Robert Hughes is a powerful and eloquent author. This book is a delight to read, and this is despite the fact that the subject material can be so appalling and horrific at times. The author manages to illustrate an uncanny empathy with the historical characters that he writes about. Whether they are the criminals, guards, bureaucrats or whoever - Robert Hughes makes their lives come to life. This level of identification and sympathy for the characters of the book make it a pleasure to read.
In addition to his characterization skills, Robert Hughes weaves an enthralling narrative that covers the social, cultural and political reasons for Transportation to Australia. He returns to the slums and squalor of the mother country to give his theory behind the need and desire for the transportation system. Whether you agree with his ideas or not, the way that they are presented certainly make them compelling.
Robert Hughes is primarily an art critic, writing for Time magazine amongst other publications. This slightly unusual area of expertise throws yet another interesting dimension to this history. His commentary on early Australian art and architecture is fascinating. He throws some very interesting light on what is an often overlooked aspect of cultural history.
One caveat that should be added to this book is the fact that Robert Hughes is an unashamed liberal. He pooh-poohs the conservative administrators and admires the more liberal reformers. This is not to say that his analysis is wrong - it is just that the reader should be aware of the author's standpoint. It is very easy to make modern judgements on historical attitudes.
This book is an excellent starting place for anyone wishing to delve into the beginnings of Australia. The book only covers the period of transportation from 1788 to the mid-Nineteenth Century. However, the book should certainly whet your appetite to learn more about the remarkable colony of Australia.
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