Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew is a book about nesting ospreys, multiple universes, atheism, spiritualism, and the arrow of time. He takes the reader back and forth between ordinary occurrences-old shoes and entropy, sailing far out at sea and the infinite expanse of space. He looks toward the universe and captures aspects of it in a series of beautifully written essays, each offering a glimpse at the whole from a different perspective: here time, there symmetry, not least God. It is a meditation by a remarkable humanist-physicist, a book worth reading by anyone entranced by big ideas grounded in the physical world.
A Sense of Place Publishing is proud to announce the forthcoming publication of She Said She Said by Australian born American author Anne Reid. The ordinary and the extraordinary mix in this funny, moving, excruciatingly intimate, triumphant book which soars… Continue Reading →
Award-winning former NPR correspondent, foreign policy expert, and associate at the Carnegie Endowment, Sarah Chayes has an urgent warning in her new book Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens National Security. Militant puritanical religion is presenting as a just alternative to depraved secular rule.
Something Wicked This Way Comes. It most certainly does. We are entering a new age of book burning, where ideas are ridiculed, contrary views cannot be debated, and governments reach for their only tool, crackdowns in the march towards totalitarian states. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 was an entirely prophetic novel, and now sits alongside George Orwell’s 1984 as a book which predicted a future no-one truly expected to see, the closing of minds and the subjugation of dissent in the 21st Century. Here are some brief extracts.
It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.
Despite the billions of dollars funnelled to them, and their thousands of personnel, Australians know almost nothing about the well-resourced, ultra-secretive intelligence agencies their dollars support. This is against a backdrop where the government has greatly expanded the powers of the agencies, but the citizens themselves have few legal rights when it comes to those who spy so avidly upon them.
There is no legal right to privacy or freedom of expression written into the Australian constitution, and the government has a reputation for spying on its own citizens to a far greater degree than any other Western democracy.
With the multiple incompetencies of Australian governance now a byword across the nation, transparency at zero and oversight chaotic at best, Australians can only take the word of their politicians on the value of these agencies, routinely described by the Prime Minister of the day as “the best in the world”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flew in the face of opposition from the agencies themselves and many of his most senior ministers, when he announced the formation of a new Homeland Security style mega-agency.
Reviews of the nation’s security agencies are extremely rare. While a determinedly “inside the beltway” view, with almost no public input, the new Independent Intelligence Review, when read with a certain between-the-lines scepticism, is a valuable insight at a time when the entire future of intelligence in Australia is in play.
Visitors to Thailand are not warned by travel agents, airlines or their own governments that their passports are highly prized in Thailand, and stand a very good chance of being stolen. Depending on the nationality, a passport can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market, several months pay for many Thais. There are gangs stealing passports to order. European, American, Australian and Canadian passports are particularly prized. Foreign embassies, fearful the documents are ending up in the hands of Islamist militants and international criminal networks, have made repeated representations to the Thai government without affect. INTERPOL Chief, Secretary General Ronald Noble describes passport fraud as the “biggest threat facing the world”. But for decades the Thai authorities have done little to stop their country’s blatant trade in stolen, doctored and forged documents. By inaction and complicity, Thailand has become an epicentre for the trade, a key link in international terrorist networks and a danger to the travelling public worldwide. Forged passports from Thailand are regarded as the highest quality of any in the world. Clients from the Middle East are one of the major buyers of fake passports in Thailand. In The Age of Terror, the failure of the Thai authorities to abolish the trade has set alarm bells ringing around the world. Here in its entirety is Chapter Two, called Passports, from the recent book Thailand: Deadly Destination.
Writing in The Conversation, commentator Jen Webb records her reaction to the first major biography of Australian journalist and author Helen Garner: How remarkable that, after some 40 years of books and essays, stories, articles and movies, there have been so few major publications on the life and works of Helen Garner. The National Library of Australia catalogue lists discussion notes; a study (in Mandarin) by Zhu Xiaoying; and Kerryn Goldsworthy’s excellent 1996 monograph. Bernadette Brennan’s A Writing Life goes a considerable way to filling out this slender collection.
Brennan offers a detailed account of Garner’s writing life, tracing the influences and obstacles; psychological and emotional affordances and constraints; her research and craft; and the critical and popular reception of her books. This is a valuable contribution about a major contemporary Australian writer who has delighted, infuriated, confused, charmed and frustrated readers, and whose experimental practice has galvanised ways of writing and thinking about writing.
