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2017 - Winner
Tom D. C. Roberts’ biography of Keith Murdoch reveals how a critical engagement with a life that has been much written about, and richly mythologised, can yield new perspectives and insights, thus liberating the reader from the realm of myth. Before Rupert is deeply scholarly yet utterly accessible and enticing. The author draws on a remarkable range of sources, many for the first time, to show how the founding father succeeded in his boundless ambition. Before Rupert gives readers a new understanding of Keith Murdoch and the genesis of the family dynasty. The subject is thoroughly yet fairly interrogated, or perhaps we should say unmasked. The life is richly contextualised, particularly with reference to war, high politics, modernism and modernity, and notably the advances that Murdoch was quick to add to his newsprint business — radio, newsreels and air travel. With the title as a clue, the full meaning of this legacy builds slowly as the masterly narrative reveals the template for corporate ambition that was handed to Rupert. Roberts has successfully isolated what may well be called the ‘Murdoch gene’.
Roberts has crafted a masterful biography, full of remarkable insights into a celebrated figure in Australian business and political history. This is a full biography in the best sense – from Keith Murdoch’s uncertain beginnings to his spectacular ascendancy in the First World War and on to his corporate and political crusades in the decades thereafter. The coverage of Murdoch’s race fanaticism, his genius for tabloid sensation, his innovations in newspaper enterprise and his interventions in national politics are stand-out features. Before Rupert is distinguished by deep research, an eye for vivid quotation and the wonderful narrative skills of the author.