The 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games have become known as the ‘Friendly Games’, but East-West rivalry ensured that they were anything but friendly. From the bloody semi-final water polo match between the USSR and Hungary, during which blood seen in the water, to the athletes who defected to the West, sport and politics collided during the Cold War. Harry Blutstein’s Cold War Games shows vividly how the USSR and US exploited the Melbourne Olympic Games for propaganda, turning athletic fields, swimming pools and other sporting venues into battlefields in which each fought for supremacy.
There were glimmers of peace and solidarity. War Games also tells the love story between Czechoslovak discus thrower Olga Fikotova and American hammer thrower Hal Connolly, and their struggle to overcome Cold War politics to marry.
Cold War Games is a lively, landmark book, with fresh information from ASIO files and newly discovered documents from archives in the USSR, US and Hungary, revealing secret operations in Melbourne, and showing just how pivotal the 1956 Olympic Games were for the great powers of the Cold War.
In the summer of 1936, over just four weeks, it all went wrong — for democracy and for Spain, even for the British royals. Politicians failed, and Hitler was emboldened to plan a new European war, and more.
When some army generals sought to overthrow Spain’s elected government, Francisco Franco quickly emerged as their leader; Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported him with men and materiel; pusillanimous politicians in Britain and the United States, even in France, turned a blind-eye — and the Spanish Civil War was on. Edward VIII took a scandalous holiday cruise with Mrs Simpson, Berlin staged the greatest sporting event of modern times, the alternative Peoples’ Olympiad never came to be, and Barcelona was transformed into a unique workers’ paradise. All this in four weeks. It was an incongruous, at times brilliant, juxtaposition of events.
Nicholas Whitlam majored in history at Harvard. Four Weeks One Summer, his third book, is the product of a long-held interest in the Spanish Civil War, the Olympic movement and the politics of the 1930s.
Mark Colvin: Launch speech for Four Weeks One Summer: When it All Went Wrong
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WHEN I WAS A SMALL BOY at an English boarding school, our main history text was a small book by one of the masters, Harold Hartley, who made a tidy sum over the years as a result.
It was mostly a book of significant events attached to their dates: events and dates which we were expected to learn by rote. The Battle of Plassey, 1757. The Diet of Worms, 1521. The defenestration of Prague 1617. No context. You learned them first, almost like your alphabet, and expected that eventually, perhaps in your fourth or fifth year, someone would explain what they actually meant. We learned the names of the Kings and Queens of England by means of the mnemonic rhyme:
Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry three,
One, two, three Neds, Richard two,
Henries four, five, six — then who?
Edwards four, five, Dick the bad,
Harries twain and Ned the lad… and so on…
In general the whole approach was remarkably reminiscent of Sellars and Yeatman’s great satire 1066 and all that, with its sweeping pronouncements on how any given King’s actions were A Good Thing or A Bad Thing — in capitals — and its summings-up of massive historical shifts like the English Civil War in a sentence: ‘With the ascension of Charles I to the throne we come at last to the utterly memorable Struggle between the Cavaliers (Wrong but Wromantic) and the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive).’
Even when I was a teenager, history, though less simplistic, was understood as a series of texts by great authorities, who once they’d ruled on a subject could be taken as gospel. G.R. Elton, for instance, was then much more famous as the author of England Under The Tudors than as the father of the creator of Blackadder, and what he said could be faithfully paraphrased if you wanted an A for your essay.
There were the Whig and Tory theories of history, competing with the Marxists of course — this was the sixties — but they all seemed to exist in separate boxes and there appeared to be little real dialogue or debate, and overarching all of them was the Great Man theory. History — whether it was about Kings and Queens or Prime Ministers and Presidents — was mostly about important guys doing important stuff which changed the world.
A lot about the writing of history has changed in the intervening decades, thank heavens. There was a huge shift away from the great men, for one thing, and towards a perspective that looked at the lives of ordinary people — a shift which radically changed our view of the events surrounding the French Revolution, for example.
There was a minor movement towards the counterfactual — what would have happened if the Germans had won the First World War, for instance — which forced some historians to re-examine some of their assumptions. And there were small books of powerful storytelling which could give you a whole new window into a moment or a sweep of history. I would include in that category Dava Sobel’s Longitude, on the otherwise dry subject of timekeeping and naval warfare in the 18th century, Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt, in which the history of a single chemical illuminates much of human existence, and John Lukacs’ Five Days in London, which tells the story of how Churchill only narrowly defeated the appeasers and saw off Lord Halifax to become Prime Minister in May 1940, probably the single most world-changing political moment of the twentieth century.
It’s among that distinguished company — and in that category — that Nick Whitlam’s book comfortably fits. Because it takes history day by day, switching focus between places and people, it reads almost filmically. It is not just a book about the Spanish Civil War, or the rise of Fascism in Europe, the degree to which sport can ever be apolitical, or the responsibilities of a young man like Edward the Eighth within the confines of a modern constitutional monarchy.
It is — to borrow the title of a BBC Radio series — a book about ‘The things we forgot to remember’: a book about some things we think we know well and others we may never have heard or. Everyone remembers Jessie Owens’ wonderful victories at the Berlin Olympics and the challenge they presented to Hitler’s insane race theories — but who has ever heard about the Popular Olympics in Barcelona, the anti-Olympics if you like? I certainly hadn’t until I read Nick’s book.
Similarly we all know the name of Juan Antonio Samaranch, because it became synonymous with the corruption and authoritarianism of the International Olympic Committee. But where else but in this book can you find him as a 16-year-old fascist preparing to fight for Franco at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, while in a parallel narrative, Avery Brundage is shepherding the American Olympic squad across the Atlantic by ship towards Hitler’s festival of Aryan supremacy?
In a quirk of history it’s Brundage of course, who goes on to create the massive international rort of International Olympianism with its quasi-State privileges, tax untouchability and group of leaders whose greed became unquenchable — and Samaranch to whom — if you’ll pardon the expression — he passes the Olympic torch.
If you believe in genetics, probably no-one but Nick Whitlam could have written this particular book. It begins with a story about his late father and a certain characteristic finickiness about the title of the Duchess of Windsor, and it goes on to be — unmistakably — the book of someone who grew up surrounded by politics in practice and in theory.
But it’s also the book of someone whose mother swam for Australia in the British Empire Games, and swam despite an infection for which there were then no antibiotics. If she’d been a couple of years older in other words, Margaret could well have been there in Berlin or Barcelona. With Margaret and Gough, twenty years after the events in this book, he watched the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.
It’s the book, in other words, of someone who has always combined his interest in politics with a fascination with sport.
This is also a book which forces you to ruminate on history’s turning points. It occurs in the year after Mussolini has gone to war in Abyssinia, a few months after Hitler has taken the Rhineland. The decisions taken by the German and Italian dictators at this time, supporting the Francoists, and by France’s Prime Minister Leon Blum, supporting the Republic, were in retrospect early signs of the long manoeuvring that led up to the Second World War.
Similarly, Britain’s inaction, obsessed as the Government was with the Abdication crisis, provides a melancholy foretaste of the moment less than two years hence when Neville Chamberlain would dismiss Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia as a ‘quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing’.
That reminds me of another anniversary which we’ve just commemorated — Moscow’s crushing of the Hungarian Revolution, exactly sixty years ago, which they were able to get away with because the world was focussed on the spectacular bungle being committed by France and Britain in Egypt over Suez.
Having just myself put out a book which begins and ends with the Cold War, I’m particularly conscious at the moment of the idea that there are eras with defined beginnings and endings.
I never for a moment subscribed to Francis Fukuyama’s theory of the ‘End Of History’, but I confess we had moved from one fairly lengthy era into another. It seemed to me until quite recently that the end of Marxism had catapulted us back into a period that would be much more like the late nineteenth century: great powers manoeuvring fairly cautiously around each other, perhaps in a new version of the Great Game: certainly a return in economic debate to the great Victorian era standoffs of free trade versus imperial protection or mercantilism.
