own twentieth birthday and her friends’ complicity in their fate. A set of school exercise books might reveal everything, but they have been missing for nearly forty years. From summers in Cornwall to London in the twenty-first century, long after they have disappeared, Evie/Stevie go on challenging everyone’s ideas of what their lives should turn out to be.

Grab a copy of Upstairs at the Party here

BOOK REVIEW: Hitler’s Last Witness: The Memoirs of Hitler’s Bodyguard by Rochus Misch (Review by Kate Forsyth)

9781925106107Anyone who is fascinated and troubled by Adolf Hitler and his actions will find much to interest them in this memoir written by one of his bodyguards, Rochus Misch. The Führer’s bodyguards accompanied him everywhere, and so were witnesses to many secret meetings and communications. Those hoping for insights into the psychology of Hitler will be disappointed.Misch was chosen as his bodyguard because he knew how to keep his head down, and his ears and eyes shut. He repeats several times that he was chosen because he was someone ‘who would give no trouble.’

Misch is not a natural writer. His style is dry and clipped and to the point (at times I could almost hear his German accent!) Nonetheless, much of his narrative is riveting, particularly as the Germans begin to lose the war and the Führer and his inner circle take up residence in a concrete bunker deep beneath the city. Misch must accompany them, leaving his wife and baby daughter to the mercies of the attacking Russians. He witnesses Hitler’s marriage to his long-time mistress, Evan Braun, and then the murder of the six Goebbels children by their mother. At this action, his matter-of-tone manner breaks down and his real anguish breaks through. ‘The most dreadful thing I experienced in the bunker was not his death. The worst thing was the killing of these children’. Misch was in the bunker till the bitter end, witnessing Hitler and his bride’s suicide and the final admission of defeat by the Nazi generals. His reward for his loyalty was to end up in the Russian torture chambers.

One of the most interesting things about the book is Misch’s unswerving loyalty to Hitler, and the painting of one of the world’s most vicious mass murderers as a normal man and ‘a wonderful boss.’

Grab a copy of Rochus Misch’s Hitler’s Last Witness: The Memoirs of Hitler’s Bodyguard here


Kate FKate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults.

She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite Novelists, coming in at No 16. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’

Click here to see Kate’s author page

BOOK REVIEW: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran (Review by Caroline Baum)

how-to-build-a-girlI’ve been a fan of Moran’s ever since I read her hilarious story in the British press about trying to learn Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies dance routine. She is a one-of-a-kind talent, untamed by success, outspoken, mouthy, with a wild and brilliant voice on just about everything. And now she’s tackled fiction. Despite an author’s note at the front of the book it does seem that she is using her own life story as material: she is, like her heroine Johanna, a girl raised on a housing estate in Wolverhampton with ambitions to write about music and go to London.

In the novel, Johanna leaves behind a sarcastically sharp-tongued mother and a hopeless father who is just a demo tape away from success and fails to recognise her brother is gay. She also has sex with a man with an overly large member and makes inept attempts at self-harm.

It’s a roller coaster ride of chaos, insecurity, longing and drugs in I’m-with-the- band land. This is rock ‘n’ roll meets Jeanette Winterson. Julie Burchill without the vitriol. Or as Moran herself puts it, The Bell Jar written by Adrian Mole. Raw, rude, irresistible and very funny.

Grab a copy of How to Build a Girl

——————————————————-

Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

how-to-build-a-girlHow to Build a Girl

by Caitlin Moran

What do you do in your teenage years when you realise what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes – and build yourself. It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, 14, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde – fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer! She will save her poverty stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer – like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontes – but without the dying young bit. By 16, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper.

She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less. But what happens when Johanna realises she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all? Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease, with a soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays. As beautiful as it is funny, How To Build a Girl is a brilliant coming-of-age novel in DMs and ripped tights, that captures perfectly the terror and joy of trying to discover exactly who it is you are going to be.

Grab a copy of How to Build a Girl

BOOK REVIEW: Where Song Began by Tim Low (Review by Caroline Baum)

You don’t have to be a twitcher to enjoy this book which opens with a fascinating theory: Australian birds sound different because of what they eat! Apparently they are on a sugar high, because there is more nectar available to them from native flora than to other birds elsewhere.

While our marsupials continue to capture the world’s attention (Prince George and the Bilby, Gary Shteyngart’s urgent desire to pat a wombat on his recent author tour), our birds are every bit as unique and get far less attention than they deserve. Many smaller species are threatened as suburbia encroaches on habitat. This accessible, entertaining and compelling portrait of our avian ecosystem makes for essential reading for bushwalkers, gardeners, and nature lovers.

——————————————————-

Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

Grab a copy of Where Song Began here

Grab a copy of Where Song Began here

Check out these brilliant book reviews from Booktopians

At the recent Australian Book Expo, we set up a camera and asked Booktopians to review their favourite book. The response was amazing, with so many wonderful book lovers keen to chat about their favourite reads. Here are some of the best. Enjoy!


Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour

by Morgan Matson

Click here for more details


Bitter Greens

by Kate Forsyth

Click here for more details


Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

by Haruki Murakami

Click here for more details


Daughter of Smoke and Bone

by Laini Taylor

Click here for more details


The Hunt for Pierre Jnr

by David M. Henley

Click here for more details


The Hunt for Pierre Jnr

by David M. Henley

Click here for more details


Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Click here for more details


Every Breath

by Ellie Marney

Click here for more details


Fallen

by Lauren Kate

Click here for more details


Falling Into Place

by Amy Zhang

Click here for more details


If I Stay

by Gayle Forman

Click here for more details


If I Stay

by Gayle Forman

Click here for more details


Masquerade

by Kylie Fornasier

Click here for more details


On the Jellicoe Road

by Melina Marchetta

Click here for more details


Poison Study

by Maria V. Snyder

Click here for more details


Room

by Emma Donoghue

Click here for more details


City of Bones

by Cassandra Clare

Click here for more details


Skinjob

by Bruce McCabe

Click here for more details


The Incredible Here and Now

by Felicity Castanga

Click here for more details


The Last Thirteen

by James Phelan

Click here for more details


The Regulators

by Stephen King

Click here for more details


These Broken Stars

by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Click here for more details


Three Men in a Boat

by Jerome K Jerome

Click here for more details


WeirDo 2: Even Weirder!

by Anh Do

Click here for more details


What Makes Us Tick?

by Hugh Mackay

Click here for more details


Women

by Charles Bukowski

Click here for more details


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,134 other followers

%d bloggers like this: