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The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding Paperback – February 12, 1988

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Editorial Reviews Review

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 628 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (February 12, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394753666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394753669
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (211 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Robert Hughes was born in Australia in 1938 and has lived in Europe and the United States since 1964. Since 1970 he has worked in New York as an art critic for Time Magazine. He has twice received the Franklin Jeweer Mather Award for Distinguished Criticism from the College Art Association of America.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

240 of 245 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
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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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
This colorful and splendidly researched history of Australia's founding is breathtaking in its scope. The book is not only a story of Australia's beginnings, but an impressively researched history on the political pressures in England that led to the founding of Australia as a penal colony and of the struggles over penal reform. Perhaps most fascinating, and Hughes never fails to communicate his own sense of fascination, is the microcosm Australia offers as a society founded from wholecloth and how it evolved into a complex society. I read this book right after reading Son of the Morning Star (another superb book) and was very much struck between the parallels between how Americans who settled the West viewed and treated Native Americans and the Australian settlers' views of the aborigines whom they slowly but surely displaced. The wonderful stories would stand on their own even if ineptly told, but they really come alive with Hughes' writing style, which would be the pride of any novelist...Bravo!
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89 of 95 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
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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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Dan Martin ( on October 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
Fatal Shore is a rare achievement in history writing: truly fascinating history by a wonderful writer. As a Time magazine writer and art critic, Robert Hughes obviously knows his way around the English language and shows it by crafting readable, entertaining history. But the book's true strength lies in Hughes' -- who is Australian -- brutally honest assessment of his country's fascinating founding. Hughes' voice makes the reader feel like he is getting Australia's story from the famously blunt lips of an Aussie over a few beers in an outback tavern. And why not? Good history SHOULD be brutally honest, not watered down with political correctness or the dry touch of an academic. Particularly strong are sections in which Hughes tears down the fiction -- created by Australians as an defensive reflex against their less-than-proud background -- which says the country's first convict citizens were mostly unjustly convicted and primarily political prisoners. The book is peppered throughout with gritty anecdotes and based on solid and extensive research. I had no idea Australia's founding was this interesting. Hughes shows us what an incredible tale it really was.
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