Shortlist year: 2017

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Black Inc

No matter how practised we are at history, it always humbles us. No matter how often we visit the past, it always surprises us. The art of time travel is to maintain critical poise and grace in this dizzy space.

Through portraits of fourteen historians, including Inga Clendinnen, Judith Wright, Geoffrey Blainey and Henry Reynolds, he traces how a body of work is formed out of a life-long dialogue between past evidence and present experience. With meticulous research and glowing prose, he shows how our understanding of the past has evolved, and what this changing history reveals about us.

About the author

Tom Griffiths

Tom Griffiths is the W K Hancock Professor of History at the Australian National University and the author of Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica (2007), Forests of Ash: An Environmental History(2001) and Hunters and Collectors: The Antiquarian Imagination in Australia (1996). His books and essays have won prizes in literature, history, science, politics and journalism, including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History in 2008, the Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate, and the Douglas Stewart and Nettie Palmer Prizes for Non-Fiction.

Judges’ comments

This is an impressive book that creatively explores the discipline of history as a craft that has made a considerable mark on Australia’s cultural identity.

In Tom Griffith’s vivid and accessible narrative history, the history and writing are shown to be both profound and idiosyncratic. Across fourteen chapters, each of which focuses on a significant writer, the reader is taken on a journey through Australian history. This is a book about the ideas that have shaped the writing of our history; its ambition is to expand our definition of Australian history and how we understand the stories of our past.

Griffith is a fine writer, at ease with his material and his concepts, who here demonstrates a capacity to combine historical data with analysis, biography and social commentary.