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The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia's founding [Paperback]

Robert Hughes
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 12 1988 Vintage
The history of the birth of Australia which came out of the suffereing and brutality of England's infamous convict transportation system. With 16 pages of illustrations and 3 maps.

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From Amazon

An extraordinary volume--even a masterpiece--about the early history of Australia that reads like the finest of novels. Hughes captures everything in this complex tableau with narrative finesse that drives the reader ever-deeper into specific facts and greater understanding. He presents compassionate understanding of the plights of colonists--both freemen and convicts--and the Aboriginal peoples they displaced. One of the very best works of history I have ever read. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

For 80 years between 1788 and 1868 England transported its convicts to Australia. This punishment provided the first immigrants and the work force to build the colony. Using diaries, letters, and original sources, Hughes meticulously documents this history. All sides of the story are told: the political and social reasoning behind the Transportation System, the viewpoint of the captains who had the difficult job of governing and developing the colonies, and of course the dilemma of the prisoners. This is a very thorough and accurate history of Australian colonization written by the author of the book and BBC/Time-Life TV series The Shock of the New . A definitive work that is an essential purchase for both public and academic libraries. BOMC and History Book Club main selections. Judith Nixon, Purdue Univ. Libs., W. Lafayette, Ind.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sets The Standard Aug. 5 2008
By Dave_42 TOP 500 REVIEWER
"The Fatal Shore" by Robert Hughes is the one book which is always mentioned when it comes to books about the history of Australia, and for good reason. Hughes' brilliant work covers in great detail the transportation of criminals from England to Australia, and the history of those penal colonies. He also deals with the historical figures and events which impacted those colonies.

Prior to this work, Robert Hughes had authored books on art, and is generally known as an art critic and a documentary maker. This work of history seems to be an unusual diversion from his typical interests, but as he explains in his introduction, it was while doing a series of documentaries on Australian art which took him to Port Arthur that he realized that he knew little of his country's convict past. His documentary work undoubtedly played a key role in his making this one of the more readable histories there is, and led to "The Fatal Shore" becoming an international best-seller.

He starts by discussing the conditions in England which led to the transportation of criminals to the opposite side of the world, the theories about there being a "criminal class", and the loss of the Americas as a dumping ground for British criminals. Another key point is the sentencing which was used at the time which resulted in people with a wide variety of criminal convictions, from petty theft to murder all being selected, without regard to whether or not they would be able to provide any valuable service to the colonies which were to be created.

Next Hughes discusses the first fleet, from the difficult passage, both for prisoners and free people, to the arrival and the dealings with the Aborigines to the difficult first years of the colony; it is an engaging tale which reads like a novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A readable well-written history of Australia Oct. 7 2009
I'm off to Australia for six weeks over Christmas and this book is required reading for me. It's so well-written and easy to read, full of fascinating detail about the country's early years and the conditions the convicts faced before being transported from London. Recommended highly.
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I read this book in anticipation of a trip to Australia, and indeed it was an excellent backdrop to travel there. But it proved to be much more: a deep insight into the genesis and nature of institutional evil, with its low-key, meticulous depiction of the brutality and sadism visited upon Australia's transportee convicts. Anyone who contemplates the Holocaust or any other of humankind's planned atrocities must wonder at the essential question of how bascially sane people end up doing such horrendous things, with state sanction. Hughes' book illustrates how overly rigid, rationalistic bureaucracies, implementing theoretical constructs about human behavior without having to face the immediate consequences, tend toward sadism and self-justifying cruelties. His book is of great value not only to students of Australia, or of history, but to anyone in the criminal justice field, law enforcement, or penology.
Oh, and the book also is extremely sound, well researched and documented, and well written. This is not a quick read, but it is a rewarding one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Silver and Currency Jan. 11 2004
*The Fatal Shore* was originally recomended when I entered the criminal justice field, and is one of the few books I've ever read in one sitting. Once I had started it was impossible to put down. It is fascinating not only as an account of the founding of a nation, but as a history of prisons and prison reform, and also represents powerful argument against the notion of a "criminal class." It also highlights the differences between the three primary "settler societies:" Canada, the US, and Australia, as settled respectively by upper, middle, and working class British emigrants. It also places in context the current "nativist" struggles over the influx of the Asian diaspora. For a more traditional, but no less interesting, discussion of English settler societies see S.M. Lipset's *Continental Divide* or *The First New Nation*.
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4.0 out of 5 stars founding OZ was not pretty Jan. 1 2003
When you think about fiction you naturally look at various levels of interpretation. From the plot downwards to author's subconscious and upwards towards historical-social-critical analysis. But this type of understanding doesn't fit non-fiction, at least until i read _fatal shore_. The author himself is conscious and deliberate in several levels---where the false ideal of the past is part of current Australian consciousness for example. Or where he praises a commandant for his humanity being 100 years ahead of his time. He is on one basic level retelling the story of the convict founding of OZ, and yet showing constantly the larger issues of it's place in English intellectual and cultural history to the big picture of man's inhumanity to man.
This placing of the pieces of the puzzle in several larger contexts is excellent and makes the book far more than just the recounting of a sad tale indeed. It redeems the book from the world of facts and figures so common to historical writing and raises it to analysis and good commentary.
The only critical thing i have towards the book is a somewhat disjointed structure, the chapters are not quite chronological, more organized around a single character, usually a commander of facilities. Thus often backtracking between chapters, which leaves the newcomer to this country's history without good memory pegs to hang the facts onto.
I'm glad i invested the several hours it took to get through the book with it's gore and extraordinary sadness permeating the story. It's a good book and desires the wide circulation it is getting on the online bookclubs, which is how i found it.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Full of mistakes and eaten up with bitterness
This is a warped and nihilistic view of Australia - which is probably the happiest and most successful society in the world, and with an unbroken record of peaceful democracy and... Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2003 by Susan Norton
4.0 out of 5 stars Early Oz
This book is the gruelling story of the transportation of convicts from Britain to Australia, told at great length and in great detail. Read more
Published on July 7 2002 by MR G. Rodgers
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive
Hughes has written the definitive work on the founding of the British colony in Australia. He spends just enough time discussing the social woes of the United Kingdom that lead to... Read more
Published on July 1 2002 by Glenn McDorman
3.0 out of 5 stars Bits of Flying Flesh. Everywhere.
Spurred on by Down Under (by Bill Bryson), I found this book already on my shelves and decided to give Australian history a fighting chance. Read more
Published on March 18 2002 by Stephen Paul Ryder
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your time...
I hate to disagree with most of the other reviews..well, no I don't...but out of the hundreds of history books I have read this has to be one of the worst. Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than fiction!
This book was a great read. Hughes did an excellent job of creating the picture of Australian history. One of the best books I have read. The stories stay with you. Read more
Published on Dec 5 2001 by Decheda
5.0 out of 5 stars The terror and personal drama that founded Australia
Excellent book, which captures the spirit of English 17th & 18th society to tell the story of the founding of Australia. Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2001 by Rainman
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
Enormously satisfying book that for me, filled in the gaps in my knowledge of Australian history, and was also a very enjoyable read. Read more
Published on Aug. 16 2001 by FineFurryFriend
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