Books 4: Outliers, Aussies and Blind Faith

These are short comments on 3 of the 5 books I read while traveling from Darwin to Sydney, vai Adelaide and Melbourne!

Advance Australia Where?

Hugh McKay

I picked this book from the many on offer in Darwin that seemed to offer a way back into understanding Australian culture, politics and daily life. Having seen McKay speak in London, and read some of his articles, I thought he would do a good job. And he does. Backed by statistics, and drawing on loads of interviews, discussion groups and other social research he paints a rich picture of the trends and attitudes in Australia. It must be said he is not a philosopher, political leader, futurist, or designer but does some of the groundwork that those sort of people need to do what they do.

He does a grand job of sense and meaning-making on behalf of everyone else: dissecting then re-integrating trends in household size, poverty, IT, community engagement and Australian’s attitudes to those trends. At the end of the book he does offer his opinions on what should be done, but even then I feel like he is still trying to speak on behalf of everyone, informed by their attitudes and values. In that regard, perhaps he is one type of model of a leader – a servant not just to the expressed opinions of the mob, but to the deeper needs and context from which those attitudes emerge, and the future to which they point.

A pretty important read, for any sort of social or political work, but also for understanding which of your own attitudes and opinions are not actually personal, but cultural – that is common amongst millions your peers (whether you be baby boomer, Gen Y, or a new parent), not just your individual response to your specific circumstances. It certainly helped me understand myself a bit better, in a way that will probably bring me closer to my fellow Aussies.

One particular thing is worth mentioning: I never quite knew the context around the idea of the ‘lucky country‘, but he explains it. Donald Horne used this label in 1964, but in an ironic and cautionary sense, not celebratory. Horne thought we were suffering from mediocre leadership, inadequate planning and a complacent population but that thanks to a resource boom we were able to get away with it. I will be interested to see if that’s changed?

Blind Faith

Ben Elton

Great. I read this fast, while on the bus from Melbourne to Sydney. Its depiction of an highly religious, post-sea-level rise, grotesque, web-mediated culture in London was disturbing because it seems so extreme but at the same time so close. Elton’s description of the habits of a population where everything is shared all the time, all online actually had me seriously reconsidering the psychology behind my own blogging….eeek.

Every single one of Elton’s books I has read has been entertaining, yet also induced a major reconsideration of some aspect of my thinking or behaviour. They always also make me question some aspect of our culture. Which makes it the perfect read: entertainment, stimulation, reflection (on me, culture) all in one.


Malcolm Gladwell

The newest book by the author of Tipping Point and Blink is another fantastic interpretation and integration of science and psychology brought to bear on a topic of cultural and personal relevance. In this instance, Gladwell looks at the real stories and factors behind those we consider to be exceptional achievers and geniuses. He shows again and again how birthdates, culture, chance, family connections are major contributors to the success of everyone from the Beatles to Bill Gates, to Asian maths whizzes.

And, many of the stories of success have flipsides of tragic failure. More than one of the stories compelled me to consider what I can do to increase the opportunities and level the playing field for those that are disadvantaged, especially children with respect to education. Additionally, for me, it built perfectly on my recently-emergent commitment to a clear focus over the next ten years: he shows that 10,000 hours is the amount of time you have to put in to be expert at anything, rergardless of talent and luck. And 10,000 hours takes about ten years. So, hold me to that and ask me ten years if I have achieved my goal of being expert at….XX [at this stage, creating resilient, apithological communities; meditation/new sense of Self; and Cheng Hsin/Tai Chi are on the short list].


2 responses to “Books 4: Outliers, Aussies and Blind Faith

  1. Pingback: Culture and context « Andrew’s three-month descent from the UK to Australia

  2. Pingback: Australia - Darwin to Sydney (the long way) « Andrew’s three-month descent from the UK to Australia

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