Thursday, October 31, 2013


All four of us are pretty constant readers. We all read at breakfast, occasionally at lunch and once in a while someone asks "Can this be a reading dinner?" and we even read through that.

I have three history books on the go at the moment. Suspect History by Humphrey McQueen is a defence of historian Manning Clark. It’s actually a bit of a giggle because it deals with a time not that long ago when Australian academics were deeply and seriously ideological, and accusations flew around of this one or that one being in the pay of the KGB or CIA. The whole book is essentially dealing with an allegation that Clark once wore an Order of Lenin medal to a party.

The heaviest is Civilization by Niall Ferguson. A study of the big question, why did Western civilisation win out so completely after 1412? Jared Diamond puts it down to things like Eurasia’s fortune in having useful indigenous grasses and mammals. Ferg thinks northern Europeans were just better at organising, and his six ‘killer applications’ include property rights and the work ethic. Good book but I really hate his attempt at co-opting IT jargon to make his book seem funky and with-it.

The other book is Curtin’s Gift by John Edwards. Turns out that we have been lauding John Curtin (Australian wartime Prime Minister) for the wrong things all this time. Edwards says that many of his wartime achievements are over-estimated and misunderstood, whereas what he really did was set-up Australia’s postwar success. Conventional wisdom says he brought Australian troops back from the Middle East to defend the homeland against Churchill’s wishes, and moved Australia into the US orbit by inviting MacArthur to take command of all forces in the Pacific. Edwards says Churchill suggested the first and was a supporter of the second. The really big achievements are all in economic policy such as getting control of the banks, taking income taxation rights away from the states, and establishing full employment as government policy. “His enduring achievement was not saving Australia from Japan but in creating modern, postwar Australia.” 

With the nation at war, he was in a position to ring the changes with minimal interference, as all of these reforms were declared to be essential for the war effort. Even so, he was a masterful manipulator of his party and the parliament, especially considering he was leading a minority government from 1941 to 1943. He died in office just six weeks before victory over Japan.

This morning when I got up to the breakfast table, my Curtin book had an extra bookmark in it. I was astonished that Elf has been reading it (she loathes politics) but it turned out that it was Marcus! I said he had probably found it boring, but he said in fact he had read the first dozen or so pages and thought it was OK. He and Michael are addicts of the Horrible History books and TV series, so they have absorbed a lot of background knowledge that gives them a leg up when they are consuming history in a less fun-packed format.

So yeah - 11 Year Old Reads Serious History Book Shock. Oh, and Marcus thinks John Curtin looks like Kochie off Sunrise.

No comments: