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Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction Past Winners

Year Winner Judges' comments
2013

The Office: A Hard Working History by Gideon Haigh

Elegant, witty and informative, this is the history of a place we have all experienced; indeed a place where many of us spend much of our waking lives. Defamiliarising the ordinary is usually the role of the poet, but here the job is in the capable hands of a long-form journalist in his prime. Haigh transforms detailed research on a seemingly hum-drum topic into a truly pleasurable and entertaining reading experience.

This book is about the contemporary office and the historical office, including the office of Egyptian scribes, labelled by Haigh as ‘the original stylus-pushers’. It is also the office found in the fiction of Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Melville, and the office of the movies and Mad Men. Through learning about the office, we learn about ourselves; and the individual work cubicle metamorphoses into something profound.

In its scope, its ambition, its willingness to address an largely invisible yet important subject from an international perspective, The Office is a significant work written by a journailst with a careful attention to detail and a stylist's touch. Haigh introduces to a world in which most of us live, enlarging our sense of the ordinary and everyday.

2012

An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark by Mark McKenna

This biography is not only a character study of one of Australia’s most celebrated historians, but also an examination of the writing of Australian history over forty years. Mark McKenna does full justice to both these aspects, delineating Manning Clark's contradictory and sometimes difficult nature, and describing fairly and with confidence the more controversial issues in Clark's life and work.

This is a biography that combines lucid and vigorous writing and a fine sense of historical evaluation to present a rich and vital account of a fascinating man and his work and time.

This book does what good biography should: illuminates a whole world through the prism of one man’s life. In describing Clark's writing and his influence on white Australia's perception of this country's history, McKenna deploys clarity of perception, literary flair and a fine sense of historical evaluation. McKenna does full justice to Manning Clark's contradictory nature and, while unsparing, he is never unkind. He deals confidently and shrewdly with the difficult and controversial issues in Clark's life and work: his views on women and Aboriginal peoples, his willingness to place a particular narrative ahead of historical fact, his embrace of the Soviet Union and its policies, the influence of his upbringing on his view of the world, his extraordinary marriage. The result is a rich, sometimes amusing and layered account of a fascinating man – almost a Trollopean figure – and his work and time.