Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

The First Dismissal

The First Dismissal
by Luke Slattery

I wanted to like this book. I’m a fan of the penguin special/kindle single short size for non-fiction books (far too many in this genre are too long by half), and the initial argument – that Governor Macquarie helped initiate Australia’s sense of the fair go and egalitarianism – was engaging.

Unfortunately, this is a badly structured and confusing read, which is unforgivable in such a short piece. The writing itself is not bad, with a few charming sentences, but there was a need for a strong editorial hand. The chronology jumps all over the place, there are few linking sentences, major sections are included with seemingly little relevance, and the central argument is rarely – and badly – prosecuted.

It is sometimes useful in historical writing to identify opponents, even villains who try and block the central actors in your story. But they should only serve for dramatic tension, and to help demonstrate the importance and significance of your central themes. Instead, the author ends up spending much of the book trying to prosecute the character of John Thomas Bigge, who was sent to Australia to investigate and undermine Macquarie.

As such it feels like we’re dragged back into a 200+ year old factional argument, no different than you might find in the pages of any of the current tract of political memoirs currently on our shelves. Do you imagine 200 years from now any audience will want to become invested and take sides over Gillard or Swan’s account of who was to blame?

As I said, I like the penguin specials length, but -and this is not the first one I’ve read to seem under-edited – there needs to be a much tighter
editorial control to make the series really shine. Get the argument up front, make sure it is woven coherently through, and ideally provide some endnotes to help prove the credibility of the claims and give those interested in the ideas some future reading options. This could have been a good christmas conversation starter, but instead i’d recommend giving it a miss.

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