Shortlist year: 2018

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: Penguin Random House

John Curtin became Australia's Prime Minister eight weeks before Japan launched war in the Pacific. Curtin's struggle for power against Joe Lyons and Bob Menzies, his dramatic use of it when he took office in October 1941, and his determination to be heard in Washington and London as Japan advanced, is a political epic unmatched in Australian experience. John Edwards' vivid, landmark biography places Curtin as a man of his times, puzzling through the immense changes in Australia and its region released by the mighty shock of the Pacific War.

About the author

John Edwards

John Edwards has written six non-fiction books, including the bestselling Keating: The Inside Story. He is a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute and adjunct professor at the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy at Curtin University. He has been a member of the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Chief Economist for HSBC Bank in Australia and New Zealand, and was a senior economic adviser for Treasurer and then Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Judges’ comments

This fluently written and intelligently argued book is written for a wide audience. This is a rich political biography, which carefully maps the social and political contexts out of which Curtin emerged to become leader of the Labor Party and then Prime Minister. Edwards carefully recreates the climate of fear and uncertainty that increased in intensity as the international outlook became increasingly fragile, especially in late 1941. In early 1942, Curtin, like most Australians, came to view invasion no longer as a possibility but rather as a probability. This book is not a mere biography of Curtin, as Edwards demonstrates that his actions and achievements can only be understood within the tangled web of national politics and international events. The book maps the quickly changing relations with Britain and the United States, as Curtin determined that national security depended on alliance with America. The culmination of 30 years of research and reflection, this book constitutes a major contribution to our understanding of the history of a major Australian political figure, Australian political culture, and of the nation's continuing quest for full independence.