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A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable…

A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia (2005)

by Thomas Keneally

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Very good! I could not put it down. ( )
  SpaceyAcey | Sep 23, 2013 |
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. There were a lot of interesting personalities involved in the founding of Australia, and Keneally brings them to life skilfully. Although I'm going to have nightmares about the conditions on board the Second and Third Fleet ships. WTF was the government thinking in using slavers' ships to transport people? Oh, right. The lives of convicts were less important than those of African slaves, because the slaves could be sold. Fuckers. Anyway, good book. Recommended. ( )
  SwitchKnitter | Dec 30, 2011 |
I first heard of Thomas Keneally 25 or so years ago when I read his novel Confederates, a story about the US Civil War. I'm not a Civil War buff, and can't say I know its history in depth, but I was extremely impressed by this novel (not sure I even knew he is Australian). He is most well-known for Schindler's Ark, made into the movie Schindler's List.

In this book, Keneally writes of the first few years of Australia's early colonial history. He begins back in England with detailed discussions of the circumstances and events leading up to consideration of Australia as a penal colony, which was quite remarkable in light of the fact that almost nothing was known of Austalia at that time. Then the book leads us through the provisioning and preparation for the voyage, and quite vividly depicts the voyage of the First Fleet. Finally the book covers the first few years of settlement in Australia, through the time of the departure of Arthur Phillip, the first governor.

A Commonwealth of Thieves is quite readable and very well written. I found that Keneally's book frequently focuses on particular individuals, their circumstances and reactions to this strange new land. While the book uses much of the same source material as The Fatal Shore (which seems to be the definitive history on this subject) Keneally's book was to me somehow more personal, although admittedly more limited in scope. For that reason, I'd recommend it even if you've already read The Fatal Shore or think you know enough about Australian history.

Recommended. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Oct 13, 2011 |
There's no doubt Tom Keneally can tell an engrossing tale, and he does so in this account of the first few years of european invasion in Sydney. Rather than sweep across a huge topic he focusses on specific people and events to explain the development of the whole. There are a number of books around by well-known authors on this subject: Robert Hughes, Lucy Turnbull, Tim Flannery, and the incomparable Jan Morris. This one is a top read. ( )
  broughtonhouse | Apr 1, 2011 |
The founding of Australia is astonishing, especially when Keneally tells it. This book chronicles this story in such an epic way. Switching constantly and intriguingly from politics and global issues to the ordinary lives of Australia's white residents, you get a sense of the interconnectedness of ordinary lives and national and international politics.

I've heard that some Australians are a bit ashamed of their beginnings, but I found these people and their stories magnetic. While undoubtedly some will disagree, the book to me seems less dismissive of the Aborigines whose land was stolen by the British government. That doesn't make what happened any less tragic, but it is a step forward in recognition of e fact that civilization didn't arrive with the convicts. Another civilization did. ( )
  Oreillynsf | Nov 28, 2010 |
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If, in the New Year of 1788, the eye of God had strayed from the main games of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, and idled over the huge vacancy of sea to the south-east of Africa, it would have been surprised in this empty zone to see not one, but all of eleven ships being driven east on the streaming band of westerlies.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140007956X, Paperback)

In this spirited history of the remarkable first four years of the convict settlement of Australia, Thomas Keneally offers us a human view of a fascinating piece of history. Combining the authority of a renowned historian with a brilliant narrative flair, Keneally gives us an inside view of this unprecedented experiment from the perspective of the new colony’s governor, Arthur Phillips. Using personal journals and documents, Keneally re-creates the hellish overseas voyage and the challenges Phillips faced upon arrival: unruly convicts, disgruntled officers, bewildered and hostile natives, food shortages, and disease. He also offers captivating portrayals of Aborigines and of convict settlers who were determined to begin their lives anew. A Commonwealth of Thieves immerses us in the fledgling penal colony and conjures up the thrills and hardships of those first four improbable years.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:58 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A colorful history of the European settlement of Australia tells the story of Captain Arthur Phillip, the Commodore of the First Fleet, who was empowered to govern a colony comprised primarily of unskilled criminals and petty thieves, disgruntled military men, and a sometimes hostile native population.… (more)

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