Monday, September 28, 2009

Two Great Political Tomes

For the last two weeks I've been thoroughly immersed in these two huge, heavy but wonderful political books. I can wholeheartedly recommend both of them to anybody who loves to luxuriate in the rich details of our contemporary political history.

Ted Kennedy's Memoir is a reflective and beautifully written story of his life and career as a Kennedy and as a member of the US Senate for nearly forty years. The whole rich family saga is here, as well as fascinating behind-the-scenes narratives of all the great legislative battles Kennedy was associated with during the Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Shrub administrations.

What a huge family! Ted was the last of nine children, and his brother Bobby and his wife Ethel had eleven for god's sake. Seemingly, hundreds (well...four) of the family were wiped out in small plane crashes, and disasters of one kind or another overtook many of the rest. You'd have thought they would have learnt not to go out! Still, there's so much love in this book, for family, friends, colleagues and even occasional foes, that makes it so warm and involving, and, frankly, absorbing.

Many of Kennedy's great speeches are liberally quoted, which gives the book a special, literary power as well. Wholeheartedly recommended.

Paul Kelly's The March of Patriots is also an enthralling read. If you want a superb, sympathetic and politically astute overview of Australian politics over the last thirty years you couldn't do any better than this book. And Kelly has a special gift for bringing even the most mundane and complex issues to vivid life. He brings a strong sense of story as well as a wealth of juicy detail to all the great policy initiatives and stoushes that have made the last few decades of our history so fascinating. Keating and Howard are the main protagonists, but there are many more.

He's a bit too fond of 'ism's', like nationalism, regionalism, exceptionalism, globalism, etc, which he uses to give his narrative a dramatic lift and nobler purpose, but nevertheless he remains pretty grounded throughout, and invests the story with plenty of energy and drive.

Huge structural shifts and policy reforms have (thankfully) been unleashed on Australia over the years encompassed by this book, and Keating and Howard have driven them with passion. Kelly's superb chronicling of these events is a must read.

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