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Where to get Peter Macinnis' books

Navigation:

(The single title marked ** is still being revised.)
Nature and Science
Australian Backyard Naturalist | The Speed of Nearly Everything | Looking at Small Things | Playwiths | The Nature of North Head | Mistaken for Granite | Australian Backyard Earth Scientist | Survivor Kids | Curious Minds | Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools** (in the queue, with many new illustrations); Kokoda Track: 101 Days.

Australian History
Australian Backyard Explorer | Not Your Usual Gold Stories | Not Your Usual Bushrangers | You Missed a Bit | Not Your Usual Villains | The Big Book of Australian History | Curious Minds

The History of Science, General and Social History
Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World | Not Your Usual Treatments | They saw the difference | The Lawn: a social history | The Speed of Nearly Everything | Bittersweet: the story of sugar | Rockets: Sulfur, Sputnik and Scramjets | The Killer Bean of Calabar and Other Stories | Curious Minds

Literary bits
Old Grandpa's Book of Practical Poems | Australia's Hidden Heroes | The Monster Maintenance Manual


Let me begin by explaining how publishers operate: they do a boutique job on a title, and if it catches fire, they reprint and make a squillion. Otherwise, the job sort of pays for itself, and they let the title go. It doesn't matter what effect or influence the title has had, or what acclaim it may have garnered. A book's later life is all about money. This page covers both the loved and the unloved books.

Worthy of note: one publisher, Allen and Unwin, has done the right thing, and has Print-on-Demand versions of three titles:

Still in print

NLA in print (378K) CBCA-notables (98K) epaa_logo (9K) These three titles are still in print, and details of the books and links for buying them will be found on their respective web pages. Two of them, The Big Book of Australian History and Australian Backyard Earth Scientist, were CBCA Notable Books (that's the long list), and Australian Backyard Earth Scientist took out a major EPAA award, but that was for the brilliant design that the NLA people did, not for my writing work, as such.
Details of all awards are here.

The three works are now in print from the National Library of Australia, and if and when they go out of print, the author will claim back his rights and republish them in print-on-demand format.

Works rescued and back in print-on-demand.

Several of the titles in this list won major awards and critical plaudits, but they didn't earn enough money to provide bonuses for the gilded executives, so the weasel bean-counters let my titles fall by the wayside. I have, if you scrabble really hard to find the evidence, some sort of military experience, I have written prize-winning military history, and I was once a Commonwealth of Australia bean-counter extraordinaire, so in a sense, I understand their thinking. Sometimes, you have to cut your losses.

As a professional writer and educator, I may understand their bloody-mindedness, but I can never forgive it. Some 45 years ago, I was drawn into the bureaucracy to be a pontificator, but 30+ years ago, I reverted to being a practitioner, and I have lived by a constant mantra since then: education, teaching, training, wisdom, knowledge, learning, understanding and erudition are not the same. We must hunt down young minds and beguile them.

So it's no more Mr. Nice Guy time. In this time of pandemic and lockdown, I have taken to sharing my good ideas by doing something I never expected to do: I have been self-publishing. It began when I decided to share my vision of education by rescuing the abandoned carcases, books that had seen the light of day as print products, and then been set aside.

Let us begin with the growing list of resuscitated orphan titles, one of which is still to be edited and released:
Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools (in late editing, with many new illustrations).

The Monster Maintenance Manual

monsters (150K) monsters  2021 (237K) This book, with Adele K. Thomas' delightful illustrations (left), designed to match my whimsical descriptions, was badly managed by a house that was in crisis. Murdoch Books (no relation to Rupert!) was later taken over by Allen and Unwin, but all print copies were remaindered or pulped. I still have a small stock, but this was written for children like my children and grandchildren, and I want it out there.

I have not lost sight, either of the way the meltdown also lost us the interest that Cartoon Connection had in the series. I had a plan to write a series of Mr Men-style stories about my monsters, and I had drafted a dozen of those, and they remain my IP, so I have decided to add them in here, along with some discarded monsters and a few new monsters.

The heirs to the publishers failed to claim the rights to Adele's images, but I decided to use my own, anyhow, shots like this sequence of Schrödinger's Cheshire Elephant:
schrödinger's cheshire elephant (850K)


piano tuna (241K) The stipple style that I use is something I learned from being a biologist, and the monsters emerged from my becoming a bureaucrat who sat through interminable meetings. I found that if I sat between two droning bores, they became distracted by the weird creatures that emerged from my dotting pen. They would fall silent, leaving the rest of us to get on formulating policies.

So long before I found a literary use for things like this beastie on the right (for the purposes of the book, it is now a piano tuna) served a useful purpose. The book is now available.

