Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My first legit review: Eureka by Peter FitzSimons

Very shortly after I wrote my last post (the Casual Vacancy review) Bookworld ran a little competition - they invited anyone who had finished The Casual Vacancy to put up a review, and the best would get a free book.

Since I'd already done one for here, I figured I might as well put it up - and I'm very glad I did, because not only did I win, they wanted me to do more. So now I'm their resident reviewer! I'm not getting paid, but it's a great opportunity, and hey - free books are always a good thing! Anyway, the first review is for Peter FitzSimons' new book, Eureka: The Unfinished Revolution, and I thought I'd cross-post it here.


Eureka: The Unfinished Revolution by Peter FitzSimons

Having spent several years living in Ballarat, and having a passing interest in local history, I’d heard the bones of the Eureka Stockade story many times over the years - but FitzSimons has fleshed it out masterfully, placing the events of December 3rd not only within the context of Ballarat and the other Victorian goldfields, but amongst the history of Colonial Australia and that of popular revolutions around the world.

FitzSimons recounts the events leading up to the stockade in great detail, drawing on a number of sources, including the eyewitness account of Raffaelo Carboni, a leader of the rebellion. I was surprised - and pleased - with how much detail was given on the wide cast of players involved on both sides. Peter Lalor is the person we always hear the most about, but in truth he was a relatively minor player until very late in the piece, and it was great to get some insight into the other men involved.

Though FitzSimons tends not to point them out, it is easy - and quite enjoyable - to note the many people or events whose surnames now grace suburbs or streets. This kind of local knowledge does help a lot when imagining troop movements, too - if you aren’t familiar with the Ballarat area it would be beneficial to at least have a look at some maps, just to get an idea of the terrain.

There is, however, a lot in the book for those unfamiliar with Ballarat and its history. FitzSimons draws connections with the French and American Revolutions of the previous century, the more recent California gold rush, and even the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Many of the diggers were migrants who brought their own struggles for political freedom with them to Australia - most notably the Young Ireland movement, and the Chartists of Britain. The political realities of the world at large are something that would have weighed heavily on the minds of the decision-makers involved, but are curiously absent from most popular accounts of the Stockade. The economic factors are also included - it seems incredible that several early higher-ups wanted the discovery of gold kept quiet, for fear of what a gold rush could do to Australia’s fledgling economy. FitzSimons weaves these factors in marvellously, and in doing so places Eureka among the other popular revolutions of the time. The book is about so much more than just Eureka - it is a chapter in the ongoing struggle for freedom, for democracy, all over the globe.

The story of the stockade is bookended by FitzSimons’ own musings on what he thinks of Eureka, and why he wanted to write the book. He does quite clearly take a side - this is by no stretch of the imagination an apolitical account of the stockade, as you might get from a proper historian. He is, however, very fair in his treatment - he never demonises the opposing forces, nor does he treat the rebels as though they are above reproach.

Though it is certainly a long book, Eureka is well worth the time and effort. I loved it, and look forward to checking out his other books.


Despite, as I mentioned previously, having pretty much given up on the #52Books challenge I have kept up the pace quite well since then, and with a bit of luck might actually complete it. We're halfway through week 47 and I'm reading numbers 45 and 46 - so it's definitely doable. Here's the list so far:

1. Richard Dawkins - The Selfish Gene
2. George Orwell - Animal Farm
3. Noam Chomsky - What Uncle Sam Really Wants
4. Noam Chomsky - The Prosperous Few
5. Noam Chomsky - Secrets, Lies and Democracy
6. Noam Chomsky - The Common Good
7. Peter Singer - Practical Ethics
8. Tucker Max - Sloppy Seconds
9. Robert Cialdini - Influence
10. Virginia Woolf - A Room Of One’s Own
11. Chuck Palahniuk - Survivor
12. Bill Bryson - Mother Tongue
13. Robert Greene - The Art of Seduction
14. Sam Harris - Free Will
15. Alain de Botton - Religion For Atheists
16. Lawrence Krauss - A Universe From Nothing
17. Kings Way
18. Everfresh: Blackbook
19. Akmal Saleh - The Life of Akmal
20. Albert Camus - The Plague
21. Madeleine Connellan - Resilience Among Adults
22. Philip Zimbardo - The Lucifer Effect
23. George Orwell - 1984
24. Benjamin Franklin - The Autobiography
25. Jean-Jacques Rousseau - The Social Contract
26. Jordan Belfort - Catching the Wolf of Wall St
27. Peter Singer - The Life You Can Save
28. Thomas Paine - The Rights of Man
29. F Scott Fitzgerald - Tender is the Night
30. Noam Chomsky - Occupy
31. Ryan Holiday - Trust Me, I'm Lying
32. VS Ramachandran - The Tell-Tale Brain
33. Matt Taibbi - Griftopia
34. Christopher Hitchens - The Missionary Position
35. Marcus Aurelius - Meditations
36. JK Rowling - The Casual Vacancy
37. Julian Jaynes - The Origin of Consciousness
38. Epictetus - Enchiridion
39. John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces
40. Sophocles - The Theban Plays
41. Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray
42. Gilovich, Griffin & Kahneman - Heuristics and Biases
43. Peter FitzSimons - Eureka: The Unfinished Revolution
44. Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451

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