Blainey, Geoffrey (Norman) 1930-
BLAINEY, Geoffrey (Norman) 1930-
PERSONAL: Born March 11, 1930, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; son of Samuel Clifford (a clergyman) and Hilda (maiden name, Lanyon) Blainey; married Ann Warriner Heriot (an author), February 15, 1957; children: Anna Elizabeth. Education: Attended Wesley College, Melbourne, and Queen's College, University of Melbourne.
ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 257, E. Melbourne, Victoria 3002, Australia. Office—42 Hotham St., E. Melbourne, Victoria 3002, Australia.
CAREER: Freelance writer, specializing in industrial history, 1951-61; University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, senior lecturer, 1962-63, reader, 1963-68, professor of economic history, 1968-77, Ernest Scott Professor of History, 1977-88; University of Ballarat, chancellor, 1994—. Commonwealth Literary Fund, member of advisory board, 1968-71, chair, 1971-73; chair of literature board, Australia Council, 1973-74; vice-chair, Australian Government Inquiry into Museums and Galleries, 1974-75.
AWARDS, HONORS: Sir Ernest Scott Prize for Australian history, 1954, for The Peaks of Lyell; Harbison-Higinbotham Prize and Colonel Crouch Gold Medal of Australian Literature Society, 1963, both for The Rush That Never Ended: A History of Australian Mining; C. Weickhardt Award at Melbourne Festival, 1966, for The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia's History; Captain Cook Bi-Centenary Prize for Biography, 1970, for The Steel Master: A Life of Essington Lewis. Named one of Australia's 100 "living treasures" by the National Trust, 1997.
The Peaks of Lyell, Melbourne University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1954, 3rd edition, 1968.
(With N. H. Oliver) The University of Melbourne: A Centenary Portrait, Melbourne University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1956, published as A Centenary History of the University of Melbourne, 1957.
Gold and Paper: A History of the National Bank of Australasia, Georgian House (Melbourne, Australia), 1958, reprinted, Macmillan (Melbourne, Australia), 1983.
Mines in the Spinifex: The Story of Mount Isa Mines, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1960, 3rd edition, 1970.
The Rush That Never Ended: A History of Australian Mining, Melbourne University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1963, 4th edition, 1993.
A History of Camberwell, Jacaranda Press (Brisbane, Australia), 1964.
The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia's History, Sun Books (Melbourne, Australia), 1966, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1968, reprinted, Macmillan (Melbourne, Australia), 1982.
(Editor) If I Remember Rightly: The Memoirs of W. S. Robinson, 1876-1963, F. W. Cheshire (Melbourne, Australia), 1967.
Across a Red World, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1968.
The Rise of Broken Hill, Macmillan (Melbourne, Australia), 1968.
The Steel Master: A Life of Essington Lewis, Macmillan (Melbourne, Australia), 1971, reprinted, Melbourne University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1995.
The Causes of War, Free Press (New York, NY), 1973, reprinted, 1988.
Triumph of the Nomads: A History of Aboriginal Australia, Macmillan (Melbourne, Australia), 1975, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1976, reprinted, Macmillan (Melbourne, Australia), 1982.
(Contributor) The Birth of Australia, Rigby (Adelaide, Australia), 1978.
A Land Half Won, Macmillan (Melbourne, Australia), 1980.
The Blainey View, Macmillan (Melbourne, Australia), 1982.
Our Side of the Country: The Story of Victoria, Methuen Haynes (North Ryde, Australia), 1984.
All for Australia, Methuen Haynes (North Ryde, Australia), 1984.
Surrender Australia and Asian Immigration, Allen & Unwin (Boston, MA), 1985.
(Contributor) The Birth of a Nation: Australia's Historic Heritage, from Discovery to Nationhood, Viking O'Neil (South Yarra, Australia), 1987.
The Great Seesaw: A New View of the Western World, 1750-2000, Macmillan (Melbourne, Australia), 1988.
Australian Universities: Some Fashions and Faults, La Trobe University (Bundoora, Australia), 1989.
Blainey, Eye on Australia: Speeches and Essays of Geoffrey Blainey, Schwartz Books (Melbourne, Australia), 1991.
(With Isobel Crombie) Sites of the Imagination: Contemporary Photographers View Melbourne and Its People, National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia), 1992.
The Golden Mile, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonard's, Australia), 1993.
Jumping over the Wheel, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonard's, Australia), 1993.
A Shorter History of Australia, Heinemann (Port Melbourne, Australia), 1994.
(Editor, with Ronda Jamieson) Charles Court, the Early Years: An Autobiography, Fremantle Arts Centre Press (South Fremantle, Australia), 1995.
White Gold: The Story of Alcoa of Australia, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonard's, Australia), 1997.
