• A Review of New Dark Age and Outnumbered

    This review was first published in The Weekend Australian. * In his brilliant and beautiful book, New Dark Age, the British artist James Bridle invokes Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. First set out in Asimov’s short story ‘Runaround’ (1942), these laws are usually expressed as follows: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a […]

    A Review of New Dark Age and Outnumbered
  • Why Davos Man Loves Big History

    On the face of it, David Christian’s Origin Story doesn’t look like the kind of book that demands a political analysis. Subtitled A Big History of Everything, I imagine it will strike most readers as a weightier, less amusing, version of Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything – a book for the interested non-specialist, if not the shameless dilettante. […]

    Why Davos Man Loves Big History
  • The War on the Young and Australia Reimagined: A Review

    Both John Sutherland and Hugh Mackay were born in 1938. According to my instruments, that makes them old men, and it is as old men – or, if you prefer, ‘elders’ – that they have taken up the urgent task of diagnosing contemporary society’s ills and prescribing an appropriate course of treatment. Sutherland does so in rank-breaking style, suggesting in […]

    The War on the Young and Australia Reimagined: A Review
  • Peak Bullshit?

    Earlier this year, as the US journalist Michael Wolff was angrily defending his chart-busting exposé Fire and Fury against allegations that it was thinly sourced and inaccurate – allegations, it should be pointed out, that flowed principally from its apricot-coloured subject – a passage purporting to be an extract from the book was published and widely shared on Twitter. Originating […]

    Peak Bullshit?
  • Politics for Beautiful People

    There’s disagreement about who first described politics as “show business for ugly people”: some commentators attribute the zinger to Jay Leno, others to political consultant Paul Begala. But there is broad agreement that whoever it was identified a genuine phenomenon. Politics in the era of mass communication has indeed become more “mediated” – as focused on personalities as it is […]

    Politics for Beautiful People
  • Five Stars for Us! A Review of Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’

    I was just four months old when the Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, but I remember very distinctly the mixed emotions that ran through my mind when I first clapped eyes on that historic edition of the New York Times in my local library. For here was everything I loathed and loved in one incredible revelation! On the one […]

    Five Stars for Us! A Review of Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’
  • Stuck in the Middle with EU? Centrism in the UK and Beyond

    When the writer Paul Mason was booked to appear at the annual conference of Progress earlier this year, he was more or less assured a rough reception. Progress, after all, is a Blairite “ginger group” within the British Labour Party – formed in 1996, one year before their boy won power – and Mason the quasi-Marxist author of the excellent […]

    Stuck in the Middle with EU? Centrism in the UK and Beyond
  • True Colours: Identity, Class and Rightwing Populism

    Of all the flags seen at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month – the Gadsden, the Confederate, the National Socialist – none so caught the media’s attention as the one raised in its immediate aftermath. Responding to the far-right rally, and to the atrocity committed by one of the protestors, the Cheeto Jesus equivocated. There […]

    True Colours: Identity, Class and Rightwing Populism
  • Losing the Plot: On the Liberal Reaction to Hulu’s Handmaid

    I’ll say one thing for the Cheeto Jesus: he’s done wonders for the journalistic trade in specious literary comparisons. In the year or so since Donald Trump became the GOP’s presidential nominee, I must have read hundreds of articles comparing his rise and behaviour in office to dystopias and alternative histories such as Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Philip […]

    Losing the Plot: On the Liberal Reaction to Hulu’s Handmaid
  • On Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton: What Kind of Thing Is Humankind?

    Roger Scruton and Terry Eagleton aren’t natural bedfellows. As a conservative philosopher in the Burkean mould, Scruton tends to regard the past as a country from which we have strayed too far, while the Marxist Eagleton looks forward to a world that has broken free from oppression and exploitation. But while certain fundamental differences emerge from a reading of these […]

    On Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton: What Kind of Thing Is Humankind?
 

OTHER RECENT POSTS

Digital Apes: On Humanity and AI

Digital Apes: On Humanity and AI

This review was first published in The Weekend Australian. * Shortly before his death in 2015 the fantasy writer Terry Pratchett agreed to be interviewed for a documentary about his life and legacy. ‘When I was a boy all I ever wanted was my own observatory’ says Pratchett in the film’s final scene. ‘I knew even then that all the […]

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When the Facts Change

When the Facts Change

This review of Robert Manne’s On Borrowed Time was first published in Arena. * ‘When the facts change I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’ Robert Manne was speaking with Geraldine Doogue, on Radio National’s Saturday Extra. Responding to a question about his political journey (and under no illusion that he was quoting Keynes, to whom the line […]

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On The Future of Everything and Dead Right

On The Future of Everything and Dead Right

These three books – one a comprehensive attempt to reinvent radical social democracy, one a long essay on society and economics, and one a kind of tasting plate of morsels from its publisher’s backlist – all give voice to a widespread feeling that some major change in how we do things – politically, socially, economically – is both necessary and […]

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Bullshit Jobs and Blue Collar Frayed: A Review

Bullshit Jobs and Blue Collar Frayed: A Review

In 2013 an essay entitled ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’ appeared in the radical magazine Strike! Its author was the anthropologist and political activist David Graeber, who sought an answer to a simple question: How is it that developed economies in thrall to ideals of efficiency and high productivity generate so many jobs that even the people who do […]

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Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut: A Review

Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut: A Review

“Anything with blood in it can probably go bad. Like meat. And it’s the blood that makes me worry. It carries things you don’t even know you got.” So thinks Jaxie Clackton as he hides out in the Western Australian wheatbelt, casing a corrugated iron shack. He’s on the run, having found his father crushed to death under a Toyota […]

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Three new books on the future of work

Three new books on the future of work

David Fagan, Wake Up: The Nine Hashtags of Digital Disruption UQP; $24.95; 224pp Jim Chalmers and Mike Quigley, Changing Jobs: The Fair Go in the New Machine Age Redback; $22.99; 199pp Richard Denniss, Curing Affluenza: How to Buy Less Stuff and Save the World Black Inc.; $27.99; 275pp The times they are a-changin’ – fast. So fast, indeed, that it […]

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L’Affaire Weinstein: A Progressive “Watershed”

L’Affaire Weinstein: A Progressive “Watershed”

The Harvey Weinstein affair cannot be brushed aside as the culture of the casting couch. It is not one more story from the Hollywood fiction factory. It must not be allowed to be another tawdry milestone. It must be the watershed. Reading these lines in The Guardian one week after the New York Times published the first explosive allegations about […]

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Mood Swings: Robert Lowell at 100 (and a bit)

I happened to be emerging from a bout of depression when I first realised we were approaching the centenary of Robert Lowell’s birth in 1917. Now that date – 1st March – has passed, but I’ve been rereading the poetry anyway, in the spirit of the young student in Richard Attenborough’s 1993 film Shadowlands: ‘We read to know we’re not […]

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STEM Sells (Buyer Beware)

STEM Sells (Buyer Beware)

STEM. It sounds sciencey, doesn’t it? A stem is a type of cell, after all, as well as one of the two structural axes of a vascular plant, or tracheophyte. There are also “stem groups” in evolutionary biology, and Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy, and Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modellers. Probably there’s a group of physicists somewhere who play Jean-Michel Jarres covers and […]

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Three Books on Democracy

Three Books on Democracy

A review of: A. C. Grayling, Democracy and Its Crisis (Oneworld Books) Richard Walsh, Reboot: A Democracy Makeover to Empower Australia’s Voters (MUP) Steve Richards, The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost Its Way (Atlantic Books)   In his 1984 book The Fall of Rome German historian Alexander Demandt lists all the reasons ever proffered for the decline […]

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