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Welsh (The Four Nations: A History of the United Kingdom) likes to tackle big projects. Noting at the outset that he is in fact English, he writes effusively about Australia, citing UN indexes on health, education, and other quality-of-life measures on which the country gets top marks, placing it among the finalists as "the most successful society in the world." He then details its unpromising start, showing that it was repeatedly passed over by explorers, who thought its promise as a colony was poor. Australia's great distance from the mother country contributed to its distinct development as arguably the most independent of the former British colonies, though it remains a part of the Commonwealth. Comparing Australia to other Crown colonies, particularly South Africa, Welsh underscores the backward thinking that fueled white Australia's anti-aboriginal policy, which lasted from the 19th century through the 1960s and was harsher even than Jim Crow. Where Robert Hughes's The Fatal Shore fixed on Australia's origins as a penal colony, Welsh's narrative finishes with current events. Bogging down a little in the inevitable political hopscotch of Whigs and Tories, he tries to keep the tone light, helped by some of the personalities he sketches. As Welsh notes, the U.S. media offer relatively little coverage of Australia, and he hopes to correct that imbalance. In that spirit, his book is recommended for public and academic libraries.-Robert Moore, Bristol Myers Squibb Co., North Billerica, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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