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The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia's founding Paperback – Feb 12 1988


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (Feb. 12 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394753666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394753669
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.2 x 3.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 930 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #57,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dave_42 TOP 500 REVIEWER on Aug. 5 2008
Format: Paperback
"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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
*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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Format: Paperback
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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