The best Australian non-fiction books of 2019

Looking for a thought-provoking Christmas gift? Look no further than the nine books longlisted for the 2019 Walkley Book Award.

Investigations, analysis, histories and even a biography of a racehorse: there’s something for everyone in this list of great journalistic non-fiction. Read on to see what the judges praised about each of these, and prepare for your summer reading stack to grow a few inches taller.

Gabrielle Chan, Rusted Off: Why Country Australia Is Fed Up (Vintage, Penguin Random House Australia) *shortlisted

Rusted Off is as clever as it is insightful. Illustrating the chasm between city and country, Chan delivers a fresh look at politics and how it is conducted. It is the work of a skilful journalist who takes a “local” route to produce a compelling and beautifully written national narrative.

Adele Ferguson, Banking Bad (ABC Books / HarperCollins Publishers)

Banking Bad is a gripping tale of misconduct, malpractice and misinformation by Australia’s banks and financial services. Ferguson uses her exceptional skills to flesh out the background of the scandal that rocked Australia, from the call that sparked her attention to her concern about the future of whistleblowers.

Ean Higgins, The Hunt for MH370 (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The Hunt for MH370 brings together years of research and shoe-leather journalism in one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time. Higgins’ in-depth reporting on the possible causes of the doomed airliner’s disappearance, and the twists, turns and political interventions in the international hunt, is sobering and shocking. Yet, it always remains sympathetic to the victims of the disaster: the passengers, and the families and loved ones left behind.

Jess Hill, See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse (Black Inc.) *shortlisted

See What You Made Me Do is a highly topical and thorough journalistic investigation of family violence, viewed from the perspectives of the perpetrators, victims and children. Hill canvasses a broad range of professional opinions and analyses the role of everything from patriarchy to government structures. The book is highly readable, despite its confronting subject matter, and offers some potential solutions.

Patrick Mullins, Tiberius with a Telephone: The Life and Stories of William McMahon (Scribe)

The unlikely and short-lived Liberal prime minister is the central character in Tiberius with a Telephone, but it is the times that dominate this sprawling biography. Mullins weaves McMahon’s story through a thorough and engaging examination of a period of tumult and fundamental social change. The research and scholarship add gravitas to a lively writing style and keen eye for detail.

Damon Kitney, The Price of Fortune: The Untold Story of Being James Packer (HarperCollins Publishers)

The Price of Fortune provides a rare glimpse into the inner life of one of the nation’s bestknown figures, weaving his private turmoils and mental health issues through the successes and failures of a torrid business career. In a series of revelatory interviews with James Packer and his closest circle, Kitney provides a surprisingly frank account that displays the very best journalistic skills.

Andrew Rule, Winx: The Authorised Biography (Allen & Unwin)

An uplifting tale, skilfully told, which offers insight into the competitive and often unpredictable world of horseracing. This biography of phenomenon Winx, a stellar sprinter, is told through her close family — rider, trainer, owner and breeder — and explains how this star of the track captured trophies and hearts in the fashion of Phar Lap and Black Caviar.

Leigh Sales, Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens after the Worst Day of Your Life (Penguin Random House Australia)

In a writing world steeped in memoir, Sales turned her personal story into journalism. In Any Ordinary Day, she takes her own traumatic moment as a starting point and uses it to inform these remarkable conversations about loss, grief, faith, trauma, resilience and the simple power of indefatigable humanity.

Any Ordinary Day was named the winner of the 2019 Walkley Book Award. You can watch Leigh Sales’ acceptance speech below.

Matthew Warren, Blackout (Affirm Press)

Blackout asks how energy-rich Australia is running out of electricity. Warren cuts through ideologies to deliver a comprehensive — and fascinating — overview of the history of the country’s electricity system. Citizens and energy policy enthusiasts alike will profit from a better understanding of the economic, physical and political issues facing Australia as it transitions, slowly yet inevitably, to a clean-energy future.

The three books shortlisted for the 2019 Walkley Book Award were:

  • Gabrielle Chan, Rusted Off, Vintage, Penguin Random House Australia
  • Jess Hill, See What You Made Me Do, Black Inc.
  • Leigh Sales, Any Ordinary Day, Penguin Random House Australia

Read more about the announcement here.

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