On her literary blog Brain Pickings the incomparable Maria Popova writes: 1915 paper on general relativity, Albert Einstein envisioned gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by astronomic events of astronomical energy. Although fundamental to our understanding of the universe, gravitational waves were a purely theoretical construct for him. He lived in an era when any human-made tool for detecting something this faraway was simply unimaginable, even by the greatest living genius, and many of the cosmic objects capable of producing such tremendous tumult — black holes, for instance — were yet to be discovered.
One September morning in 2015, almost exactly a century after Einstein published his famous paper, scientists turned his mathematical dream into a tangible reality — or, rather, an audible one. In Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space — one of the finest and most beautifully written books I’ve ever read — astrophysicist and novelist Janna Levin tells the story of LIGO and its larger significance as a feat of science and the human spirit. Levin, a writer who bends language with effortless might and uses it not only as an instrument of thought but also as a Petri dish for emotional nuance, probes deep into the messy human psychology that animated these brilliant and flawed scientists as they persevered in this ambitious quest against enormous personal, political, and practical odds.
At once highly intelligent, with a clear eye for commonality and nuance and life as it is lived, set in broader rivers, with an eagle’s eye for beauty and a highly accomplished prose style, Australia’s preeminent observer of indigenous Australia Nicolas Rothwell has a new book out, Quicksilver.
Here is an extract:
Leo Frobenius, the great impressario of German imperial ethnography, conceived the idea that the Kimberly region of North-West Australia could serve as a window onto the fast-vanishing primeval past of man.
An expedition by the Frobenius Institute arrived in Broome in 1938, under the leadership of a young specialist in Aboriginal and Oceanic societies named Helmut Petri. The team then traveled from Walcott Inlet deep inland through the territories of the Worora and the Ngarinyin. Their discoveries were spectacular; their timing was poor.
It was only nine years after the end of World War II that Helmut Petri was able at last to publish an abbreviated account of his findings.
“Sterbende Welt in Nordwest Australien”, The Dying World in North-West Australia, is a production of great beauty, shot through with overtones of mourning and grief. Petri regarded it as no more than a damaged torso, a fragment of the book he planned to write – but that fragmentary quality gives the work much of its force. Although it is ostensibly concerned purely with ethnographic description of remote tribes and their social adaptations, it is in fact a study of a culture under stress and in collapse, and when I first came across it and made my way through its pages I at once felt it held the key to any truthful understanding of north Australia’s first civilizations and their fate.
I don’t know that I believe in the existence of God in the Catholic sense. But my favorite book is the Divine Comedy. And at the end of the Divine Comedy, Dante pierces the skin of the universe and comes face-to-face with the love that moves the sun and the other stars.
I believe that there is a love that moves the sun and the other stars. I believe in Dante’s vision.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Joby Warrick reveals in Black Flags: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of The Islamic State how the stain of militant Islam now raising its banner across Iraq and Syria spread from a remote Jordanian prison with the unwitting aid of American military intervention. When he succeeded his father in 1999, King Abdullah of Jordan released a batch of political prisoners in the hopes of smoothing his transition to power. Little did he know that among those released was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man who would go on to become a terrorist mastermind too dangerous even for al-Qaeda and give rise to an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East. Zarqawi began by directing hotel bombings and assassinations in Jordan from a base in northern Iraq, but it was the American invasion of that country in 2003 that catapulted him to the head of a vast insurgency.
Alastair Bothwick Nicholson, Chief Justice of the Family Court Australia from 1988 until 2004, is the dominant figure in the history of family law in Australia.
While the Family Court is deliberately kept out of the arena of contemporary public debate, it was not always so.
The Final Days of Alastair Nicholson: Chief Justice Family Court of Australia covers a period of intense media coverage and fervent hope that the troubled jurisdiction would be reformed.
Those dreams were dashed, with the then Prime Minister John Howard ignoring public support for shared parenting and a shift away from the traditional sole custody model.
The marginalisation and demonisation of fathers stood oddly with the country’s egalitarian traditions.
If you think you’re under surveillance, you more than likely are. Australia has a long history of surveying its own citizens, well beyond that of comparable Western countries. Described by its critics as a secret parallel police force which has done enormous harm to Australian democracy, The Australian Security Intelligence Service is forever a source of fearful fascination for Australians.
Its new offices in Canberra are almost as imposing as Parliament House itself.
Since 9/11 the agency has been gifted billions of dollars. Yet its operations completely lack transparency.
In the last budget the Turnbull/Abbott government gifted them yet more hundreds of millions of dollars, yet it is a secret as to exactly how much!!
Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, by Francis Fukuyama, is the story of how state, law and democracy developed after these cataclysmic events, how the modern landscape – with its uneasy tension between dictatorships and liberal democracies – evolved and how in the United States and in other developed democracies, unmistakable signs of decay have emerged. Best known for his book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama argues that if we want to understand the political systems that dominate and order our lives, we must first address their origins – in our own recent past as well as in the earliest systems of human government. He believes the key to successful government can be reduced to three key elements: a strong state, the rule of law, and institutions of democratic accountability. Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand why Western democracies are so vulnerable to the Sharia.
Travel the world with Eric Weiner, the New York Times bestselling author of The Geography of Bliss, as he journeys from Athens to Silicon Valley—and throughout history, too—to show how creative genius flourishes in specific places at specific times. In The Geography of Genius, the acclaimed writer sets out to examine the connection between our surroundings and our most innovative ideas. He explores the history of places, like Vienna of 1900, Renaissance Florence, ancient Athens, Song Dynasty Hangzhou, and Silicon Valley, to show how certain urban settings are conducive to ingenuity. And, with his trademark insightful humor, he walks the same paths as the geniuses who flourished in these settings to see if the spirit of what inspired figures like Socrates, Michelangelo, and Leonardo remains.
Thailand ‘one of the most dangerous tourist destinations on Earth’: Expat investigation lifts lid on dark side of the Land of Smiles
Thailand: Deadly Destination penned by Australian author John Stapleton
Writer says tourism boom has created hatred and contempt for foreigners
Death rate of tourists is ‘worst scandal in the annals of modern tourism’
Murder of British backpackers followed military coup in May this year
Ministry of Tourism forecast 25m visitors in 2015, down from 30m last year
By SIMON CABLE FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 20:18 AEST, 15 November 2014 | UPDATED: 01:08 AEST, 17 November 2014
A new book has branded Thailand one of the world’s most dangerous tourist destinations.
Australian author John Stapleton suggests that widespread police corruption, violence and crime are all blighting a country once commonly referred to as the ‘Land of Smiles’.
In his book Thailand: Deadly Destination, Mr Stapleton attempts to expose the reputation of Thailand as a welcoming country, claiming a boom in tourism since the 1960s has created a hatred of foreigners and a ‘murderous indifference’ to the millions of tourists who flock to the country’s white-sand beaches, picturesque countryside and thriving nightlife each year.
The country’s much-prized tourist industry, which accounts for 10 percent of the GDP, is in decay following more than 12 months of political unrest
The best book ever written on jihad in Australia, by the supremely gifted journalist Martin Chulov, remains an under-reviewed and under-appreciated work.
As Chulov writes, Australia has been far more central to the international jihad movement than previously realised; and this book is a significant player in bringing that to light.
With legal suppression orders following Operation Pendennis and the 2005 planned attacks on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australian Jihad: The battle against terrorism from within and without, was withdrawn. For many years copies were almost impossible to find. A book which, far from being suppressed, should have been taught in the schools and universities and been mandatory reading for every politician thrumming the drumbeat of terror.
A barrister claimed the book could prejudice the trial of his client, although the basis for the book was previously published news stories from the national newspaper The Australian, where Martin Chulov then worked.
There is nothing in the colliding worlds of science, literature and art better than Maria Popova’s magnificent Brain Pickings. Here she is meditating on her beloved Janna Levin and the book A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines: If it is true — and true it is — that creativity blooms when seemingly unrelated ideas are cross-pollinated into something novel, then its most fecund ground is an environment where minds of comparable caliber but divergent obsession come together and swirl their ideas into a common wellspring of genius. There is hardly more concrete a testament to this principle than the Vienna Circle — the collective of scientists, philosophers, and novelists, who met in Europe in the first decades of the twentieth century and shaped modern culture by bringing art and science into intimate, fertile contact. But in the 1930s, as they demolished the boundaries between these disciplines, the Vienna Circle also exposed the limits of logic as a sensemaking mechanism for the nature of reality, limitation being perhaps as necessary to creativity as freedom of thought.
Facts of the world are sealed in minds. People wear a facade. All of reality goes on behind their eyes, and there lie secret plans and hidden agendas. A tar of false motives and intentions. Truth mauled. Because the past does not exist except as a threadbare fragment in the weaker minds of the many.
The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, by one of the modern era’s most significant and most beautiful of all writers, Ursula K. Le Guin, displays her at her very best; and to seek the “best” in an altogether spectacular body of work seems almost antithetical — she blends anthropology, social psychology, and sheer literary artistry to explore complex, often difficult subjects with remarkable grace.
Here is an extract from La Rose, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction and hailed as a literary masterwork. Author Louise Erdrich is the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves.
