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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
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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Product Description

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

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Historical Masterpiece May 3 2001
As luck would have it, I recently had the opportunity to make a brief business trip to Australia. I knew very little about Australia and thought the best way to get some brief but non-superficial background would be to learn something of its history. I opted to read Robert Hughes's book which tells the story of Australia's founding and of its convict past. The book is lengthy, even too lengthy to complete on the 14 hour flights from the West Coast of the United States to Sydney and back. But the story was fascinating, and the book was well worth the attention and effort.
Hughes tells the story of the discovery of Australia, the decision of Great Britain to "transport" its convicted to the continent, the various kinds of lives the convicts found there, the aboriginal settlers and their treatment by the newcomers, and the ultimate creation of a new society. There are harrowing accounts of the passage from Britain to Australia in the convict ships, and still shocking accounts of the secondary places of punishment created in Australia for repeat offenders -- places such as Norfolk Island, Port Aurthur, and Macquarrie Bay. Hughes describes these nineteenth century camps as precursors of the Gulag in our own time, and I am afraid he is correct. They reminded me to of Andersonville Prison in our own Civil War but on a much broader, more wicked scale. The description of the prisons and barbaric punishments were to me the most vivid portions of the book.
Besides the horror stories, there is a great deal of nuanced, thoughtful writing in the book about the settlement and building of Australia and of the dangers of facile over-generalization about how the convicts fared, or about virtually any other historical subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable but Fatally Flawed Dec 19 2000
Hughes is a powerful writer, and he did a prodigious amount of research for this book. As noted by other reviewers, it is a great narrative and an enjoyable read. It is indeed history, of a sort, but it is far from a balanced view of the events it describes. Enjoy this book by all means, but don't think that you have a comprehensive or well-rounded understanding of the events that it describes. His opening chapters on England are astoundingly biased. Although amply supported by (selective) facts, he is clearly intent on telling a story and not portraying events. Two examples- he calls English criminal law in the late eighteenth century "judicial terrorism," and trots out numerous examples of what, today, one would view as horrifying. However, he notes in a third of a sentence that English law was considerably more "advanced" than that of the rest of Europe, and then dismisses this thought. Another typical ploy is shown when he compares ship tonnes per person during transportation to that of "a modern passenger liner," which is ludicrous. Unfortunately for him, a comparison to British (not English, but that's another argument for another day) Naval standards or American passenger standards of the day didn't support his point as well, so he went for the cheap thrill. Nothing wrong with that, on one hand, but people tend to view this book as scholarly, not polemical.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but difficult read April 28 2001
It took me over a year to finally get through this book!!!! I found the subject matter interesting and Australia rise from its very humble beginnings is impressive. Still the book certainly drags at points.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I have travelled to Australia, thus far, eight times since 1990. In all of my travels I have focused on learning the evolutionary significance of Australia's fascinating fauna, as well as the the culture of its people, past and present. But in all of my travels in Australia (I have yet to go to Tasmania) I have never learned so much about its people (non-Aboriginal) and their colonization, as I have from reading The Fatal Shore. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a historian or even one who "likes" history. But Robert Hughes's book was so well written, and so insightful, that I can truly say I could not put it down. What I learned from this book really put my travels to Australia in perspective, and it made me want to learn so much more. If I could, I would give this book ten stars! This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who is interested in travel to Australia, or wants simply to learn about Australia's fascinating, albeit horrific, past. Robert Hughes has quite a talent for impecable research as well as for bringing his readers into the heart of unimaginable horrors. Australians need not be ashamed of their past (as is implied in the book) - on the contrary - they should relish in their success as a colorful and awe-inspiring nation (which is something they already do)!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Read also: Nov. 27 1999
Did you like the facts in 'The Fatal Shore'? Then you should also read 'His Natural Life' by Marcus Clarke. Though factfiction, this book goes on where Mr. Hughes' left us.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sets The Standard Aug. 5 2008
By Dave_42 TOP 1000 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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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A readable well-written history of Australia
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... Read more
Published on Oct. 7 2009 by E. Godley
4.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Entry in the Annals of Crime and Punishment
I read this book in anticipation of a trip to Australia, and indeed it was an excellent backdrop to travel there. Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2004 by Rose Oatley
5.0 out of 5 stars Silver and Currency
*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. Read more
Published on Jan. 11 2004 by Scott W. Talkington
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 founding OZ was not pretty
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... Read more
Published on Dec 31 2002 by R. M. Williams
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
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