In Our Time, Information Australia (Melbourne, Australia), 1999.
A Short History of the World, Dee (Chicago, IL), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Geoffrey Blainey began his writing career as an industrial historian, concentrating on metal mining in his native Australia. He has since risen to prominence as a general historian of Australia, as well as a commentator on national and international issues pertaining to his country. A longtime professor at the University of Melbourne, he has written books that merge scholarship with accessible style. A Times Literary Supplement reviewer once commented that Blainey's work "is an example of the way a potentially ponderous subject can be turned into an interesting one by a rigorous control of material and a fluent pen."
Blainey made his academic mark with the publication of The Peaks of Lyell and The Rush That Never Ended: A History of Australian Mining. Both books look at milestones in Australian metal mining, sometimes comparing Australian events to such phenomena as the American gold rush. In an American History Review piece on The Rush That Never Ended, S. C. McCulloch noted of Blainey that "he never fails to convey the sense of drama," and "his research is intensive.... Illustrations and maps are excellent."
Writing talent and an enjoyment of observation allowed Blainey to escape the boundaries of academic writing, and today he is a respected general author in Australia. A New Yorker correspondent described Blainey as "intelligent, observant, open-minded, gregarious, and a writer of considerable style." With books such as Across a Red World, The Causes of War, and A Shorter History of Australia, the author has attracted a wide readership both within his native land and in other English-speaking countries. To quote one Choice reviewer, Blainey "displays a flair for drawing historical insights while critiquing and creating explanations....He looks for empirical evidence and interprets subtly and well."
The work that may well stand as the cap to Blainey's distinguished career is A Short History of the World. In this book, the historian provides an overview of 100,000 years of world history—a daunting task, as many critics noted. "I used to go to China frequently but I knew little of its history or Japan's," he told Weekend Australian writer Murray Waldron. "Or early American civilisations. I just wondered how it all fitted together....Andit seemed important [to write this book] at a time when clearly the world is shrinking at a dramatic pace thanks to communication and travel. That became one of the book's themes, how unshrinkable the world seemed for so long and now suddenly that doesn't hold."
Blainey's approach in the book, in the view of Quadrant contributor Gregory Melleuish, has "an Enlightenment feel about it" and is often Eurocentric and idealistic. "To be fair," Melleuish added, "Blainey does recognise many other civilisations apart from Europe: he deals with the Incas, China and India and he discusses the rise of Islam and Buddhism." The critic, however, faulted Blainey for a failure to appreciate, as did Deepak Lal in his book Unintended Consequences, that European "deviance" from older societies contributed to its development as a unique civilization. Melleuish concluded that A Short History of the World is "good on economics, technology, geography and environment, poor on war and the state. It doesn't really do much to improve our understanding of the Europe question, or shine any light into the engine room of human political, social and economic development. Blainey shies away from the 'dark side of the force'—war, pestilence and human evil. In so doing he shows us only one side of the human story."
In National Observer—Australia and World Affairs, however, R. J. Stove offered a much more positive assessment of the book. The work, in his view, succeeds "with terrifying conviction" and is enhanced by lucid prose and enlightening insights. Praising Blainey's extraordinary erudition and narrative skill, Stove hailed A Short History of the World as a "triumph . . . that . . . forms in itself a liberal education."
Commenting on the controversies surrounding much of Blainey's work, Waldron pointed out that the historian "is a bona fide member of a rare club, those public intellectuals whose works are read by ordinary people." Indeed, as John Fisher observed in a Quadrant article, "Blainey's ability to set out his themes and insights in simple language studded with apt and colourful images and metaphors accounts for his high standing not just among his academic peers but among students and society as a whole. He can grab and hold the attention of readers in a manner than other historians cannot match."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Crawford, Raymond Maxwell, Making History, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1985.
American History Review, October, 1964, p. 259; June, 1969, p. 1692.
Booklist, February 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Short History of the World, p. 987.
Choice, March, 1974, p. 160.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of A Short History of the World, p. 26.
Library Journal, April 1, 1964, p. 1604; March 15, 2002, Clay Williams, review of A Short History of the World, p. 92.
National Observer—Australia and World Affairs, autumn, 2001, R. J. Stove, review of A Short History of the World, p. 63.
New Yorker, November 9, 1968, p. 238.
Publishers Weekly, February 4, 2002, review of A Short History of the World, p. 62.
Quadrant, April, 2000, John Fisher, "History Master," p. 58; December, 2000, Gregory Melleuish, "Blainey, Europe and the World," p. 28.
Times Literary Supplement, March 5, 1964, p. 194; November 21, 1968, p. 1315; March 6, 1969, p. 224; June 15, 1973, p. 659.
Weekend Australian, October 30, 2000, Murray Waldron, "The World According to Geoffrey" (interview with Blainey).*