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Australian Backyard Explorer

backyard explorer cover (168K) small-front-cover-nla (223K) award-ep-winner (19K)     On the left: the original cover and its award.            On the right, the cover of the new edition.

The winner of the prestigious 2010 Children's Book Council of Australia Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, this work combines history with science and technology to give readers an insight into who the 'explorers' of Australia were, what they did and how they did it. It was commissioned and published by the National Library of Australia, at a time when nice people worked there.

When we discuss "exploring", we credit people for doing things they never did, like being "the first to cross the Blue Mountains", or "discovering the Warrumbungles". Blind Freddie knows that the mountains were regularly crossed by Indigenous people, and the first humans to see and discover the Australian landscape weren't white men. What the explorers usually did was follow "native roads", the clear paths worn into the land by some three thousand generations of Australian feet, and the "explorers" were commonly led by Australian guides. By Australian here, of course, I mean Indigenous feet, Aboriginal feet. Nobody else has ever said that...

By the same token, nobody has ever allowed young young people to get first-hand experience of how the explorers operated, how they got their food and water, how they drew maps, how they coped with disasters and problems of many sorts. In short, there are activities that could only be written by somebody who knew the sceince and the technology, which is why only Australian Backyard Explorer can tell you why Harry the Camel shot John Horrocks. This is the sort of warts-and-all history that my history teachers, Sheila Harrison, John Rae and Oz Worboys, encouraged me to write, 65 years ago.

This was the best book in its field in the year, yet the weasels let it slide! Well, no matter: a book that draws strong attention to the Indigenous role in 'exploration' needs to be kept out there, and if some ugly Conservative apparatchik in Canberra thinks I can be muzzled, it won't work. I was an anarchist/surrealist bureaucrat before they were toilet- trained. Try to constrain me, and I walk around you. And because I know what you hyenas hate, I ramped up the details of the women explorers, the teenagers and the original Australians who wemt along, but were never mentioned when I was at school. The book is now back out there in three formats (prices include GST). Here's what I said about the first version when it came out, but brought up to date.

How do you get it?

There are three choices: I have to say, looking at the print versions, colour print is prettier, but I doubt colour is worth the extra cost for this title, if you are buying it for the ideas. Your call...

Australian Backyard Naturalist

Aust Backyard naturalist 2021 cover green (169K) ABYN-cover-70 (175K) CBCA-notables (98K) whitley (153K) wa4 (19K) On the left: the original cover and its awards.

                                                                                      On the right, the cover of the new edition.

The joint winner of the almost-as-prestigious W.A. Premier's Award for Children's Literature in 2012, this book is about looking at things in the outdoors. It is probably the book I care most about, because it liberates kids (as I say, from 8 to 88) to bother the wildlife in non-harmful ways. It was the loss from the shop shelves that triggered people to email me, asking where they could get copies, and that triggered me to take the titles back.

The "backyard" here is highly elastic. I was stuck with the term, because these books were seen as part of a series that started with Ragbir Bhathal's Australian Backyard Astronomy, but as an old anarchist/surrealist bureaucrat, I have never allowed rules to get in the way. My backyard is anywhere I can get to and back from, before dark.

So this book was about being a naturalist anywhere, and in the second edition, I added plants and microscopy, lifting a bit from Looking at Small Things.

The book won an award, it remains popular, so give it a look. Here's what I said about the first version when it came out, but brought up to date.

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Kokoda Track: 101 Days

kokoda-awards-cover (749K) Kokoda cover new (73K) What is it with publishers, that they let award-winners slip into outy of print? This was a bloody good book, one that caused me a lot of angst. Eve Pownall Honour Book, 2008 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards. Shortlisted in the NSW Premier's History Awards, 2007. My aim was to take the complex story of a complex campaign, and explain why it was important for a bunch of under-trained and poorly-supported militia to hold out crack Japanese troops who vastly outnumbered them.

The book has one clear moral: War is a risky get-rich-quick scheme, where the people who plan to get rich quickly have no plans to take any of the risks.

Kokoda is the story of luck, where the right people happened to be in the right place at the right time. They were sent to defend an entirely unimportant piece of ground, the airstrip at Kokoda, but they ended up fighting a dogged rearguard action as they moved slowly along the Kokoda Track, most of the time with inadequate support and equipment, holding off a far larger Japanese force, until reinforcements could reach them. Even after that, the Australian forces were massively outnumbered, but 101 days after the first fighting began when an Australian patrol chanced on the Japanese invasion force, the Australians walked back into Kokoda.

