Category: Literature

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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A Review of New Dark Age and Outnumbered

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 […]

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Why Davos Man Loves Big History

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. […]

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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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The War on the Young and Australia Reimagined: A Review

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 […]

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Peak Bullshit?

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 […]

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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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