The parallels I didn’t see coming were the ones with the Thirties, in particular the return of a type of populist nationalism to which you can give many labels. Let’s face it, the American term ‘alt-right’ is a euphemism for a host of nasties, from racism to straight out fascism.
We’ve long been warned against comparing anyone too easily to Hitler, and mostly rightly. But it’s not hysterical to note that authoritarians who run up against economic difficulty tend to react by military adventurism. Mussolini invaded Abyssinia — Putin invaded Crimea.
It’s not too much to note that Hitler came to power with considerably less than a majority of the popular vote, and that the establishment fatally miscalculated that it — and the institutions of the State — could control him.
It’s not too much to note either that a leader who comes to power on an authoritarian platform — as Franco did and as Trump has if we take many of his speeches literally — will not necessarily bring about his own downfall through war or incompetence. Franco came to power in the Spanish Civil War and he remained in power, playing a canny game on the national and international stage, for nearly four decades.
And he died in office, untroubled by opposition because he had crushed all opposition. I remember writing his obituary for [radio station] Double J, forty one years ago last month.
They say all great quotes end up being attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein or Mark Twain. Twain, it turns out, did not say ‘History doesn’t repeat itself but it sometimes rhymes’: no-one’s quite sure who did. What he did write, though slightly less pithy, was this ‘History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends.’
This is a book of kaleidoscopic combinations.
It is constructed, eighty years being several generations, from what might seem to us at first to be broken fragments of antique legends.
But in Nick’s work, this piece of history suddenly speaks to us as if it were yesterday or today.
Draw your own conclusions, draw your own parallels, but I urge you at least to read it. You will be, to borrow a phrase from the ABC Charter, ‘educated, entertained and culturally enriched’.
Within 30 years, dementia is set to overtake heart disease as the number one cause of death in Australia. Yet the main forms of dementia affecting people today are not genetic — and there are practical steps you can take right now to help prevent it. Based on years of first-hand research and experience, leading Australian expert Dr Michael Valenzuela covers everything you need to know to look after your brain, including the latest thinking on: Blood pressure, Diet, Cholesterol, Mental activity, Physical exercise… Featuring simple tips, summaries and even recipes, Maintain Your Brain is essential reading for anyone who wants to enjoy a healthy, active and happy life well into old age.
This updated edition of It’s Never Too Late to Change Your Mind includes important new discoveries on the physical impact of exercise on the brain.
Mark’s new book is remarkable: at times heart-breaking, at times humorous, it is dazzling for its profound honesty. Like most of us, Mark Wakely had always put death in the too-hard basket. He was curiously distanced from his own parents’ deaths. Thirty years later, he went on a journey to confront one of the most intensely personal yet universal experiences: our own mortality. With Mark as our guide, we are introduced to morticians and embalmers, rabbis and doctors, coffin makers and gravediggers. He reveals the fashions and the fads, the rituals and the deep emotion in a heartfelt and whimsical investigation into this timeless subject.
Dream Home: Houses and the Imagination
Mark Wakely takes the reader on a wonderful ride between womb and tomb as he looks at what our homes mean to us at different stages of our lives. Dream Home is a book for anyone who’s ever made a house a home, and for all readers who question the notion of home. It is a book of universal appeal with numerous international references.
Mark Wakely is a Sydney-based writer, and a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National.
Kerry Stokes came into the world with no advantages. Unlike his rival magnates, he built his empire from nothing. But what has he discarded along the way?
Journalism at the Crossroads
The Australian mainstream press is in crisis, and the future of Australian journalism is uncertain. In response to plunging sales and profitability, and an inexorable increase in online and social-media platforms, the Fairfax and News Limited organisations have embarked on major cost-cutting and restructuring exercises.
