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The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

This insightful and accessible new biography of Alfred Deakin, Australia’s second prime minister, shines fresh light on one of the nation’s most significant figures. It brings out from behind the image of a worthy, bearded father of federation the gifted, passionate and intriguing man whose contributions continue to shape the contours of Australian politics.

The acclaimed political scientist Judith Brett scrutinises both Deakin’s public life and his inner life. Deakin’s private papers reveal a solitary, religious character who found distasteful much of the business of politics, with its unabashed self-interest, double-dealing, and mediocre intellectual levels. And yet politics is where Deakin chose to do his life’s work.

Destined to become a classic of biography, The Enigmatic Mr Deakin is a masterly portrait of a complex man who was instrumental in creating modern Australia.


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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14 August 2017
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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.’

Other editions ofThe Enigmatic Mr Deakin
  • The Enigmatic Mr Deakin
    ISBN: 9781925410884
    14 August 2017
    Buy ebook