Books in review

By Colleen Cook

In this issue:

REFRAME How to solve the world’s trickiest problems

Cover illustration of Reframe

Eric Knight
Black Inc. $29.95

Any ‘how to’ book usually promises something enticing. Former Rhodes Scholar and author Eric Knight (BA ’06 LLB ’07) offers solutions to some weighty political and economic problems around terrorism, climate change and immigration. Through his examination of the world’s trickiest problems, Knight reveals with astonishing clarity how large-scale mistakes in problem-solving have arisen.

A generation ago, Edward de Bono (also a Rhodes Scholar) showed us how to ‘think laterally’, an expression which has become part of our vernacular. Yet flexible thinking seems to have had little impact. Knight provides countless examples which illustrate how rigid organisations, governments and nations can be. By holding the magnifying glass too close, the real answers lying just out of view are missed.

Knight invites us to ‘reframe’ the problem. By adjusting our focus and our definition of a solution, we can bypass what is “flashy, or noisy, or bright” in favour of what is “complex, and quiet, and in the background”. Knight opens us to the possibility that small enterprises and individuals, solving problems from the bottom up, offer the greatest opportunities for success. By the end of this book, you can’t help but think that he’s right.

Alexander Macleay: From Scotland to Sydney

Image of From Scotland to Sydney cover

Derelie Cherry
Paradise Publishers $59.95

Unbelievably, this is the first biography about this colourful Scotsman. Author and historian Derelie Cherry (PhD ’04) brings to light Macleay’s eccentricities as well as his many achievements, in part due to the discovery of letters written by Macleay’s daughter Fanny, which were locked away for over half a century.

Alexander Macleay was an unemployed senior civil servant after Napoleon’s defeat. At the age of 58 he embarked on a new career in Sydney as Colonial Secretary under Governor Darling, arriving with a broad range of interests and expertise, and six daughters still unmarried.

Macleay was recognised in his lifetime for his contribution to horticulture (the University’s Macleay Museum holds the premier collection of his specimens). Yet few know that he introduced wisteria and the jacaranda to Australia, along with dill, coriander and cumin. It’s also surprising to learn that he became Australia’s first Speaker in the Legislative Council at the age of 76.

The book, with foreword by Stephen Garton, is enhanced by beautiful illustrations and photos taken by the author. Among these is Elizabeth Bay House. Built by Macleay, it remains the finest colonial mansion in NSW. Finally, there is a book worthy of this founding father of Australia.

A PIECE OF MY MIND: A psychiatrist on the couch

Image of A Piece of My Mind cover

Professor Gordon Parker
Pan Macmillan Australia $32.99

This is a man who has attempted more things than most of us. Professor Gordon Parker (MBBS ’67), Founding Director of the Black Dog Institute, has been campaigning for greater recognition of depressive and bipolar disorders for decades. The book reveals a respected clinician and academic with a strong international profile.

Parker shows us just how provocative he has been; highly regarded by most but loathed by some. He examines what good psychiatry should be, invoking his medical background and passion for the humanities.

Even though this book is largely about depression, it’s side-splittingly funny at times, thanks to Parker’s skills as a creative writer. He talks fondly of growing up as an only child, of his parents and other significant influences in his life. He is disarmingly frank about his ineptitude during his education and admits to a lack of direction until luck helped him find a career path. Once found, that path has been a rewarding road of discovery.

The Edgeworth David women

Image of The Edgeworth David women cover

Jennifer Horsfield
Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd $29.95

Many Sydneysiders are familiar with the name Edgeworth David, after whom a road was named in Hornsby, and a building at the University of Sydney. This book is concerned with the strong women in his life; principally his wife Cara, but also his two daughters Margaret and Molly.

More than that, it offers a vivid account of Australian life, especially through Victorian times, World War I, and the flu epidemic that followed. All this is thanks to rich archival material, Molly's propensity as a writer, granddaughter Anne Edgeworth, and the research begun by Noeline Kyle and continued with flair by author Jennifer Horsfield (Grad Dip ’94).

Not idle but useless? Not he!

Image of Not idle but useless? Not he! cover

JB Windeyer
Self-published $30

This thorough biography of an active and influential life is a grandson's labour of love. JB Windeyer (BA ’62) uses his passion for history to sift through acres of documents, many hand written by relatives. The Windeyer family tree shows he had eight siblings who clearly knew how to beget many more Windeyers. Wherever possible, the author lets these documents tell the story.

Much is made of Windeyer's many years as alderman and mayor of Hunters Hill, and of his dedication to developing the sport of golf, becoming an authority on the rules of the game. He lived through two depressions and the First World War, working as a solicitor and becoming involved in politics. It was a busy life and this book explores it to the full.

Women of note

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Rosalind Appleby
Fremantle Press $35.00

Australia's women composers have had little support or recognition. Author Rosalind Appleby wanted to capture their stories while most were still able to tell them. She gives us an important insight into the lives and influences of these outstanding composers.

Music composition at the turn of the 20th century was a male-only career choice. Into this world of bigotry, lack of opportunity and a culturally barren landscape came Australian women composers like Margaret Sutherland and Peggy Glanville-Hicks, who were producing astonishing compositions without due recognition.

By mid-century, Ann Carr-Boyd was the first Bachelor of Music graduate from the University of Sydney. A generation later, Anne Boyd was the first woman and first Australian and to be appointed professor of music at the University. Both remain composers of note.

These women, and others like them, became mentors to women composers who now have greater opportunities to thrive. Elena Kats-Chernin is the most prolific Australian composer today, with around 300 works.

The women composers who are now emerging continue to write music with an exciting range and diversity that often can't be categorised. Appleby tells us that Australia has a greater percentage of women composers than almost any other nation, but how many of them do we really know?