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Crikey list: most memorable books by politicians

Here are some of the best and worst books by Australian politicians in recent times. You be the judge on which one to demand at Christmas time …

There’s been a resurgence in the hallowed tradition of politicians writing books in Australia. Here are some of the most memorable of recent times. This list is not exhaustive; feel free to add more books (and brief reviews) in the comments section online. All these authors are current or former federal MPs unless otherwise noted.

Tony Abbott (Liberal). Battlelines, written well before Abbott became PM, is an assemblage of Abbott’s thoughts and reform proposals. Has sold a respectable 20,000 copies.

Kevin Andrews (Liberal). Wrote the 438-page Maybe ‘I Do’: Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness in 2012. This examines how to “create more successful marital unions”. There is also a concise edition available (183 pages).

Cory Bernardi (Liberal). Has published several books, including The Conservative Revolution.

Julie Bishop (Liberal). Controversial. Wrote a chapter for Peter van Onselen’s book Liberals in Power, but got busted for having it ghostwritten (and plagiarising to boot).

Bob Brown (Greens). Has written quite a few books from the 1980s until today, including Wild Rivers and Memo for a Saner World.

Bob Carr (Labor). His recent Diary of a Foreign Minister contained enough gems about pajamas in business class etc to ensure plenty of media coverage. It’s selling well at 9000-odd copies to date.

Greg Combet (Labor). The Fights of My Life, co-written by former staffer and journo Mark Davis, comes out in late July. Contains a fair bit on his career pre-politics.

Peter Costello (Liberal). The Costello Memoirs, co-written with his father-in-law Peter Coleman, sold well at 42,000 copies. It came out not long after the Coalition lost government.

Bob Day (Family First Senator). His book The Sales Doctor is released this month. It’s a self-help guide for business, which includes Day’s principles such as “no one likes being sold to, but everyone likes to buy”, and “don’t just find out what your customers want, find out why they want it”.

Gareth Evans (Labor). His diary from 1984 to 1986, when he was in government, will be published in late August. Apparently he dictated his diary for 20 minutes every evening. He’s already published 10 books, mostly on foreign affairs.

Tim Fischer (Nationals). Holy See, Unholy Me — 1000 days in Rome is Fischer’s memoir of being ambassador to the Holy See. “With his trusty black Akubra, Tim learned to navigate this strange new world and has lived to tell the tale!” the blurb reads.

Malcolm Fraser (Liberal). Co-wrote his memoirs with journalist and academic Meg Simons, Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, which sold quite well. Especially when you consider dollars per page — it’s 864 pages and weighs 1.45kg in hardback. Recently published Dangerous Allies about foreign policy and the US alliance.

Peter Garrett (Labor). His book is due in 2015. His career has spanned music, conservation and politics, so may attract a wider audience. Rumoured to have received a big advance.

Julia Gillard (Labor). Her memoir My Story is due in October and is quite a long read at 450-odd pages. There’s a huge buzz in publishing circles about it. Rumours abound that her advance was between $400,000 and $600,000. Could it sell as many as Howard’s biography?

Bob Hawke (Labor). His memoirs (published in the 1990s) sold an impressive 75,000 copies.

John Howard (Liberal). His autobiography Lazarus Rising is the gold standard; it sold 100,000 copies across three editions. It’s pretty long at 500-odd pages. His new book The Menzies Era comes out in October, and covers the period 1949 to 1972. Will it have he same appeal?

Paul Keating (Labor). It’s been rather forgotten, but in 2000 he published Engagement: Australia Faces the Asia-Pacific about foreign policy when he was PM. Has vowed not to write his memoirs.

Cheryl Kernot (Dems / Labor). Wrote Speaking for Myself Again in 2002, in which she dumps on Labor for her problems as an MP for the party. Details of the affair with Gareth Evans are not in here.

Joan Kirner (Labor, former Victorian premier). Co-wrote The Women’s Power Handbook on why women should want power and how to get it.

Mark Latham (Labor). The Latham Diaries sold well at 55,000 copies. He has written seven other books and has a new one, The Political Bubble: why Australians distrust politics, coming out later this month.

Carmen Lawrence (Labor, former WA premier). Wrote Fear and Politics in 2006, arguing that fear and xenophobia were increasingly dominating politics.

Maxine McKew (Labor). The former journalist wrote Tales from the Political Trenches about her time in politics and where Labor went wrong. Not sympathetic to Julia Gillard.

Rob Oakeshott (Indep). With the scintillating title of The Independent Member for Lyne, Oakeshott’s recent memoir traces his time in the balance-of-power. Generally well-received by critics.