I have never walked the track, and at my age I probably won't, but when I was the same age as some of the militia in the 39th and 53rd battalions, I was working in New Guinea. It was in peace-time, but I still remember the culture shock of being in that environment.

It is a human tale, a story of courage and grit -- and gutless cowardice by two generals who had oozed their way into command by political means. But I have no plans to write that prosecution brief again. Suffice it to say that I talked to one of Blamey's staff (my uncle, as it happened), and I read what others had to say, and I know who I admire.

There were some good blokes on the Kokoda Track. It was originally referred to as "the Owen Stanley track", and it was only when that super-egotist MacArthur tried to grab all the credit that it became called by that clumsy Americanism "Kokoda Trail". You see, MacArthur tried to control all the press releases, and the journalists who hadn't been there took the lead that had been set by Yank PR men, cowering in a bunker in Melbourne. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Australian War Memorial toed the wrong party line when they nailed their colors to the 'Kokoda Trail' mast. The loudest proponent of that name was a clown who never went north, and who later distinguished himself by his virulent defence of Robin Askin, a well-known Liberal premier and crook who was, if anything, even more corrupt than Thomas Blamey.

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Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools

PioneersFoolsHeroesCover (114K) pioneer 2021 (108K)     On the left: the original cover.            On the right, the cover of the new edition.

This book is about Australia's colonial explorers and how they did things. In large part, it is the story of the unexpected explorers, the women, the teenagers, the convicts, the Aborigines, but it is also the story of how the early Australian explorers did things. It looks at what they took with them, how they planned their trips, how they navigated and surveyed and mapped, how they found food and water, how they managed their animals and their humans, how they mended the sick and broken, and how a few of them died when mending wasn't enough.

The book began as a more serious study of how Australia was mapped, starting in 1606 and coming up to the present, but in the end, I decided to stay mainly with the more personal stories of the 19th century explorers, though I make a few excursions either side, when there is a lesson to be learned, as in the strange case of Kenelm Digby's scientifically wounded dog. Oh yes, and there is some serious science and technology in there as well.

Because I have been doing a detailed restructure, I can't say more than that right now, except that on 28/11/2021, I am on it, the pages are locked, the cover is done, but I am still editing. It is much more illustrated.

The Lawn: a social history

LawnCover (180K) lawn ed 2 cover (458K)     On the left: the original cover.            On the right, the cover of the new edition.

First published by Murdoch Books, returned by them: this is an updated version with new illustrations. Here's what I said about the first version when it came out, but brought up to date.

In this book, I explore the strange coming-together of means, opportunity and motive in the mid-nineteenth century, and the lasting social changes that followed when the lawn emerged as the dominant slice of the modern built environment. After the lawn, leisure time would never be the same.

The key enabling technology, the device that made things possible, the invention that let grass dominate our environment was the lawn mower. Without the mower, the emerging professional middle class might admire the lawns of the aristocracy, but lawns remained out of reach to people who could not command the efforts of a veritable army of menial servants, armed with scythes and directing grazing animals.

Even with the mower in place, lawn could only impose itself on ordinary citizens as an object of veneration and a source of toil when the suburbs provided enough space for lawn to fit. The enabling technology that in turn allowed suburbs to exist was commuter transport. Stately homes and city parks could have lawns without transport, because the aristocrats did not need to go to an office each day, and even if they did, their servants were on site all day. Moving wealthy professional people out to homes with space meant developing accessible suburbs with houses on separate blocks. Only suburbs gave enough space between and around the houses for lawns to fit.

Lawn mowers and suburbs would not have been enough to drive the lawn craze if people had not firmly believed that ownership of a lawn was proof that the owner was a person of status. Or to be blunt, that a lawn owner was rich. In order to prove how rich they were, people were willing to waste their leisure time, were happy to pillage and devastate the environment and they were eager to squander their wealth to show that they really were wealthy.

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The Speed of Nearly Everything

fbs (15K) speed of nearly everything 2021 (73K)     On the left: the original cover.            On the right, the cover of the new edition.

First published by Murdoch Books, returned by them: this is an updated version with new illustrations. New tables, new content. Here's what I said about the first version when it came out, but brought up to date.

My commissioning editor said "write me a book about fast stuff that people can read on the john", so I did. I managed to sneak in some good physics… I set out to look at some of the ways we can work out how fast a salmon leaps out of the water, how fast you fall from the top of a high building, speed records for really slow animals, snail races.

This second edition has been brought up to date, with new material and a good selection of illustrations. It tells you how to tell how fast a whale or a salmon leaps out of the water, how fast you will be going if you jump off the (missing) nose of the Sphinx, or how fast a botfly really flies. (Note that this information appeared in the first edition, pages 17 to 19, but an incompetent reviewer, William B. Palmer, falsely asserted that it was missing.)

