The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

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Text Publishing, Aug 14, 2017 - Biography & Autobiography - 512 pages

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.

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.

‘This is the first book to bring together the spiritual, political and personal life of one of Australia's most significant politicians – Alfred Deakin. As Brett deftly explores and weaves these strands together we begin to understand Alfred Deakin, his motivations and indeed his enigmatic qualities. This is a psychological study of Australia's former Prime Minister. Beginning with his Melburnian upbringing Brett shows how his social and familial context shaped him. The city of Melbourne of the period is revealed as crucial to how we are to comprehend and understand Deakin. Brett is a fine writer, and the text displays her curiosity and her depth of knowledge. This is a comprehensive work which will stand as a definitive source on Alfred Deakin.’ Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2018, Judges’ comments

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

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.’ Monthly

‘Judith Brett has proven the perfect biographer...’ Jason Steger on National Biography Award win, Sydney Morning Herald

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

‘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 biography for our times.’ Daily Review

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.’ Australian Book Review

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

‘A woman’s eye on a powerful man has never felt so penetrating, perceptive and, surprisingly, loving.’ Clare Wright, Sydney Morning Herald’s Year in Reading

‘Alfred Deakin, long my favourite Victorian, was truly the full package: polymath, progressive, idealist, spiritualist, man of action. And he had a fantastic beard. All he lacked was a good biography—but not anymore.’ Saturday Paper, Best Books of 2017

‘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.’ John Daley, CEO Grattan Institute, Prime Minister’s Summer Reading List 2017

A richly rewarding excursion into the private mind and emotions but also into the public life and times of a remarkable individual, full of surprising detail and profound observations about the Australian polity...Among the very best political biographies written in Australia.’ Judges’ Comments, National Biography Award, 2018


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - drmaf -

A wonderful highly readable biography of Australia's second prime minister, whose contribution to Australia's development as a democratic society has sadly been largely forgotten. Alfred Deakin was an ... Read full review

The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

User Review  - Thorpe-Bowker and Contributors - Books+Publishing

Born in gold-rush Melbourne in April 1856 to parents of modest means, Alfred Deakin as a child was an avid reader and a day-dreamer. As a student at the University of Melbourne he studied law, engaged ... Read full review


Map of Alfred Deakins Melbourne Introduction
Immigrants Child
Melbourne Grammar
After School
The Plunge into Spiritualism
Liberals Conservatives and David Syme
West Bourke
I am the boy
Triumph in London
High Boom
1890Federation and the Maritime Strike
Alfred Pattie and Catherine
Tangled Times
The Death of William and Return to the

MP and Lover
James Service Annexation and Federation
Irrigation and the Factory Acts
The times that try mens souls
London 1900

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About the author (2017)

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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