The Sydney Morning Herald

In short

Author: Reviews by Bruce Elder
Date: 05/02/2011
Words: 736
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Spectrum
Page: 35

Joseph Michael Reagle jnr.

The MIT Press, 244pp, $38.95

Over the past decade it has been tempting, particularly for those who see the internet as a playground for incompetents and hysterics, to decry Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, as a sloppy and unreliable source.

Reagle sets out to demonstrate that, for all its flaws, it is a superb example of "good faith collaborative culture" where a "neutral point of view" and "verifiability" have become the iconic goals.

Today Wikipedia is one of the miracles of the internet. In August 2009 there were more than "75,000 active contributors working on more than 10,000,000 articles in more than 260 languages". This book is primarily an investigation into the way a unique collaborative effort has seen humans interacting in a harmonious way.

For all the failings of the internet, Wikipedia is arguably the finest flowering of the Enlightenment dream of universal knowledge.


Wendy Lewis Pier 9, 320pp, $39.95

How do you become Australian of the Year? Well, in the past decade you'd either be an academic (no fewer than six professors and Sir Gustav Nossal), a sportsman (Pat Rafter and Steve Waugh), a soldier or a country singer.

It is a strange gaggle of notables. By comparison, in the 1960s we really had a mixed bag with a boxer, a swimmer, a racing car driver, an opera singer, a ballet dancer, a pop group, two Nobel Prize-winning scientists, a sailor and a diplomat.

While this book is basically a collection of 50 pithy biographies of famous Australians, Lewis has managed to enrich the text with interesting snippets about the specific Australian of the Year ceremonies and background information on each of the eras. This is a thoughtful book that places each winner in a larger context and helps to explain why certain people were honoured.


P.J. O'Rourke

Grove Press, 275pp, $29.99

There is an argument that all comic writers have one good book in them and, once successful, keep writing it over and over again. Think only of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent and O'Rourke's Holidays in Hell. So here's O'Rourke's 14th book and, sadly, the jokes are stale, the ideas are often borrowed and reheated and the subject matter is the usual litany of right-wing whinges about the Obama administration. There's the inevitable chapter on health care legislation; a chapter on the excesses of the baby-boom generation; and a savaging of Obama's bank bailout.

There are lots of Republican-type arguments about the joys of free markets and the greatness of freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, this collection does not present tight arguments that are worthy either of quotation or emulation.

Pick of the week


Malcolm Knox

Hardie Grant, 440pp, $49.95

This is probably not a good time to publish books about cricket. Such is the public cynicism about the Australian team that TV audiences have dropped off, programs have been axed, crowds have vanished and cartoonists have been wandering around with broad grins knowing the current bunch of no-hopers are providing them with particularly rich satiric pickings.

This is a pity because while there have been books about the Aussie cricket captains in the past (On Top Down Under by Ray Robinson, Captain Australia by Roland Perry) this is the first attempt to integrate biographies and details of careers into an overarching thesis about the nature of Australian cricket. The challenge was always to make the thesis plausible. How does a writer demonstrate that, say, Greg Chappell, Mark Taylor and Ricky Ponting are more than just "the best man for the job at the time"?

Knox's argument is that the characteristics common to Australian captains are threefold: the way they integrate their specific cricketing skills and the task of leading the team; the way they perceive the captain's role as being everything from an autocratic managing director through to a friendly representative for the team  a shop steward as Knox calls them; and the way they imbue the captaincy with honour and prestige  or not. Think only of the way Greg Chappell forever besmirched his captaincy with a little underarm bowling. Knox is actually very kind to Chappell, arguing he was "not mentally fit to be captain".

Like all great cricket books this is essentially a collection of yarns and anecdotes woven together into an entertaining account of Australian cricket over the past 130 years.

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