It also deals with the challenges of outrunning bears, bulls, buffaloes, elephants, emus, black mambas, crocodiles, and assorted dinosaurs, snail and slug racing, the speed of cockroaches, chameleons’ tongues and spherical horses, the speeds of assorted couriers and messengers, telegraphs, ships, trains, land vehicles, satellites, time travel and travelling faster than light. In short, nearly everything.

Quoting the publisher’s blurb for the first edition, this is a fascinating almanac of facts, statistics and stories about the speed of virtually everything. Speed records; comparative speeds; relative speeds; optimal speeds; fastest speeds; slowest speeds; human, animal, mechanical and natural speeds are gathered together in an easy-to-follow, original design, and explained in engaging text written by a leading popular science writer. The statistical element is supported by fascinating discussions, historical anecdotes and speed trivia both serious and silly.

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Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World

1859cover (75K) Mr Darwin 2021 (62K)     On the left: the original cover.            On the right, the cover of the new edition.

First published by Murdoch Books, returned by them: this is an updated version with new illustrations and new material. This is the Director's Cut. Here's what I said about the first version when it came out, but brought up to date.

People say history was invented to stop everything happening at the same time, but in 1859, something went wrong with that. Events, world-changing ones, bobbed up all over the place. This outpouring wasn't without precedent. In 1543, Copernicus and Vesalius published game-changing books on the solar system and anatomy, and with other authors jumping in, the 1540s were a Golden Age for science.

In all probability, the flood of new science in 1543 happened because Gutenberg's clever printing press had been around for a century, making it mature technology, but 1859 was a single year of concentrated breakthroughs, all over science and technology.

Among the scientific heavy-hitters, Louis Pasteur's swan neck flasks had killed off spontaneous generation before the year ended; Charles Darwin's book explaining evolution came out in November; and away off in Brno, Gregor Mendel was breeding his peas. John Snow's cholera map was printed; the work of Ignaz Semmelweis on stopping infection by hand-washing was complete; Joseph Lister
took up his chair in surgery in Glasgow, and Florence Nightingale developed a plan for hospital statistics. In geology, Charles Lyell was making loud noises that the planet was far older than the biblical 6000 years. In physics, James Clerk Maxwell determined his distribution law of molecular velocities during the year, and Gustav Kirchhoff related black body radiation to temperature and frequency.

We ended the year with many new things: slide rules and prismatic binoculars, spectroscopes, the gas discharge tube, aluminium that cost less than gold, Bessemer steel, tree ring dating, oil wells, the internal combustion engine, the Riemann hypothesis, the Rankine cycle, mauve and magenta dyes, meteorology, the leotard, the first patent for a brassière, Tabasco sauce, Pimm's No, 1 Cup, and an amateur astronomers' guide, Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes nicely matching the first observation of solar flares.

In the northern summer, and electric arc, powered by a steam generator, was towed through the streets of Paris. Gaston Planté invented the storage battery that year, as well. In 1845, there were 900 miles of telegraph line in the US, by early 1859 there were 30,000 miles. By year's end, many more parts of the world were linked by telegraph cables that could report on Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld, Verdi's A Masked Ball, and Gounod's Faust, which were competing with Brahms' first piano concerto, while outside, croquet, lawn tennis and football were suddenly popular. Just back on Verdi, his Aida was commissioned to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. which was commenced in 1859, alongside a railway line that saved travellers from Europe going around southern Africa. Everything back then had its roots in 1859.

Peter Macinnis is a science writer who often dabbles in historical matters. A one-time fraud investigator, he is always interested in the why and hows of things, which explains how and why he came up with a theory to explain the 1859 effect while wandering quietly around a family wedding, observing human interactions as people strove to find their seats, a curious model of scientific discovery. Once a few people had found and taken their seats, others had reference points to work from, to find their seats. That theory is excellent for explaining the Periodic Table of the elements, and probably also the germ theory of disease, but the new sports, for example, were probably powered by the recent expiry of the patent on lawnmowers.

Some of the other effects were probably fanned by the gold that was coming out of Australia and California, but the main thing was that the world was suddenly getting smaller, as railways, steamships and telegraph lines bound the world together. It opened the way for tourism, which hindsight will probably identify as the key element in spreading the pandemic of the 2020s.

Even now, we find emerging events that have their roots in 1859.

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Not Your Usual Gold Stories

gold-cover (290K) gold 2021 (91K)     On the left: the original cover.            On the right, the cover of the new edition.

