Eight books that challenge our preconceptions about history

History is not fixed in place – our understanding of the past is ever-changing as we learn new information in the present-day, as well as hear from new perspectives. Here are eight history books that will make you think differently about the world.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

One of our top 10 bestselling books of 2018, Dark Emu is shaping up to become a seminal work of Australian history. This work presents evidence that argues against the ‘hunter, gatherer’ label which so many Australians associate with the history of Aboriginal people. Author Bruce Pascoe draws on the work of Bill Gammage, R. Gerritsen and others, as well as his own research, and his findings make for a strongly persuasive case.

You Daughters Of Freedom by Clare Wright

A revisionary history of the Eureka stockade, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka was the first volume of Clare Wright’s ‘Democracy Trilogy’, and received wide acclaim for the fascinating new insight it provided into Australia’s past. You Daughters of Freedom is the second volume of the trilogy, and here, Wright turns her attention to Australia’s role in the suffragette movement of the early twentieth century.

Blue Lake by David Sornig

In Blue Lake, David Sornig examines how this 8km-square zone to the west of central Melbourne became the city’s blind spot. Once a fertile wetland with a large blue saltwater lagoon, it has passed through various incarnations: from boneyards and rubbish tips; through the Depression-era Dudley Flats shanty town; to the modern-day docks. This genre-blurring work reveals cracks in the colonial mythology of the ordered vision of progressive, urban Melbourne and encourages readers to look harder at the places they live in.

Serving Our Country by Joan Beaumont & Allison Cadzow

Serving our Country is the first comprehensive history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s participation in the Australian defence forces. The stories shared in this work reveal the courage, resilience, and trauma of Indigenous defence personnel and their families, and document the long struggle to gain recognition for their role in the defence of Australia.

Blitzed by Norman Ohler (translated by Shaun Whiteside)

The Nazis presented themselves as warriors against moral degeneracy. Yet, the entire Third Reich was permeated with drugs – cocaine, heroin, morphine and, most of all, methamphetamines, or crystal meth – and used by everyone from housewives to soldiers. While this alone cannot explain the events of the Second World War or its outcome, Norman Ohler demonstrates how it changes our understanding of them.

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

Lindsey Fitzharris brilliantly conjures up the grisly world of Victorian surgery – an era when a broken leg could lead to amputation, surgeons still ransacked cemeteries to find cadavers, and doctors remained baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. Then a young Quaker surgeon stepped forward with an audacious claim that changed the history of medicine forever.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old. In just a fraction of that time, one species among countless others has conquered it. Us. We are the most advanced and most destructive animals ever to have lived. What makes us brilliant? What makes us deadly? What makes us Sapiens? Yuval Noah Harari’s bestselling history of our species will challenge everything you think you know about being human.

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair

In this book, Kassia St Clair has turned her lifelong obsession with colours and where they come from into a unique study of human civilisation. She shares the stories of 75 shades, dyes and hues – from Picasso’s blue period to the charcoal on the cave walls at Lascaux, from acid yellow to kelly green, from scarlet women to imperial purple. The result is a vivid new understanding of our culture and history.

Cover image for Dark Emu

Dark Emu

Bruce Pascoe

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