’tis the season to catch up on the reading that you don’t get the time or inclination to do during the rest of the year. I’ve certainly had a chance to plough through a few books.
Judith Brett’s Quarterly Essay on Howard’s demise is out, and it’s very much in her typical style. Psychoanalytic interpretations of the electorate, and to some extent the leaders, abound. One assertion that I found considerable room to quibble with, however, is her claim that the seeds of Howard’s political demise were sown with the ascension of Rudd to the Labor leadership. While we’ll never know, I suspect Labor would have had a pretty fair shot of winning this election with Beazley – or Julia Gillard – as leader. Perhaps the scare campaign about union influence might have more effect given a Gillard leadership; perhaps the It’s Time factor wouldn’t have been as great if Beazley had still been in charge. And Brett, in an almost throwaway manner, states that Andrew Bolt has been crucial in keeping Victorian working-class votes in conservative manner. Does Bolt really have any great influence on swinging voters, or does he just preach to the converted, a shock jock of the print world? In any case, there is one particularly good reason to read this issue of QE: an extraordinarily insightful and beautifully-written piece of correspondence at the back. I agree with every word the author wrote…
On a much lighter note, Richard Woolcott has pulled his typewriter back out for Undiplomatic Activities, tongue-in-cheek look at the world of diplomacy. Aside from a short blast at the previous government in the last chapter, the tone is light, the writing is excellent, and the anecdotes genuinely amusing, if occasionally ones that have appeared before in print or elsewhere. When being serious, Woolcott can be an insufferably arrogant defence of realpolitik, but this is excellent time-filler for a short plane flight.
Future Perfect is a series of essays about the near future by ABC broadcaster Robyn Williams. While not as bad as the excreable Future Files, I couldn’t help lamenting what seems to be a certain shallowness in Williams’ thought. On his piece on the future of transport, for instance, he swiftly dissects the numerous ills that the private car inflicts on our cities, and speculates of a future laden with mass transit and ubiquitous short-term vehicle rental. But, as he notes, private car ownership is exploding in the rapidly developing countries. An analysis of how to solve our issues with transport for the future is going to have to unravel the reasons as to why people are so wedded to their cars. To pick another example, Williams’ piece on the future of innovation spends substantial time complaining about the lack of “big bang” innovation over the past few decades, missing that myriad tiny improvements over time can make as much difference as any “big bang”. Regardless, this one is worth a read, even if only to crystallize one’s own arguments in disagreement.
Finally, if you’re prepared to pay to order it from overseas, is Gwyneth Cravens’ Power to Save The World, an extended tour of the American nuclear power industry. Cravens has written several books, and for magazines like the New Yorker and Harper’s, so this is if nothing else very readable, and an excellent summary of the case, as I see it, for giving this technology consideration. Particularly interesting is the discussion of waste disposal technology, including the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Thoroughly recommended.
What else have people been reading in their pre-Christmas downtime? Any recommendations?