Seized back from Five Mile Press which made a mess of the marketing and went belly-up. They failed to answer my emails, and under my Use It or Lose It principle, they lost it. New material, new research. Here's what I said about the first version when it came out, brought up to date.

These are the other stories about gold. All Australian children are given an account of the chase for gold in Australia that runs like this: Nobody knew there was gold in Australia, Edward Hammond Hargraves discovered gold in New South Wales in 1851, and then the rushes began. This is false history. T he first claim of a 'gold mine' was a fraud in 1788; the first real gold find was in 1824; the first working gold mine was in South Australia in 1843; a shepherd, Hugh M'Gregor regularly sold gold in Sydney in the 1840s; the first gold rush was in Victoria in 1849, but the authorities choked it off; and Hargraves never discovered gold. What Hargraves did was to provoke a gold rush that could not be stopped, by declaring that there was gold over wide area, stretching from the site of the 1824 find to where M'Gregor was collecting gold.

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Not Your Usual Bushrangers

bushrangers cover (275K) bushrangers new cover (186K)     On the left: the original cover.            On the right, the cover of the new edition.

Seized back from Five Mile Press which made a mess of the marketing and went belly-up. They failed to answer my emails, and under my Use It or Lose It principle, they lost it. New material, new research. Here's what I said about the first version when it came out, but brought up to date.

These are some of the 2000+ bushrangers who never became famous. The first British settlers invaded Australia in 1788, and for the first 50 years, there were significant numbers of convicts. Some of them escaped into the surrounding bush, but as they had no idea how to survive, they preyed upon settlers and the other convicts. The first bushrangers, though were more-or-less honest, and the suggestion of criminality only attached itself to the word in 1805. Bush ranging went on until about 1880, and a few desperate characters played the role until later-in fact, the last bushranger died a few months after I was born.

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And also the books where I lost patience

black cockatoo (43K) masked lapwing and chick 020071 (80K) In covid times, publishers have become more nervous than a masked lapwith with young chicks, like the parent on the left. They are terrified of making a commitment, even for/with an established author who has 'chops', and awards. Added to that, a few of my titles needed to emerge from the shadows before I dropped off my perch like the black cockatoo on the right seems about to do.

Having the wind in my sails, I did them myself.

In all cases, the work has been released through Amazon, with a low-priced ebook version and in most cases, a monotone (black, grey, white) print-on-demand book. As you will see in the couple of cases where I offer colour, the price is much higher.

Looking at Small Things

small things POD cover (30K) Looking at small things (hand lens to microscope) As a child, my unscientific parents bought me a toy microscope, but they could offer no suggestions about things for me to look at. This book fills that very need for the next generation, gently offering ideas and inspiration. Here, the reader will learn how to meet nature on equal terms: flatworms; mantises; leeches; spiders and their webs; springtails and sandhoppers; skulls and bones found in the bush; pollen grains; hairy leaves; plant roots; sand; rocks; rusty iron; decaying wood, lichens; mushrooms and snail shells. They will discover the detail that lies hidden in banknotes and coins; drops of water; soil; compost; crystals and more. Ant lions, earthworms; cockroaches and pillbugs may all, depending on taste, become their pets and friends.

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Playwiths

playwiths cover small (356K) This is brain food, distilled from a web site that drew over 4 million visitors in the 1990s.

This is a practical introduction to the art of curiosity across Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, or STEAM to the cognoscenti. The book aims to nurture curiosity, wisdom and joy in learning. There are no po-faced lists of "facts" to be learned. The author pulls faces at all such books! No prior knowledge is required of readers, but the author's prior knowledge is clear: each and every one of the 300+ activities and explorations described here has been used by the author many times before.

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There is also a free lo-res PDF release, and the details are here.

The Nature of North Head

North head cover (6K) The nature of North Head (out and about) These are my personal thoughts and footnotes, circling around a lovely place, North Head, at the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Less than 10 km from the central business district of a city of 5 million people, we have an island of wilderness with animals and plants that reflect what the area was before my mob invaded it in 1788. Here you will learn about the geology of the area, something of its history and Indigenous past, and a great deal about the life forms that live here. I look at the bacteria that make manganese stains, lichens, slime moulds, fungi, mosses, liverworts, ferns and flowering plants including orchids and some carnivorous plants. I also look at the spiders I gave met on the headland, the insects ditto (including the bird of paradise fly!), birds, frogs, reptiles and mammals.

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I may get around to a colour version at some point, when I do a new edition.

