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It was 1786 when Arthur Phillip, an ambitious captain in the Royal Navy, was assigned the formidable task of organizing an expedition to Australia in order to establish a penal colony. The squalid and turbulent prisons of London were overflowing, and crime was on the rise. Even the hulks sifting at anchor in the Thames were packed with malcontent criminals and petty thieves. So the English government decided to undertake the unprecedented move of shipping off its convicts to a largely unexplored landmass at the other end of the world. Using the personal journals and documents that were kept during this expedition, historian/novelist Thomas Keneally re-creates the grueling overseas voyage, a hellish, suffocating journey that claimed the lives of many convicts. Miraculously, the fleet reached the shores of what was then called New South Wales in 1788, and after much trial and error, the crew managed to set up a rudimentary yet vibrant settlement. As governor of the colony, Phillip took on the challenges of dealing with unruly convicts, disgruntled officers, a bewildered, sometimes hostile native population, as well as such serious matters as food shortages and disease. Moving beyond Phillip, Keneally offers captivating portrayals of Aborigines, who both aided and opposed Phillip, and of the settlers, including convicts who were determined to overcome their pasts and begin anew. With the authority of a renowned historian and the narrative grace of a brilliant novelist, Thomas Keneally offers an insider's perspective into the dramatic saga of the birth of a vibrant society in an unfamiliar land. A Commonwealth of Thieves immerses us in the fledgling penal colony and conjures up colorful scenes of the joy and heartbreak, the thrills and hardships that characterized those first four improbable years. The result is a lively and engrossing work of history, as well as a tale of redemption for the thousands of convicts who started new lives thousands of miles from their homes. .
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About the Author

Thomas Keneally has won international acclaim for his novels Schindler's List (the basis for the movie of the same name and the winner of the Booker Prize), The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Confederates, and many others. Simon Vance, a former BBC Radio presenter and newsreader, is a full-time actor who has appeared on both stage and television. He has recorded over eight hundred audiobooks and has earned five coveted Audie Awards, and he has won fifty-seven Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which has named him a Golden Voice.

Reviews

Keneally (Schindler's List) offers a novelistic chronicle of the founding of the colony now known as Australia, focusing on the first five years, 1788 to 1793, when the initial flotillas of boats carrying convicts, their military guard and administrators arrived in New South Wales. At the book's center is the relationship between Arthur Phillip, the pragmatic first governor, and Woolawarre Bennelong, the Aborigine who eventually served as a liaison between the settlers and natives. Keneally describes their first meeting "as fateful and defining as that between Cortes and Montezuma, or Pizarro and Atahualpa." Using their relationship as a prism, Keneally depicts the instances of tense commingling between the two communities. His historical narrative is so detailed as to at times feel dutiful. He's most successful serving up some of the dozens of pithy mini-portraits of the lowborn settlers. Like Robert Hughes in his seminal The Fatal Shore, Keneally seeks to correct some of the clich?s that have arisen. He's careful to point out that the few thousand convicts sent to the colony were hardly the worst of the worst. Keneally's new consideration won't replace Hughes's definitive work, but with its colorful and eloquent prose, it makes for a compelling companion piece, one that credits Phillip for most of the colony's success. Maps. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Booker Prize winner Keneally (Schindler's List) seeks to illuminate the human side of England's colonization of Australia. In the 18th century, the English penal system was severely overcrowded, and transport became the preferred alternative; when the 13 American Colonies revolted against their British rulers in 1775, convicts were transplanted to Australia. Colonial administrator Arthur Phillips is portrayed as a heroic bureaucrat who pursued the belief that criminals could be rehabilitated, an opinion Keneally credits as a founding principle of the nation. Bypassing the pre-European era, though spending appropriate time documenting the culture clash with the Eora, the aboriginal occupants of the Sydney region where the European colonists arrived, Keneally follows individuals from their beginnings as petty criminals to their new lives in the wild land. At times reading like the work of a diarist, this is a more compelling story than the bare facts customarily offer. Shorter than Robert Hughes's The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding or Frank Welsh's Australia: A New History of the Great Southern Land, Keneally's book has more texture and less scholarly vigor and thoroughness, though the story he so lovingly details is more entertaining. Recommended for public and academic collections.-Robert Moore, Bristol-Myers Squibb Medical Imaging, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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