Asbestos House

Gideon Haigh

Asbestos House
Scribe Publications
1 October 2007

Asbestos House

Gideon Haigh

Founded in 1888, James Hardie Industries is one of Australia’s oldest, richest and proudest corporations. And its fortunes were based on what proved to be one of the worst industrial poisons of the twentieth century- asbestos.

Asbestos House, the name of the grand headquarters that Hardie built itself in 1929, tells two remarkable tales. It relates the frantic financial engineering in 2001 during which Hardie cut adrift its liabilities to sufferers of asbestos-related disease, the public and political odium that followed, and the extraordinary deal that resulted. It is also the story of how the company, forgot how, even as fibro built a nation, the asbestos fibre from which it was made condemned thousands to death.

Reconstructed from hundreds of hours of interviews and thousands of pages of documentation, Asbestos House is a saga of high finance, industrial history, legal intrigue, medical breakthrough and human frailty.

‘This is a book that should be in any library with a business section. The story is more instructive that tales of colourful villains such as Alan Bond or of corrupt corporations such as Enron … Haigh’s is a story of people who were unable, or chose not, to deal with profoundly conflicting interests. Subtle and thorough, it’s a page-turner.’ -Peter McLennan, Australian Book Review

‘A serious, sombre and, at times, heart-rending account befitting a tragic and awful story … At all times Haigh’s research is impeccable. This is the book’s great strength - it could become the reference book on all matters relating to asbestos.’ -Matthew Charles, Herald Sun

‘The asbestos that for 90 years was Hardie’s core business eventually became a liability, and the story of how the company tried - and continues to try - to distance itself from its past makes for fascinating reading.’ -Lachlan Jobbins, Australian Bookseller & Publisher

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