Mistaken for Granite

mistaken for granite cover (299K) This is earth science for rock watchers. The rocks won't tell you (but this book does) about poets, playwrights and plagiarists; mad (maybe) and devious (certainly) scientists; altitude sickness; ringing bells in Boston; walking on and inside volcanoes; elephants in stiletto heels; golf in space; rocks in exotic locations; a tourist authority conspiracy; a quiz show that got it wrong; the art of making aqueducts; finding water in a desert; poison wells; fat strippers and oil wells; hot spots; fake fossils; pretending to be a wizard in Coimbra in Portugal (where the undergraduates wear Harry Potter cloaks); how (and why) the author smuggled a fossil; stone fortifications, monuments, bridges and buildings; rock inscriptions and art, and what they tell us; behaving oddly in art galleries; mapping the planet's surface and interior; gravity and finding exoplanets; telling the truth about cholera and lies about SARS; why climate matters and more.

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You Missed a Bit

You missed a bit cover medium (145K) This is Australian social history. Conservative politicians whine that standards are dropping, that children are no longer taught the important dates and names (presumably including the names of those conservative politicians). They want unquestioning and regimented learning of the names of lots of dead white males. If you push them harder to define Australian history, their version comes down to Bushrangers and Convicts (both scum), Diggers (the military ones), Explorers (brave openers of untamed wilderness), Farmers (who turned the sterile wilderness into riches at no cost) and Gold (ours by right of conquest). I call this the BCDEFG model.

If you question the politicians about these, they may be able to name five of the more than 2000 bushrangers who once flourished, their understanding of convicts is pitiful, they could not locate a single battlefield on the world map, they would be lucky to name more than four explorers worthy of note (and no, Burke and Wills don't count), they have no understanding of the harm done to country by agriculture, and their "history" of gold is codswallop. This is the Good Oil, from the author of the National Library of Australia's The Big Book of Australian History.

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Not Your Usual Villains

villains cover (69K) Social history of an entertyaining sort. Australia was here long before the whites arrived. According to their narrative, it was founded as a penal colony, and the residents were all felons, but they and their descendants turned out to be an interesting mob, who didn't always follow all the rules in quite the way that the authorities hoped. Some of their villainy, however, was low grade, like the practical women who wore trousers, and the people who went swimming. A few of the swimmers wore decorous clothing, but "the rest of us reefed off our clothing, in our hurry sending buttons in all directions, and plunged into the pleasant water", said Miles Franklin. Another villain was Moondyne Joe, who was probably the only convict ever given a pardon for being excellent at escaping, and then there was Diver Fitzgerald, rewarded by the governor for stealing (as ordered), a ship's bell at night. We need to mention the Sabbath breakers, the convicts and debtors who "ran", and Lola Montez, described as "a very simple- mannered, well-behaved, cigar-loving young person...".

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Not Your Usual Treatments

2017treatmentscover (579K) The history of medicine is strewn with bizarre notions about what caused illness and death: the gods, witches, poisoners were all early targets. Later the doctrine of humours ruled, and from then onwards, the practice of medicine made perfect sense, if you accepted the crazy model that the medical people were working from. That was often a big ask, but this book helps you to understand where orthodox medical practitioners were coming from when they applied leeches and dosed people with millipedes, spiders, dog droppings and worse, far worse. The author has waded through most of the "Domestic Medicine" books that were published from the 1600s on, and delved into a few earlier grimoires as well. Nowhere else will you learn useful ways of repelling bores by discussing the gory details of leech culture and use, but there are far odder treatments awaiting you. Tapeworm traps, lowered down the gullet, artificial limbs and the efficient uses of mummies and hanged men's thigh bones are there as well as boiled puppies and electric shock.

A half-plucked duck placed on the belly, a hot onion on the crotch, a tobacco pipe up the rectum after drowning, a fried egg on the bite of a mad dog, monkey gland injections, drinking radium-laced water until your jaw crumbles, being x-rayed to restore your youth were all popular.

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They saw the difference

diff cover (3177K) This is a social history of science. After a lifetime of talking, broadcasting, writing, explaining and teaching about science to all levels from kindergarten to tertiary and the general public, Peter Macinnis thinks he is getting close to hanging up his mouse and keyboard. This is a curated selection from the essays, articles, stories, talks and chapters he has delivered across half a century of science activism, with some bridging passages thrown in. Here, you will find background on most aspects of science, from stable isotopes to black holes; from what Darwin got wrong to magic numbers; climate change to difference engines; the Antipodes to liquid crystals; scientific fraud to the other six types of science; plate tectonics to slime moulds; unconformities of a geological kind to steam turbines; statistics to killing cancers with germs; perfect numbers and imperfect, fraudulent scientists; who Wimshurst was and why he mattered, why James Watt never watched a kettle and why it's too late to worry about 'Frankenstein genes'. This is a lively potpourri of science, a gentle flood of understanding the whys and wherefores of science.

