The nine best non-fiction books of 2014

Paul Barry, Breaking News: Sex, lies & the Murdoch succession

(Allen & Unwin, $39.99)
He’s one of the most influential media moguls in the world – in Australia alone, Rupert Murdoch owns The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun, The Courier Mail and The Sunday Times, and his international reach includes revered publications such as The Wall Street Journal.
He’s also the man behind the now-defunct newspaper News of the World, which was shut down in 2011 in a phone-hacking scandal that rocked the media. In Breaking News, award-winning journalist Paul Barry takes us right into the heart of the News Corp empire. His book provides a revealing insight into everything from the Leveson inquiry to the fraught relationships within Murdoch’s own family.

 

Matthew CondonJacks and Jokers

(University of Queensland Press, $29.95)
In part two of Matthew Condon’s three-part book series, we learn more about the institutional corruption of the Queensland state government and police force. His meticulously researched book, Jacks and Jokers, explores the link between police corruption and the rise of heavy drugs and crime in Queensland from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Condon brings a dark period in Australia’s recent history to life in this revealing book, having drawn on hundreds of first-hand accounts. These include two figures that were in the thick of it all: former police commissioner Terry Lewis and his sidekick Jack “The Bagman” Herbert.

 

Rafael Epstein, Prisoner X

(Melbourne University Press, $29.99)
In a captivating true story of espionage, intrigue and tragedy, Rafael Epstein tells the tale of Ben Zygier, an Australian-born spy who died in an Israeli jail in 2010. Dubbed “Prisoner X”, Zygier was arrested and taken to Ayalon Prison in 2010 by Mossad agents, after he shared confidential information with his fellow students at Monash University. Epstein’s compassion and his research skills make this book shine, as we follow the decline of Zygier’s mental health until the day he ended his life at only 34 years of age. Prisoner X is sure to move you and keep you turning those pages.

 

Sophie CunninghamWarning: The story of Cyclone Tracy

(Text Publishing, $32.99)
The devastation that Cyclone Tracy wrought on Darwin on Christmas morning in 1974 is one of the most infamous natural disasters in Australian history. The storm ripped the city apart, claiming 49 lives on land, others at sea, and replacing the community’s festive excitement with feelings of heartache and loss. In this fascinating non fiction book, Sophie Cunningham analyses the fallout of Cyclone Tracy from angles that other writers have tended to overlook, including gender politics, Indigenous and cultural identity, history and climate change. A well-crafted narrative ties her research together, making it a great read.

 

Paul Kelly, Triumph and Demise: The broken promise of a Labor generation

(Melbourne University Press, $49.99)
After the success of its “Kevin 07” campaign, the Australian Labor Party entered government with an air of positivity and promised to take the nation in a progressive direction. Yet in the years that followed, Labor began to unravel. The public looked on in shock during the ousting of Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard’s tumultuous term as Australia’s first female prime minister, and the return of Rudd in a desperate attempt to win back the people’s favour. Author and historian Paul Kelly uses Triumph and Demise to explain exactly what went wrong for Labor, using more than 60 on-the-record interviews with well-known politicians in an eye-opening account.

 

Madonna King, Hockey: Not your average Joe

(University of Queensland Press, $32.94)
How well do we know Joe Hockey, one of the most powerful politicians in the country? Madonna King conducted a vast amount of research to answer this question, interviewing more than 300 sources and gaining unprecedented access to the man himself. King explores what makes Joe Hockey the person he is today, including his career in student politics, his rise to prominence in the Liberal Party, and how these experiences shaped his beliefs, personality and vision for Australia. Hockey is ideal for politics buffs, revealing a great deal about the treasurer and the inner workings of our government.

 

David Marr, The Prince: Faith, abuse and George Pell: Quarterly Essay 51

(Black Inc., $19.99)
As the royal commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse continues, the public is beginning to realise just how endemic paedophilia has been in the Catholic Church. In The Prince, David Marr takes a magnifying glass to George Pell, the best known cardinal in Australia and spiritual adviser to the prime minister, Tony Abbott. Marr makes good use of his skills as an investigative reporter as he looks at Pell’s role in the scandals and analyses the Church’s struggle to save its reputation. The Prince is deeply critical of Pell who, at best, took too long to realise the abuse happening all around him. This is outstanding long-form journalism.

 

Margaret Simons, Kerry Stokes: Self-made man

(Penguin, $45)
Margaret Simons offers a masterfully written biography of Kerry Stokes, who is little known in households across the country despite being a major player in the business
scene. The book chronicles his unlikely success story, starting with Stokes’ childhood, as he was adopted from an orphanage and raised in a Melbourne slum. Through extensive research, Simons is able to show readers how Stokes rose from dire beginnings to become a successful business tycoon with significant power in property, mining and media. This is a rare insight into the curious life of this elusive yet highly influential man.

Clare Wright, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka

(Text Publishing, $34.99)
The Eureka Stockade of 1854 – in which gold miners in Ballarat revolted against colonial authorities – is often celebrated by historians as the birth of Australian democracy. However Clare Wright isn’t so enthusiastic about this massacre of 27 people, and there is evidence a dozen more were killed. In The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, she presents a refreshing take on the 1854 rebellion, by sharing the untold stories of the men, women and children who were there. She poured a decade of research and writing into this book, which won the 2014 Stella Prize and was short-listed for a string of others, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Award.

 

 

By Isabelle Chesher