World rights: Scribe
Margaret Simons’ first novel The Ruthless Garden won the Angus and Robertson Bookworld prize for new novelists in 1993. A collection of her gardening columns, titled Wheelbarrows, was published by New Holland in 1999. Her last novel was The Truth Teller. Margaret’s investigative book on the inner workings of the parliamentary press gallery in Canberra, Fit to Print, was released in 1999 by UNSW Press. In 2003 Hodder Headline released The Meeting of the Waters: Secret Women’s Business. Australia is the world’s oldest continent. The Murray is its longest river. The Meeting of the Waters is the story of what happened at the mouth of the Murray, when modern western European culture met older indigenous ways in a dispute about the building of a bridge. A recent title is Resurrection in a Bucket, a book on the philosophy and implications of composting, published by Allen & Unwin.
Margaret has also completed a Quarterly Essay for Black Inc. on Mark Latham.
Her biography of Malcolm Fraser was published by Melbourne University Press in 2010 and won the Book of the Year award in the 2011 New South Wales Premiers’ awards.
‘A fabulous book about human destiny’ — Rob Brooks, evolutionary biologist
In Charles Darwin’s thesis, only the fittest of the species — the alpha males and females — would lead the pack, enabled by their physical strength, social ability and strong genes. But in an increasingly man-made world, those are no longer the traits which take people to the top. As the laws of the jungle change, a new class is on the rise, a class which employs lateral thinking, multitasking and the ability to bend systems to their will. The geek class.
Among the geeks, it is figures like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Apple’s Steve Jobs, people who are often physically slight and socially awkward, who have succeeded. In doing so they have turned the laws of natural selection on their head.
As Mark Roeder (author of The Big Mo) documents, this has profound implications. Man is no longer shaped by the environment; he is actively shaping it. And the world he creates is radically changing how we evolve.
US edition released in 2014:
“Unnatural Selection paints a compelling picture of human adaptability, identifying new traits within all of us that are helping us to survive and succeed in a world dominated by information. This is not just wishful thinking for geeks—technology is changing the landscape of society, and Roeder describes how humanity is changing along with it” — Daniel H. Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse and Robogenesis
“Everyone knows that the kinds of people that would have been rejected as social outcasts in the 1950s—the shy science nerds, persnickety math geeks, obsessive recluses who turned their parents’ garages into labs—have transformed the way we live in the past twenty years, quietly rising to positions of great power in the process. In this provocative book, Mark Roeder explains how they have become a social force driving a new kind of human evolution.” — Steve Silberman, editor, Wired magazine
“Roeder’s excellent book is thought provoking and enjoyable—it provides a fresh perspective on human progress.” —Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, director of the Autism Research Centre, and Fellow of Trinity College
“An entertaining and engrossing read. Roeder smartly integrates evolution, genetics, and cognitive science to show how the rise of the geek is inevitable—and well under way. It’s a fabulous book about human destiny.” — Rob Brooks, professor of
evolutionary biology and prize-winning author of Sex, Genes & Rock n Roll: How Evolution Has Shaped the Modern World
“It is becoming evident that our great technical achievements have far outstripped our capacity to evolve socially and emotionally. In Unnatural Selection, Mark Roeder has brought scholarship and prescience to understanding this dehumanizing challenge and in then finding a ‘middle way’ to use technology for our benefit and not be used by it. This is a most important book for our times.” — Peter A Levine, PhD, bestselling author of Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, and In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness
James Hardie: the name, like the company, is a lie. The real James Hardie died a long time ago and had almost no connection to the Australian asbestos empire that grew under the Reid family, killing in its wake thousands of unwitting workers and customers.
For more than 20 years, Hardie chairman John Reid oversaw a strategy that ignored the dangers of asbestos and silenced Australia’s largest asbestos union and government health authorities, concealing the nation’s biggest peacetime disaster.
Reid’s eventual successor, Meredith Hellicar, defended Hardie’s move offshore until public campaigning by asbestos disease sufferers like Bernie Banton forced the company to adequately provide for its victims.