North Dakota, late summer, 1999:
Landreaux had kept track of the buck all summer, waiting to take it, fat, until just after the corn was harvested. As always, he’d give a portion to Ravich. The buck had regular habits and had grown comfortable on its path. It would wait and watch through midafternoon. Then would venture out before dusk, crossing the reservation line to browse the margins of Ravich’s fields. Now it came, stepping down the path, pausing to take scent. Landreaux was downwind. The buck turned to peer out at Ravich’s cornfield, giving Landreaux a perfect shot. He was extremely adept, had started hunting small game with his grandfather at the age of seven. Landreaux took the shot with fluid confidence. When the buck popped away he realized he’d hit something else—there had been a blur the moment he squeezed the trigger. Only when he walked forward to investigate and looked down did he understand that he had killed his neighbor’s son.
A history of the CIA is a history of one debacle after another. The organisation murdered, manipulated and mismanaged its way across the globe for decades, and a reading of this utterly fascinating book goes considerably to understanding why America’s international standing is so poor. The senior management of the CIA lied to presidents, lied to the public, and lied to their own personnel. Australia’s intelligence services have long been closely associated with their American counterparts.
Extracts from Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Tim Weiner:
Get rid of the clown’s, the president kept commanding. What use are they? They’ve got 40,000 people over there reading newspapers.
The US is spending $6 billion dollars per year on intelligence and deserve to get a lot more than it is getting.
Since Nixon’s days, the budget has ballooned. Now spy agencies, including the CIA and the NSA, are getting more than $52 billion and military intelligence another $23 billion, according to published estimates. Some sources of income are believed to be concealed.
The second world — the world of literature — offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy (the first step of what Keats called negative capability) and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything — other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness — the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books — can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.
I learned to build bookshelves and brought books to my room, gathering them around me thickly. I read by day and into the night. I thought about perfectibility, and deism, and adjectives, and clouds, and the foxes. I locked my door, from the inside, and leaped from the roof and went to the woods, by day or darkness.
I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.
One of the reasons why the Islamisization of the West has taken such rapid hold has been mistaken social policies of the past, creating a fractured, uninclusive and uncaring culture, the so-called Age of Loneliness. The War on Drugs has been exactly one of those policies, demonizing and marginalizing entire segments of society while leaving the streets desolate and unsafe. As Chasing The Scream so amply demonstrates, the citizens of happy, industrious, socially inclusive cultures do not take drugs; at least not in ways which cause major problems to the individual or to the community. It is only in the fractured and disengaged cultures so characteristic of the West that the ice epidemic, for example, has been able to take such a terrible toll; on individuals and on the society as a whole, destroying the lives of individuals and and turning entire neighborhoods into war zones. January 2015 marked 100 years since drugs were first banned in the United States. In Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, highly accomplished journalist Johann Hari finds out why they were criminalized, how this is causing a disaster today and what happens when you choose a radically different path. His discoveries are told entirely through the startling and moving stories of real people – from a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn, to a Hungarian Holocaust survivor and scientist who discovered the real causes of addiction; that it lies in the sickness of the society, not in moral failings of the individual.
Douglas Murray in his own words: I was already writing about the migration issues occasionally. During the height of the migration crisis in 2015 I was reporting on bits of it and I got frustrated about not being able to explain the whole story because the facts and the emotions they provoke are fantastically complex. None of it is simple or easy. And I suppose like a lot of us who write, you get frustrated trying to do it in one or two thousand words in an article.
I was a long way from home in the Far East. And I had this realisation I had to write a book about the whole thing as I saw it. I find it the most fascinating subject of our time as well as the most troubling. And also being an inveterate walker into places where more sensible people fear to tread, all the difficult bits seemed to me to be the things that need to be thought about and written about and discussed. And I wanted to be able to do that at length.
At last, the author of that masterful short novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy, has written a new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
Here is an extract:
Where do old birds go to die?
She lived in the graveyard like a tree. At dawn she saw the crows off and welcomed the bats home. At dusk she did the opposite. Between shifts she conferred with the ghosts of vultures that loomed in her high branches. She felt the gentle grip of their talons like an ache in an amputated limb. She gathered they weren’t altogether unhappy at having excused themselves and exited from the story.
When she first moved in, she endured months of casual cruelty like a tree would – without flinching. She didn’t turn to see which small boy had thrown a stone at her, didn’t crane her neck to read the insults scratched into her bark. When people called her names – clown without a circus, queen without a palace – she let the hurt blow through her branches like a breeze and used the music of her rustling leaves as balm to ease the pain.
Catch the book Tina and the Bear by exciting new travel writer Paul Emery. If he doesn’t manage to kill himself on some wild adventure in some remote part of the world, he has a very promising career ahead of him.