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Old Grandpa's Book of Practical Poems

grandpa (108K) This is what it says, a volume I produced for my grandkids. It started because I read poetry to my grandchildren. One of them told me all grandparents should do the same, so here's what you need. Do you remember these?

Oh Captain, my Captain; in Xanadu; the word had gone around; yesterday upon a stair; Abou Ben Adhem; seated one day at the organ; gathered him rosebuds while he may; in a rose red city, half as old as time.

Did you get them all? Would your grandchildren? This is the third edition of a canonical collection of English verse that young people of all ages can benefit from encountering. It is for grandparents to buy, and the selections are mainly intended for reading aloud: adult to child; child to child; child to adult. The poems are followed by brief notes on the poets, just in case.

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Australia's Hidden Heroes

hidden heroes medium cover (359K) For too long, the story of how Australia was on the winning side in three wars (Boer War and two World Wars) has been hidden, thanks to government suspicion, fear, duplicity and inertia. Australia had two stalwart citizens, whose efforts tipped the balance in favour of the Allies.

One was known as Crooked Mick, a bush hero and strong man who hailed from the Speewah, and the exploits that he and his companion, a scientist named Henry Cruciform managed to pull off, while surrounded by foreign agents who were, as Mick once said in a candid moment, were "…worse than them Speewah blowflies, the ones that eat crocs".

Here for the first time, readers can learn how Mick and Henry rose to positions of secret prestige and influence, not only in Australia, but across the globe, due in large part to the reports of the foreign spies who gathered close around them, trying to win their secrets. In the world's corridors of power, they were spoken of in hushed tones.

Here, the reader can learn of Crooked Mick's athletic prowess and how his scratch team of station hands beat the MCC at cricket; how Mick rode four bulls at once; his dog's mathematical skills; how he fought bushfires, floods and droughts; the Speewah girls' snake circus; the world's only Möbius dog; how a British officer at Gallipoli wanted Mick sent off for unsporting behaviour and how Mick sank German submarines; how Mick sorted the drop bear problem; how Flash Jack drove 400 44-gallon drums from Speewah to the Big Smoke; how Smiling Annie's daughter told the time and other daily events in the Australian bush.

We also meet the many inventions and discoveries of Henry Cruciform, Australia's premier scientist who accidentally blew up Professor Moriarty while working with Sherlock Holmes to perfect the scientist's new explosive, nitrogum. Cruciform also invented radio, X-rays, the transistor and a fiendishly devastating form of psychological warfare.

It was Mick and Cruciform who shot down the Red Baron, and Cruciform acted as a strange attractor, so that during a single picnic lunch in Adelaide, he suggested the titles Forsyte Saga and Heart of Darkness to John Galsworthy and Joseph Conrad respectively, as well as suggesting X-ray diffraction to William Bragg, who later won the Nobel Prize in Physics for this very work.

History will never be the same, once these facts are known. Warning: the book contains the shocking truth about Mata Hari's time in Australia, how Professor Moriarty really died, the true genesis of the Boy Scouts, the music of Arnold Schönberg, where John Galsworthy got the idea for the Forsyte Saga, and who really killed the Red Baron. Readers will need a strong stomach.

This book is hard to put down. I know, because I have already tried poison, flame-throwers, a knife and a squadron of tanks, and STILL the thing lives.

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Bittersweet: the story of sugar

Full details are on this link, but here's part of what I say there:Bittersweet (71K) The story begins with me as a 17-year-old in Papua, where I first encountered sugar cane, and where, as I later discovered, sugar cane was first cultivated, 9000 years ago. The secret of the cane travelled from there to Indonesia, from there to India, and from India to China and Persia, where the Muslims found it, not too long after the time of Muhammad, and they carried it to the Mediterranean, where Crusaders found it.

Sugar was an attractive crop, and it spread around the Mediterranean, then out into the Atlantic, and then to the West Indies on the second voyage of Columbus. It was an industry that grew on slaves both white and black, it supported many wars and made many people very rich. The desire to own sugar islands led France to give up its claim to Canada, and it was taxes on rum, molasses and sugar, as much as on tea, that t riggered the American Revolution.

Sugar beet was an alternative to sugar cane in temperate climates, and in the end, it ruined the cane sugar trade -- and provided the ethanol that fuelled some of the German war machine in World War I.

In short, sugar changed the world in many ways.

Here's where you can get the book.

