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Evatt: a life

2017 - Shortlisted


Judges Comments

Doc Evatt’s name — like Menzies or Mannix — conjures a turbulent and passionate era of Australian history, the details of which are now perhaps muted by the passage of time. His legal career, the role he played in looking after Australian interests during the Second World War, his influence in the crucial first years of the United Nations, his Labor leadership years, the dramas of the Petrov affair — it is revelatory to read about all this through this beautifully written, judiciously researched, measured and generous biography. John Murphy creates a portrait of an exceptional man whose flaws were part of his brilliance. He draws the boy Evatt delicately but clearly, and shows the young man who came to believe, to his eventual detriment, that the law was infallible. Evatt’s final years are described with admirable restraint, but the story is nonetheless memorable and moving. Nothing is related without documentary support, and yet the biographer’s circumspection gently enlivens the text as we are invited to understand this formidable personality. Murphy puts not a step wrong in this superb and important life story.

About the Author

John Murphy is a professor in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He teaches Australian politics, political history and social policy, and is also deputy Dean in the Faculty of Arts. Previous books have been about the Vietnam war (Harvest of Fear), the politics of the 1950s (Imagining the Fifties) and the history of welfare policy in Australia (A Decent Provision). In 2011, Half a Citizen: Life on welfare in Australia – jointly authored with Suellen Murray, Jenny Chalmers, Sonia Martin and Greg Marston – was awarded the Australian Human Rights Commission prize for literature/ non-fiction.