Books that changed me
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Books that changed me

Books that changed me

Michael Fullilove

The Sydney Morning Herald

10 August 2014

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Executive Summary

Michael Fullilove, the executive director of the Lowy Institute, is the editor of Men and Women of Australia! Our Greatest Modern Speeches and author of Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America into War and into the World, both published by Viking.


When I was a little boy, my grandparents gave me a copy of this single-volume reference book with a bright red cover. It opened up the world for me. I looked up everything from aeroplanes to blue whales to Egyptian pyramids to William Shakespeare. It was Google in a book. It still sits on my bookshelf, its red binding frayed with age, although I don’t consult it so often these days.


Harper Lee

Like many high school students, I was bowled over by Harper Lee’s classic novel. I wanted to be a lawyer just like Atticus Finch. Law school cured me of that ambition, however. 


Nelson Mandela

On a windy October day in 1990 – my first year at university – I heard Nelson Mandela, released from jail by the apartheid authorities only months earlier, give a speech at the Sydney Opera House thanking the Australian government and trade unions for their solidarity in the liberation struggle. Like Mandela’s wonderful autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, the speech was marked by wisdom and simplicity. Years later I tracked down the speech for inclusion in Men and Women of Australia!


Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel’s trilogy of historical novels (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and the forthcoming The Mirror and the Light) is a revelation – both as a reimagination of Henry VIII’s counsellor Thomas Cromwell and an illustration of the brutality of politics as it is played at the very highest levels. Mantel’s telling of Cromwell’s thinking is memorable: “Once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect. Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strong room and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand.”


Robert E. Sherwood

This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of one of the most interesting figures of the 20th century. Hopkins was the son of a saddle-maker from Sioux City, Iowa, who went on to become a confidant of all of "the Big Three" – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. He was a great character with a very democratic approach to life: he sympathised with the underdogs but he ran with the thoroughbreds. Hopkins and FDR are heroes of mine, as well as subjects.

Areas of expertise: Australian foreign policy; US politics and foreign policy; Asia and the Pacific; Global institutions