Graham Perrett (Labor). Has written two racy novels, The Twelfth Fish and The Big Fig, which included sex scenes. The tabloids took a dim view of this.

Kevin Rudd (Labor). Co-wrote the children’s book Jasper and Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle, which stars Rudd’s pets Abby and the late Jasper. Has Rudd secured a publisher for a more serious book? Crikey hears whispers he’s planning to write something new …

Wayne Swan (Labor). The Good Fight: six years, two prime ministers and staring down the great recession is out next month. It looks at how Australia coped with the GFC, plus Swan’s take on the Rudd/ Gillard ructions.

Lindsay Tanner (Labor). Established author. Recently wrote Sideshow: dumbing down democracy about what’s wrong with the political system and the media.

Malcolm Turnbull (Liberal). Wrote The spy catcher trial: The scandal behind the #1 best seller (he was involved in the case) and The Reluctant Republic (1994). Surely there’s another book in him?

Gough Whitlam (Labor). Wrote Gough Whitlam: The Truth of the Matter, about the events leading up to his sacking by infamous then-governor-general Sir John Kerr.

Andrew Wilkie (Indep). The Axis of Deceit was published in 2004, well before Wilkie entered Parliament. It deals with his time as an intelligence analyst who resigned over the Iraq War, earning the ire of the Australian government.

* Which is the best/ worst book by an Australian politician? Tell us your thoughts in the comment stream online.

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  • 1
    John Winter
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    How can you have missed out Graham Richardson’s “Whatever it Takes”? It was actually a great read

  • 2
    zut alors
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    If we don’t believe most of what they say how can we be expected to swallow what they write?

    Rudd’s book on Jasper & Abby would likely be the most factually accurate of the bunch listed. And it’s fiction.

  • 3
    Iskandar
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Re Andrew Wilkie; his book was “Axis of Deceit”, not “Defeat”. Still surprised that a royal commission hasn’t been called to investigate how Howard and Co took this country into Iraq. Nothing to slam Labor with, I suppose.

  • 4
    Tim
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget Barry Cohen’s How to Become Prime Minister

    (among his other works).

  • 5
    klewso
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Who would have thought? Lady Penelope couldn’t write a chapter without plagiarising?

    Iskander - we can only imagine what an inquiry into Iraq would uncover - not least the cost of it and what that’s done to our economy since (dwarfing Labor’s “profligacy”?); include members of this government, and their heroes including Murdoch as the Coalition of the Shilling’s very own “Comical Ally”.
    That’s why Abbott won’t touch it and Limited News won’t agitate for it. Such a use of resources would embarrass themselves more than Labor - that’s why we only have to have the ones we have at present.
    To protect their public interest.

  • 6
    AR
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Iskandar beat me to it, CA. Very sloppy, the misnaming didn’t even make sense - how could you not have seen that?

  • 7
    AR
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Surely Bullturn’s two tomes don’t qualify as they were written prior to his Pollification.

  • 8
    Robert Merkel
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    John Button’s “As It Happened” was a very good read. He had a keen eye and a pretty dry sense of humour. His observations about the Australian business community were illuminating then and still probably not that far off the mark.

  • 9
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Whitlam also wrote c1985 a book on the Whitlam govt

  • 10
    Cathy Alexander
    Posted Tuesday, 8 July 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Thank you Iskander. I have fixed it.

  • 11
    Cathy Alexander
    Posted Tuesday, 8 July 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I had some interesting chats with publishers for this story about why Paul Keating never wrote his memoirs. That’s one book many readers would probably like to pick up. Is it that he thinks it may damage his legacy, rather than enhance it? Is it too difficult a task? Perhaps he saw those televised interviews with Kerry O’Brien as his version of his memoirs.

  • 12
    Brad Sprigg
    Posted Tuesday, 8 July 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Surprised you didn’t list The Latham Diaries? It was a good read.

  • 13
    Brian Ede
    Posted Tuesday, 8 July 2014 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    confessions of a Failed Finance Minister “by Senator Peter Walsh remains a must read for anyone who wants to understand the drivers of reform during the Hawke years. Warts and all, Walshie was a passionate advocate for reform. In later years he has changed his attitude on Bob Hawke who he now believes was probably Australia’s greatest P M.

  • 14
    Cathy Alexander
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Now Brad, I did list the Latham Diaries! In fact from the response of Crikey readers, it is their favourite book by a politician.

  • 15
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    BrianE - absolutely agree, esp re the machinations, and embarrassed that I’d forgotten about him.
    In his hey day, if he could be said to have had one, I regarded him as the Devil Incarnate.
    Later I realised he’d merely sold his soul.

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