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The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

Judith Brett

  • awardShortlisted, NSW Premier's Literary Awards: Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, 2018
  • Alfred Deakin—scholar, spiritualist, prime minister—was instrumental in creating modern Australia. In the first biography of Deakin in more than half a century, the acclaimed political historian Judith Brett deftly weaves together his public, private and family lives. She brings out from behind the image of a worthy, bearded father of federation the principled and passionate, gifted and eccentric figure whose legacy continues to shape the contours of the nation’s politics.


    Sydney Morning Herald (by Judith Brett)
    Read Judith Brett on Turnbull and Deakin in the Conversation
    Radio National Late Night Live
    ABC The Conversation Hour (6:20:00)
    Saturday Paper
    Inside Story
    ABC Radio Canberra, Breakfast
    Sydney Morning Herald
    ABC Brisbane, Mornings
    Lowy Institute
    Conversation Podcast
    Daily Review

    Judith Brett
    About the Author

    Judith Brett is the award-winning author of Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People, emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University and one of Australia’s leading political thinkers. She contributes regularly to the Monthly and has written three Quarterly Essays.

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    Text publication date:
    26 February 2018
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    Praise for Judith Brett
    andThe Enigmatic Mr Deakin

    ‘A biography of immense power that will restore Deakin to his proper place in the national imagination: the mystic politician who gave us Australia.’

    ‘Judith Brett has resurrected a gallant democrat just when democracy seems most in need of redemption. This is a deeply engrossing portrait of a hero for our times, a complex, charismatic man with a unique capacity to build, to lead, to speak and to dream. Masterful, tender and utterly compelling.’

    ‘A fresh, revealing and insightful portrait of one of the great figures who shaped Australia.’

    ‘This excellent biography will appeal to general readers, students and anyone interested in historical biography.’ 

    ‘Truly one of the great political biographies of our time, a delicately nuanced, warm and insightful account.’

    ‘Brett is a gifted interpreter of politics, past and present, and a sensitive reader of people, individually and en masse. That she has been able to encompass The Enigmatic Mr Deakin in fewer than 500 pages, compared with double that of most “landmark” biographies, attests to a rare kind of writerly judgment: for discerning where the story lies and, crucially, for knowing what can be left out.’

    ‘Truly one of the great political biographies of our time, a delicately nuanced, warm and insightful account of—my personal misgiving aside—one of the most noteworthy political figures in Australian history.’

    The Enigmatic Mr Deakin stands as the culmination of her work on the history, politics and philosophy of Australian liberals, and it is the one biography of Deakin to which we will repeatedly return. Brett’s writing is capable of extraordinary clarity, insight and compassion.’

    ‘This is a fine biography—accessible, perceptive, and in the best way, sympathetic. Deakin has found the interpreter he deserves for a modern audience…If our politicians still read books—and sometimes one does wonder—Judith Brett’s new biography should be required reading.’

    ‘A significant contribution to biography and political history that is beautifully written and full of interest.’

    ‘Impressive…Brett displays an acute understanding of the intricacies of parliament and the political and policy issues of Deakin’s time…The Enigmatic Mr Deakin has a lively prose style that shows a deep understanding of its perplexing subject. It is a fine book, and especially timely given the depressing state of modern politics.’

    ‘Accessible and informative, this style of biography layers facts over questions that draw in readers curious about what makes human beings do the things we do. This is a biography for our times.’

    ‘Judith Brett has rounded out Alfred Deakin in this fascinating biography that is a delight to read.’

    ‘For sympathy and insight, Judith Brett’s The Enigmatic Mr Deakin is a welcome contribution to analysis of Australian politics. A difficult subject, often deliberately elusive, is captured with skill. Through close and compelling reading of Deakin’s private writing, Brett brings to life his political thinking and spiritual wrestling. An important book.’

    The Enigmatic Mr Deakin explores our second prime minister’s career with full attention to his intense inner life and family relationships. Her title points to the puzzles, but Brett doesn’t simplify; she ponders, suggests, dramatises. Closely observed and psychologically persuasive, this is more than a life-and-times; it is a life.’

    ‘Judith Brett’s excellent The Enigmatic Mr Deakin introduces this Federation-era giant to a modern audience: a timely reminder of the achievements and failings of a century ago, and perfect summer reading for any Australian politician whose aspirations rise above seat-warming.’

    ‘Judith Brett achieves something rare in political biography: a synthesis of the public life with the beliefs, doubts, private struggles, and spiritual inquiry that made The Enigmatic Mr Deakin our most intriguing prime minister.’

    ‘In this engrossing and quietly profound biography, Judith Brett brings Deakin back into Australia’s contemporary political imagination, so we can better understand how he shaped the country we live in today…In this age of increasingly polarised politics, Brett’s book is at once a warm portrait of a great politician and a sharp provocation to today’s leaders to forge a better way.’

    ‘A woman’s eye on a powerful man has never felt so penetrating, perceptive and, surprisingly, loving.’

    ‘This book is a window into a time of growth and democratisation, of shifting allegiances towards the common benefit of nationhood.’

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