I came to rest at the head of a dirt track, my GPS said “Go left, go down the trail, you know you want to”.
So left I went, leaving behind the very rare Siberian commodity of smooth asphalt. I was close to completing the day’s ride of nearly eight hundred kilometers and I was tired, eyes drawing closed and the cold rang from the inside out making my muscles tense and my spine ache.
The dirt track was about twenty feet wide, hedged by small pine, the road was made of mud but it seemed fairly dry as far as I could see with nothing worse than what I had covered since leaving Vladivostok. I was in the zone and gave no thought to the idea that this was the wrong track and that a brand new road, all smooth and paved sat a kilometer round the bend that led down into Svobodny, the town where I’d be staying that night.
For those of us who once loved newspapers, and despair at the current state of the media, Flat Earth News is at once insightful, fascinating, and, of course, utterly dispiriting.
When award-winning journalist Nick Davies decided to break Fleet Street’s unwritten rule by investigating his own colleagues, he found that the business of reporting the truth had been slowly subverted by the mass production of ignorance.
He wrote: “Original, truth-telling journalism survives at the margins and commonly tends to be overwhelmed by the consensus account, whether true or false. What we are looking at here is a global collapse of information-gathering and truth-telling. And that leaves us in a kind of knowledge chaos, where the very subject matter of global debate is shifted from the essential to the arbitrary; where government policy, cultural values, widespread assumptions, declarations of war and attempts at peace all turn out toe be poisoned by distortion; where ignorance is accepted as knowledge and falsehood is accepted as truth.”
A Sense of Place Publishing is proud to announce the arrival of Sorry Time, a new Australian thriller by Anthony Maguire. With action from start to finish, the story straddles the unforgiving landscapes of Central Australia, the night hubs of Sydney and Indiana Jones-esque locations in Turkey. The book, already attracting good reviews, has just become available in Kindle and will be out in paperback shortly.
Only a few weeks ago I was a stay-at-home mum. What am I doing? But there was no time for second thoughts now. My brain snaps into action and so does my mouth. “Flak jackets, helmets, gas masks – everyone, now!” Zoe Daniel is now the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Washington correspondent, covering the US election. In Storyteller she tells of her years based in Bangkok with her husband and young family reporting on nine countries across Southeast Asia, filing copy and stories for TV, radio, online and social media. She was the Africa correspondent from 2005 until 2007 and spent 2009 covering the Khmer Rouge war crimes trials from Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Zoe’s frank and brave memoir, Storyteller, deals with the effects of her work, with its stresses and its constant travel, on her marriage, with the physical and psychological effects of a dangerous, confronting job, and the difficulty of slipping back into her ‘regular’ life after witnessing deeply disturbing events. She says: “The work can be logistically challenging and often horribly sad. Yet while there are lots of reasons not to do it, it’s important that those people are given a voice.”
Two days after giving this speech Australia’s greatest provocateur, cartoonist Bill Leak, died suddenly of an alleged heart attack. With freedom of speech in Australia already under savage attack, his passing is a great loss for the country. Sometimes called racist, even homophobic, he was none of these things. He was exactly where he should be, on the splinter lines of a fracturing country. A superb artist, magnificent draftsman and an indefatigable eye for all that is going so badly wrong in the Great Southern Land, he will be greatly missed.
This is his final speech: Ladies and gentlemen, I know it’s International Women’s Day, so first I must apologise for not being a woman. It’s particularly regrettable that I’m not a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab promoting a book about what it’s like being a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab. If I was, this wouldn’t be the only event I’ve got lined up on my non-government-funded whirlwind Trigger Warning awareness-raising tour.
Hideout in the Apocalypse is about surveillance and the crushing of Australia’s larrikin culture.
In the last two years the Abbott/Turnbull government has prosecuted the greatest assault on freedom on freedom of speech in the nation’s history.
The government knew from international research that when it introduced the panopticon, universal surveillance, into Australia it would have a chilling effect on the culture. When people know they are being watched, they behave differently. Dissent is stifled, conformity becomes the norm. This is the so-called chilling effect.
Forced to use novelistic techniques to tell a fantastical story, in his latest book Hideout from the Apocalypse veteran reporter John Stapleton confirms the old adage, truth is stranger than fiction.
His essential theme: a place which should have been safe from an impending apocalypse, the quagmire of religious wars enveloping the Middle East, is not safe at all.
“Australia is a democracy in name only,” says John Stapleton. “The war on terror has become a war on the people. It has justified an enormous expansion of state power. Ideas are contagious, and the Abbott/Turnbull government is afraid of them.