A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia

A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia

Thomas Keneally

Publisher: Anchor

Publishing date: Dec 4, 2007

Genre: History
Quality: 5

Description:

From Publishers Weekly

Keneally (_Schindler's List_) offers a novelistic chronicle of the founding of the colony now known as Australia, focusing on the first five years, 1788 to 1793, when the initial flotillas of boats carrying convicts, their military guard and administrators arrived in New South Wales. At the book's center is the relationship between Arthur Phillip, the pragmatic first governor, and Woolawarre Bennelong, the Aborigine who eventually served as a liaison between the settlers and natives. Keneally describes their first meeting "as fateful and defining as that between Cortés and Montezuma, or Pizarro and Atahualpa." Using their relationship as a prism, Keneally depicts the instances of tense commingling between the two communities. His historical narrative is so detailed as to at times feel dutiful. He's most successful serving up some of the dozens of pithy mini-portraits of the lowborn settlers. Like Robert Hughes in his seminal The Fatal Shore, Keneally seeks to correct some of the clichés that have arisen. He's careful to point out that the few thousand convicts sent to the colony were hardly the worst of the worst. Keneally's new consideration won't replace Hughes's definitive work, but with its colorful and eloquent prose, it makes for a compelling companion piece, one that credits Phillip for most of the colony's success. Maps._ (Oct.)_
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From Booklist

The versatile Keneally commands a loyal readership no matter what topic he addresses. And here it's Australia's origin story of British settlement, which succeeds Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore (1986). Using the techniques of fiction, accomplished novelist Keneally strives to vivify scenes based on the historical record. From the several thousand convicts and officers who arrived in Australia in 1788-92, the period covered by the narrative, the author brings to the foreground the most interesting individuals. Prime among them, the colony's enigmatic first governor, naval officer Arthur Phillip. More exuberant characters, such as subordinate officer Watkin Tench, provide Keneally with the means to explore the adjustments of newcomers and natives to their extraordinary situations. Meanwhile, the convicts, many of whose hardships Keneally summarizes, ranged from the incorrigible to the adaptable. Vibrant and fluent, Keneally's latest will be in high demand. Gilbert Taylor
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