Matt’s book, Killer Company: James Hardy Exposed, was published by ABC Books in 2009. This book inspired the ABC1 mini-series Devil’s Dust, which aired in November 2012. It tells the inside story of how Matt and asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton brought the company to account, revealing the corporate tactics which allowed Hardie to conceal what is Australia’s greatest peacetime disaster.
When a Chinese monk broke through a hidden door in 1900, he uncovered one of history’s greatest literary secrets: a 1000-year-old time capsule of life along the ancient Silk Road. Inside the chamber on the edge of the Gobi Desert, documents were piled from floor to ceiling. The gem among them was the Diamond Sutra of 868 A.D., now recognised as the world’s oldest printed book.
The words of the Diamond Sutra have inspired Jack Kerouac, Aldous Huxley and the Dalai Lama. Its path from East to West has coincided with the growing appeal of Buddhism in the contemporary world. As the Gutenberg Age cedes to the Google Age, the discovery of the Silk Road’s greatest treasure is an epic tale of survival, a literary investigation and an evocation of the travelling power of the book.
Joyce Morgan has worked as a journalist for more than three decades in London, Sydney and Hong Kong. Joyce is a senior arts writer at The Sydney Morning Herald and a former arts editor of the paper. She has also worked as a producer with ABC Radio. Born in Liverpool, England, she has travelled extensively in Asia, including India, Pakistan, China and Tibet.
Conrad Walters was born in Boston, educated in Europe and the Middle East and has lived in seven countries. He has travelled widely through North America, Europe and Asia. He has a master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney.
They live in Sydney with a vial of sand from the Taklamakan Desert on their mantelpiece.
In August 2001 a Norwegian cargo ship came across a sinking ferry off the coast of Australia. Those on board were mainly Afghans. The Captain of The Tampa picked up the people and tried to land in Australia but was refused permission, setting off an international incident. Dark Victory is the inside story of the Tampa crisis and the political strategy that powered it; of how the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, seized on the issue of ‘border protection’ to start a scare campaign and bring his party back from the politically dead.
Award-winning writer David Marr and Marian Wilkinson are accomplished investigative journalists, who burrow deep into the world of spin-doctors, bureaucrats and the military to unravel this extraordinary saga.
An updated version of this highly successful book has recently been released by Allen & Unwin.
Australia/New Zealand (Allen & Unwin, October 2002)
David Marr is the rarest of breeds: one of Australia’s most unflinching, forensic reporters of political controversy, and one of its most subtle and eloquent biographers. In Marr’s hands, those things we call reportage and commentary are elevated to artful and illuminating chronicles of our time.
My Country collects his powerful reflections on religion, sex, censorship and the law; striking accounts of leaders, moralists and scandalmongers; elegant ruminations on the arts and the lives of artists. And some memorable new pieces.
‘My country is the subject that interests me most, and I have spent my career trying to untangle its mysteries’ — David Marr
David Marr has written for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Saturday Paper, The Guardian and The Monthly, and he has served as editor of The National Times, reporter for Four Corners and presenter of ABC TV’s Media Watch.
His books include Patrick White: A Life, The High Price of Heaven, Dark Victory (with Marian Wilkinson), and six bestselling Quarterly Essays: His Master’s Voice, Power Trip, Political Animal, The Prince, Faction Man and The White Queen.
‘David Marr is as brilliant a biographer and journalist as this country has produced.’ — Peter Craven.
David’s first book was Barwick (Allen & Unwin), a biography of the former Chief Justice of Australia, which won the 1981 NSW Premier’s Literary Award.
This was followed by The Ivanov Trail, the story of the spy scare in Canberra.
Then in 1991 the brilliant and universally critically acclaimed biography Patrick White — A Life was released by Random House in Australia, Jonathan Cape in Britain, and Random House in the USA. This biography of the Novel Prize winning novelist won seven major Australian awards.
In 1994 Patrick White — Letters was published in Australia followed by publications in the UK and USA.
The Henson Case, released by Text Publishing in 2008, examined the uproar caused by the withdrawal of some of Bill Henson’s photographs from a Sydney art gallery on the grounds that they may have been obscene.