Monday, April 07, 2014

Here I am on Free Thinking, chewing the rag with Philip Dodd

On Offence: The Politics of Indignation ... Media update

On Offence is on the shelves in the UK. Sam Leith gives it a very nice review in The Guardian, while the panel on the final edition of The Review Show are (characteristically) underwhelmed. Nick Cohen has some nice things to say about the book, and my head to head with Philip Dodd, on Radio 4's Free Thinking program, attracted its own mini review in The Guardian. Guy Rundle, in the Sydney Review of Books, gives the most negative (and in some ways the most interesting) review to date. Finally, this article, 'The Age of Outrage' appeared in The Independent newspaper.

The Flame of Power (The Weekend Australian, March 2014)

For Plato, the ideal city-state was one in which ‘philosopher-kings’ would take charge; ‘Unless philosophers bear kingly rule in cities,’ he has Socrates say in The Republic, ‘there will be no respite from evil.’ In reality, however, the history of intellectuals in power has not been a happy one; indeed, it seems that theoretical acumen and practical ability are often at odds. Neither Alexis de Tocqueville nor John Stuart Mill was particularly effective in political life, while Edmund Burke endured barbs from contemporaries for neglecting his inkwell for Westminster. As for Max Weber: the great sociologist failed even to gain nomination as a candidate for the German Democratic Party in 1919. [More here.]

For the Love of Sharks (The Monthly, March 2014)

On the morning of 6 November 2000, Ken Crew was finishing his regular swim off the popular, and usually placid, beach of North Cottesloe, a 500-metre stretch of sand in a well-to-do western suburb of Perth. It was around 6.30, and the 49-year-old Crew, a businessman and father of three, was wading in waist-deep water, when a 5-metre great white shark sped south along the beach, slicing through a crowd of bathers. According to witnesses, it went straight for Crew, whom it circled for several minutes before attacking. The shark tore off Crew’s right leg and then turned to face Dirk Avery, one of Crew’s friends. Avery mounted a reef, where the great white risked beaching itself if it continued to pursue him, and managed to fight it off. He escaped with deep cuts to his legs and feet. Crew, despite furious attempts to save him, died just minutes after the attack, in the arms of his friend Brian Morrison, a priest. [More here.]

Geoffrey Robertson and Michael Kirby: On Australia and Gandhi (The Weekend Australian, February)

‘Although an expatriate, I am not an ex-patriot’, writes the human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson in his introduction to Dreaming Too Loud, a collection of essays spanning thirty years and touching on subjects as diverse as drones, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Julian Assange. It’s a point on which he insists more than once, perhaps because, as well as living in the UK, he sounds as if he was born and raised in one of its posher stately homes. (The satirical magazine Private Eye once described him as ‘an Australian who has had a vowel transplant’.) Nevertheless, his patriotism is sincere, and all the more interesting for being based, not on jingoism, but on a love for Australia’s best traditions of fairness and social democracy. [More here.]

A Dangerous Cynicism (Sydney Review of Books, February)

It is now almost exactly a quarter of a century since history – or rather History – ended. No doubt you remember the occasion well. The year was 1989. Amidst the collapsing scenery of the Soviet Union and its European satellites, a political scientist called Francis Fukuyama stepped forward to declare that liberal democracy was now the only game in town. His essay, ‘The End of History?’, was published in The National Interest and foretold a future in which the human species, though still at the mercy of mere events, would cease to engage in ideological struggle. Liberal democracy, imperfect though it was, was not a phase through which humanity was moving; it was the system on which humanity was now compelled, whether it liked it or not, to settle. All other options having been exhausted, societies based on free and fair elections – and, no less important, free markets – would from now on dominate the geopolitical terrain. [More here.] 

Review of David Whish-Wilson's Perth (The Weekend Australian, December 2013)

The object of travel, wrote G. K. Chesterton, ‘is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land’. David Whish-Wilson returned to his own country, Australia, at the age of twenty-nine, having spent a decade ‘bumming around’ in Europe, Asia and Africa. I’ve no doubt he could have written travel books of the common-or-garden variety; but what he has actually written is a book on Perth that attains at times to the status of poetry. Indeed, so rich and lyrical is Perth, so acute in its insights and adept in its composition, that Chesterton’s paradox would appear well-founded. [More here.] 

Monday, December 02, 2013

No straightforward answers when push comes to shove (a review of Would You Kill the Fat Man?)

Consider the following scenario. Terrorists have hijacked three passenger aeroplanes, two of which have just been flown into skyscrapers in the middle of a busy city. On its first run, the third plane missed its target, but it is now lining up for another attempt. In the meantime, you – the head of the Air Force – have been able to scramble a fighter jet, which can shoot down the plane before it reaches the skyscraper. (There is not enough time to evacuate the building.) Several hundred innocent people will die as a result of this action, and thousands will be saved by it. It’s your call. What do you do? [More here.]

On Offence: Richard Fidler's Conversations

Richard Fidler was kind enough to have me on his program, Conversations, to discuss my new book, and some other things too. The interview (about 50 mins) can be found here.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

More reviews of On Offence: The Politics of Indignation

The West Australian's reviewer writes:

‘For King, a freethinking democracy provides expression for all opinions, even unpalatable ones. Exposing the hypocrisy of the current climate of overactive sensibilities, King provides examples of how the insidious infiltration of what is “acceptable” and politically correct often results in reactionary backlashes that damage the very causes they promote.’

Also, David Farrar, in the New Zealand Listener, gives the book a really good rap. You can read his review here.

Finally, the lovely Geraldine Doogue invited me on to Saturday Extra to discuss the politics of indignation. You can listen to our discussion here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review of Tide, by John Kinsella (The Weekend Australian)

John Kinsella’s new collection of short stories, Tide, begins with an acknowledgement of ‘the traditional owners and custodians of the land he [i.e. the author] writes’. Certainly Kinsella’s work can feel like part of the Australian landscape; with over thirty collections of poetry to his name, and many works of prose besides, the Perth-born writer is nothing if not conspicuous. (The US critic Harold Bloom, one of Kinsella’s noisiest spruikers, has described him as a one-man Parnassus.) Affinity, not ubiquity, however, is what the author is trying to convey in this instance, and to this extent ‘the land he writes’ feels like a claim to poetic intensity. Whether that claim is fully earned is the key question to emerge from a reading of this book. [More here.]

Friday, August 30, 2013

On Offence: The Politics of Indignation is on the shelves!

My book, OnOffence: The Politics of Indignation, has been published. There was an interview with me last weekend in the Australian Financial Review (it's here, but behind a paywall I'm afraid) and an extract in The Weekend Australian. I've also been doing a lot of media. You can listen to me chatting with Waleed Aly and Bob Simpson in The Drawing Room (a regular feature on RN Drive) or with Sonya Feldhoff on Adelaide Afternoons. I'll be launching the book officially on 12 September at the University of Notre Dame. If you like my stuff, please buy a copy!  

Update (Tuesday, 10 September): A couple of really positive reviews appeared at the weekend. This one, from Geordie Williamson, writing in The Weekend Australian, is full of praise; while this one, by Owen Richardson, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, is also pretty positive. These are both critics I admire greatly, so to have their thoughts is wonderful.

And here's an interview with Steve Austin. He gives the book a very good rap.