Rockets: Sulfur, Sputnik and Scramjets

Full details are on this link, but here's part of what I say there:rockets (48K)

The story begins with me travelling in the outback of Australia, heading off to see the experimental launch of a scramjet at Woomera in South Australia. We visit China, where rockets were invented, India, where they came to the attention of the British, Fort McHenry where the British used them against the Americans, Sacramento, where I interviewed retired rocket chemists at Aerojet, and I got to Gallipoli, and quite a few other places as well.

Rockets had a chequered career, most of the military hated them, but they won World War II by giving Allied forces the edge against battleships, submarines, fortified coastlines and tanks. Later, rockets (as JATO units) won the unfought Battle of Berlin when the Soviets blockaded it, and later still, the space race and the missile race left the US as the only remaining superpower with an intact economy. Rockets chewed up large amounts of German resources that might otherwise have gone to nuclear weapons.

I look also at the social effects of technology, one of my key interests, and how it generally takes 50 years for a technology to fully mature. When it does, it has usually turned out to be something very different from what people expected at the start. The Internet, for example, was to let geeks communicate, and to provide communications secure from nuclear war — through the Web, it has turned into much more, and who would have expected people to ever publicise their books there?

In short, rockets have changed the world.

Here's where you can get the book.

The Killer Bean of Calabar and Other Stories: Poisons and poisoners

This came out in 2005, and it is now in a number of other languages. Full details are on this link, but here's part of what I say there:calabar (59K)

In this book, I look at some of the many uses of poisons, both for financial gain, and also, sometimes for the benefit of the one poisoned. You may need to think about that one for a while . . . in reality, poisons do far more good than harm.

I suppose that if there is a central theme, it is that there is a mystique, a romance to poisons. Poisons level the playing-field, allowing women to get back at men, or lesser mortals to harm their rulers: at least, that is how those on top of the heap, the rulers, the alpha males and their like saw it.

That opened niche markets for those supplying poisons, and for those fighting poisons, either by selling antidotes and those offering their skills as detectors of poisons in dead bodies. That way, the dead, even if they cannot avoid the poison, can be assured as they die, that their poisoners will be caught, but that led to a sort of arms race between the poison concocters, and the poison sleuths, running through most of the 19th century.

Then there are the state-approved poisons, used in executions of trouble-makers like Socrates or Phokion, and the state-approved poisons used in some wars. For the most part, though, poison is like sexually-transmitted disease: we don't have it, but that neighbouring country to the north, south, east or west, they have it in a big way.

In short, poisons are interesting.

Here's where you can buy it.

Curious Minds

cur-minds-cover-50 (211K) curious minds 2021 cover small (123K) On the left, the cover of the original edition, on the right, the new revised edition.

The italics below are mine. Note that this was written in 1825, long before people were supposed to be talking about mammals laying eggs.

But this is New Holland, where it is summer with us when it is winter in Europe, and vice versa; where the barometer rises before bad weather, and falls before good; where the north is the hot wind, and the south the cold … where the swans are black and the eagles white; where the kangaroo, an animal between the squirrel and the deer, has five claws on its forepaws, and three talons on its hind-legs, like a bird, yet hops on its tail; where the mole (ornithorhynchus paradoxus) lays eggs, and has a duck's bill; where there is a bird (meliphaga) with a broom in its mouth instead of a tonguw...
- Barron Field, Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales, 1825, 461 - 462.

The cruelly-named Barron Field (what were his parents thinking?) is just one of the cases looked at here: I also deal with Dampier not eating guano; the fat-bellied fish; the Liverpool Monster; bunyips; a hero of the croquet lawn who married an heiress; how Charles Darwin got it badly wrong; how Ferdinand Bauer was kicked off the map; three Germans who stood up for Australian science, and artists having hissy fits.

This came out in 2012, and a new edition is now out, as of 7 November 2021. Here is what I said about the first edition (plus some nice reviews), and here's a bit of that:

It is the story for some of the curious minds who came to Australia, or in a few cases were born here, people who cared about the natural history of the place. Some were artists, some scientists, some collectors, some explorers, and some just enjoyed natural history.

Oh yes, by the way, I know exactly what Barron Field's parents were thinking, when they dropped that ill-omened name on him, but you will have to read the book to find out.

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Future plans

There are a few new books in the works, but more about that and those later. Final target for resuscitation is:

This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/writing/bookshop.htm

It was created on 10 October 2021, and last revised on 28 November 2021.


If you email me at macinnis at ozemail.com.au, you will reach a spam trap, but be read, eventually. If you put my first name in front of that address, you will reach me direct. This low-tech solution is to make email harvesting difficult.

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