The older I get, the more I realise how much I don’t know. It is frustrating, no longer being a know-it-all! So I compensate by reading as much as possible about what I am most interested in: the human condition, economics, ideas, philosophy and politics, or rather understanding how politics have, and is, failing democracy. I am particularly interested in understanding how power corrupts and trying to understand what we need to change, as humankind, rather tentatively, enter the age of comprehension and humility.

Chris Mitchell - "Making Headlines"

 

An interesting read, although fascinating that a man who has spent his whole working life editing and directing other people’s writing writes without much flair. It is the subject matter that kept me going, not the prose. It is also not an autobiography, it offers almost no insight into the man, only his work. Maybe to be expected as he seems to have been completely consumed by it.

Chris Mitchell was no doubt very, very good at what he did. As editor of The Australian he would have had to be good to continue to please the Murdoch family and their henchmen, men like Ken Cowley and John Hartigan, hard and uncompromising task masters all. Disappointingly, it offers only limited insight into Rupert and Lachlan. Most instructive is an anecdote about a tennis match where Rupert insisted on being allowed more than two serves. As someone who has played tennis (poorly) against better tennis players all my life, I still find that an abhorrent notion. But then again I am neither ultra competitive, nor a billionaire.

Where this book excels is in describing the close symbiosis between the senior journalists and editors of the major newspapers and the various prime ministers encountered on Mitchell’s watch. Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott each get a chapter. Not surprisingly Howard comes out notionally “best”, Gillard more surprisingly not at all unflattering, either. It is a testament to Mitchell that even though he has been a close mate of Kevin Rudd all his adult life, he does not hold back in revealing his, ahem, idiosyncrasies in great detail. Tony Abbott comes out smelling like the metaphorical perfume of Peta Credlin, and he is rather scathing of them both, to say the least.

Most revealing of this part of the book is how it depicts these senior politicians as having one dominant common characteristic, the need to be right rather than striving to do the right thing. Which, incidentally, is a trait clearly shared by Chris Mitchell himself. It goes without saying that he is a man of predominantly conservative leanings (otherwise he wouldn’t be working for Murdoch), but I still cannot help but being disappointed at how his own views of the world of media in general and journalism in particular completely dominates how he perceives the profession. The prevailing feeling after some 370 pages of a lot of self back-slapping is that pretty much anyone that doesn’t work for his paper, but for places like the ABC, Fairfax or the Guardian, are just not up to scratch.

And maybe that does say a lot about the man after all.

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David Leser - "To Begin to Know: Walking in the Shadows of my Father"

From the self serving grandiosity of Conrad Black to the raise and mysterious demise of Robert Maxwell, I have always enjoyed reading about people in the media. David Leser is neither self serving, nor mysterious, and he has written an at times brutally honest account of his life as a journalist, being a son, and being a husband and a father. Told with much wit and insight, his story cleverly uses world events and the many fascinating people he has met along the way as a backdrop to his own journey. Having spent much time in Jerusalem, a proud, but somewhat agnostic Jew, he agonises over the conundrum that is the Israel oppression of the Palestinian people. He serves up fascinating tidbits of the very long list of people he has interviewed and written about, not shying away from having opinions about those that may not share his own values, yet without malice or the hubris prevalent in the media world he inhabits. His meetings with Allan Jones are told with humour and due reverence to the enigmatic, self important and influential radio host. (That Jones sued Leser for the article he wrote about him speaks volumes about the narcissistic paranoia of Jones, but that is another story, and not one Leser himself dwells on to his credit.)

David is equally candid about his own demons, not least in the way he describes the at times fractious, but fundamentally loving, relationship with his mercurial father, the long-serving CEO of Conde Nast, one of the world’s largest media companies. He weaves the story of his family, fortunate survivors of the Holocaust, into that of his own at times painful pilgrimage of self-discovery. In summary, this is not so much an autobiography but a ripping yarn about a passionate, deeply caring, word- and world-wise man, worts and all. Do your self a favour and read it!
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Tom Wolfe - "Kingdom of Speech"

A most surprising and satisfying read, but you have to be patient, because the real purpose of the book isn’t revealed until the very end. It is erudite, eloquent, as you’d’ expect from this author, funny, irreverent and immensely insightful all at he same time.

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Elizabeth Gilbert - "Big Magic"

Just add me to the list of devotees, Elizabeth Gilbert is a shining beacon of sanity in the often confused world of creativity, artistry and life itself. Common sense has rarely been so eloquently presented.

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Paul Beatty - "The Sellout"

I was lured by the ravenous reviews, and gave it a good whirl, but gave up. Never been into rap, nor of trash talk as an effective means of communicating, especially not on “paper”. This will no doubt appeal to those that are, but for me this became just tedious, the narrative drowned out by what I found to be contrived cleverness of prose. Ingenuous, yes, but not interesting, which is a shame, as I really liked the premise on which it is purporting to be based.

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Rutger Bregman - "Utopia for Realists"

This is not just about universal income, it is a book that challenges almost every antiquated notion about what our affluence is built on. It is a book pointing the way towards an alternative future, a world were we can realistically move towards an end to poverty and inequality. The author bridges the gap between history and present reality, without pontificating, carrying not just many convincing arguments for his beliefs, but doings so with both humility and insight into the human condition. Brilliant.

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Gabrielle Bergan - "Return to My Soul: My Journey from Darkness into the Light"

Gabrielle has written a very personal account of her life and the challenges she faced, and at the end is a profoundly moving vision of a truth that we all seek, one way or another. Writing about yourself may seem easy, it’s a story only you know well. Reading about someone’s life can be quite uncomfortable, especially when it is clearly personal and intimate, creating an uneasy feeling of peeking into someone’s life. Gabrielle’s style is so matter of fact and honest that she manages to transcend that. Her story isn’t unusual, not unique, she is just like the rest of us, there are no heroes or villains or drama beyond ordinary life events. But despite that I still kept swiping the pages wanting to know more. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to “find themselves” whatever that means for you.

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