Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Summer reading: the image and the reality to be

By Stephen Keim - posted Monday, 20 January 2014

2013 was a good year for reading. My penchant is for non-fiction but the blokes of the Blokes’ Book Club kept me in the novels game. Who could do better than Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper; JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy; and Tim Winton’s Eyrie.

And, for non-fiction, I finally read AJ Brown’s biography of Michael Kirby: Michael Kirby Paradox and Principles and was blown away by Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Summer holidays constitute a time when an illusory impression of endless days at the beach coincides with the topping up of my equally infinite pile of books to be read. To what extent will the reality match the illusion of tackling that pile?


Even as I have kept working on the non-holidays over the break, the signs are, at this stage, optimistic. 


My younger brother, Laurie, and I always exchange books at Christmas. Since they compete with other books I receive, Laurie’s gifts to me do not always get read.

Perhaps, for this reason, Laurie’s gift to me of Christmas 2013 was John Gray’s The Silence of the Animals. The Silence is a little book weighing in at just 210 pages. Gray, on the other hand, is a heavyweight, having held down Chairs in History and related topics at Oxford, Harvard, Yale and the London School of Economics. 

In reward for Laurie’s thoughtfulness, I commenced reading The Silence on Boxing Day and finished it, two days later.

The Silence excels as a book list. Gray opens with an extract from Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon describing a group of tree living apes looking with puzzlement upon their Neanderthal neighbours eating raw meat and killing other animals as well as each other. He switches to the post hanging scene in Joseph Conrad’s An Outpost of Progress. (The Silence is not meant to be a joyful book.) Gray concludes with a passage from the Louis MacNiece poem, Mutations.


Gray draws his examples, good and bad, and makes his points from other people’s writing. As a result, along the way, he manages to provide a guide to western literature including a new understanding of the writing of both Freud (tick of approval) and Jung (a cross). Of all the authors mentioned by the Gray (both known to me and completely unheard of), I am most keen to dip into the travel writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor, bon vivant, war hero and absolute Renaissance man.

In The Silence, Gray is keen to look critically upon all myths. He saves his greatest disdain for the myth of progress: the view that, through increasing knowledge or self-knowledge, humanity is improving ethically, socially, materially.

The myth is found in religious and humanist traditions. The myths of science are different to the myths of religion but science, nonetheless, has its myths. History, indubitably, evidences both individuals and communities making the same mistakes and committing the same crimes upon one another, over and over. The downside results of the Arab Spring are tendered as but the latest example. 

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

2 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Stephen Keim has been a legal practitioner for 30 years, the last 23 of which have been as a barrister. He became a Senior Counsel for the State of Queensland in 2004. Stephen is book reviews editor for the Queensland Bar Association emagazine Hearsay. Stephen is President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and is also Chair of QPIX, a non-profit film production company that develops the skills of emerging film makers for their place in industry.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Stephen Keim

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 2 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy