Doing Politics: Writing on Public Life

Judith Brett

Doing Politics: Writing on Public Life
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Doing Politics: Writing on Public Life

Judith Brett

Since the 1980s Judith Brett has been helping to shape Australians' conversations about politics, bringing a historian’s eye to contemporary issues and probing the psychology of our prime ministers. Her writings about Liberal Party leaders have been widely influential, especially her famous 1984 essay ‘Robert Menzies' Forgotten People' and her prize-winning book of the same name, as well as her analysis of John Howard’s nationalism.

She has interrogated some our most perplexing issues: multiculturalism, the politics of rural Australia, the republic, mining and climate change, our electoral traditions, the way ordinary people do politics, the decline of universities. Always she writes as a citizen for her fellow citizens, in her distinctive voice: probing, accessible and wry.

Doing Politics brings together the finest essays by the author of The Enigmatic Mr Deakin, From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage and the Quarterly Essay ‘The Coal Curse'.


In recent years, avid readers have been rewarded with collections of writings by Don Watson, David Marr and Robert Manne. Now, it’s Judith Brett’s turn, with this excellent collection that brings together some of her best written works, from journal and magazine articles to orations and book chapters.

As a political historian and biographer, Brett has spent her career seeking to give us a greater understanding of Australian political events and the decisions of our government and leaders. While Brett is easily recognised for her award-winning books on Alfred Deakin (The Enigmatic Mr Deakin) and Robert Menzies (Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People), this volume includes earlier, perhaps lesser-known works, which really speak to her approach and influences as a writer and political biographer. These chapters are great strengths of this volume, and for me, really anchor the book. They also add greater context to her essays on our six most recent Prime Ministers, brought together here in this volume, in addition to the initial oratory piece on Deakin and his leadership during the early years of the federation. Indeed, revisiting these prime-ministerial profiles makes for great (if not slightly sad) reading. Brett deftly investigates these men and woman (singular): their unique personalities and backgrounds are crucial to understanding them as political leaders.

As an historian, Brett engages with the public through her writing, bringing a necessary sense of urgency on current matters of climate change and the systematic dereliction of the humanities in the tertiary education sector. If you’re newly enfranchised, or have an existing interest in politics and history, or still can’t comprehend the exasperating events of this last decade, please read this vital work.

Julia Jackson is the assistant shop manager at Readings Carlton.

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