The Not Your Usual series, likely to be published as e-books.
The other histories of gold and bushrangers, curious stories of quack remedies, unexpected rocks and things Also a detailed and loving look at the historical background of science—and much, much more. Wacky inventions, curious crimes, interesting landscapes, historical oddities: guess which aging author is clearing out his outstanding files? There might be as many as 35 volumes, but 10 is more likely!
Out now: The Big Book of Australian History : an Australian history for younger readers in 90,000 words (paper and ebook).
This was a National Library of Australia commission which ''jumped the queue'', effectively derailing the project listed above, which I plan to return to later and delaying other plans which I am only now turning back to. It goes from the break-up of Pangaea almost to the present day in 292 pages.
Curious Minds, a look at some of the naturalists who worked in Australia. Released October 2012.
Between 1688 and 1888, many scientists and artists came to Australia, collected, pontificated, wondered, enthused and more about the plants and animals. Some stayed, some died in the midst of their trade, some suffered, some prospered. (Rreleased October 1, 2013). This is another one that looks truly delicious.
Following on from Australian Backyard Explorer, Australian Backyard Naturalist.
This looks at the wildlife, the strange plants and interesting things that may be found in the average backyard. It is essentially a hands-on book on how to make, observe and enjoy nature. Out now, and I am absolutely delighted with the result. The designers excelled themselves.) Won a Whitley Award in 2012, joint winner of the W.A. Premier's Book Awards in September 2013.
The Monster Maintenance Manual
This book is written mainly for younger readers, though adults will get a kick out of it as well. It is now out and running through the streets, pursued by hordes of pedants, sorry, peasants with torches and picthforks. I want my readers to come to appreciate monsters and their complex ecology, and how to encourage the better ones to stay around. (November 2010). It was a CBCA Notable book in 2011, and short-listed for the Crichton awards. Epub Ebook link
Australian Backyard Explorer.
This book is mainly for ages 10-14, though the adults who have seen it all enjoyed it was well. It combines the history of Australian exploration with the science that lies beneath the surface. Written for young people, wanting to know the reality of exploration in the 19th century. Named August 21, 2010 as winner of the Children's Book Council of Australia Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, 2010. (2009, reprinted 2010). Also on the prestigious White Ravens list for 2011. Reprinted 2013.
And now some social history: THE LAWN
How did the lawn mower and the lawn obsession change our world? The things that interest me most are the small things that get taken to extremes, and few things can be as extreme as the lawn.
Without the lawn mower, most of the sports we play on grass would not happen: scythes make uneven surfaces, and sheep and cattle leave too many nasty surprises for the players. (2009).
The Greatest Breakthroughs in History: I chose to look at the hundred most important enabling discoveries, the key underpinning pieces of knowledge and technique that made us the scientific and technological society that we are today. For example, glass gave us food preservation, windows, cathode ray tubes that we needed for X-rays and thermionic valves, not to mention laboratory glassware or light bulbs. And so on. (2009, German translation 2010). Kindle edition link
Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World.
Did the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species really change the world, or was there lots more change going on? This book looks closely at the science and technology of 1859, the year the world changed.
The thing is, there was lots more going on in 1859 than Darwin's book. Science, mathematics, technology, even a few social changes, but to find out more, you'll need to look at the page devoted to the book, or better still, buy the book. (2008, Korean translation, 2009). Kindle edition link
The Speed of Nearly Everything.
How fast do things go, and how do we find out? In this book, 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, how and why three people lived when they fell from a plane without a parachute, speed records for really slow animals, snail races, lies about botflies, wild ideas for using centrifuges, the challenge of playing golf on an asteroid like Eros, and how fast volcanic bombs travel. And more, because I set out to cover nearly everything, you see. (2008).
Australia's Pioneers, Heroes & Fools.
The Trials, Tribulations and Tricks of the Trade of Australia's Colonial Explorers.
Here, I introduce the reader to the realities of exploration, going behind the myth of the Dead White Male to spot the Aborigines, the convicts, the teenagers and the women who also played their part, along with a large number of white males. I consider what they needed to do, what they needed to know, what they needed to take, how they ate, how they won water, how they found their way (and how often they followed established Aboriginal tracks), health, injuries and much more, drawing heavily on the original journals of the explorers (2007).
Kokoda Track: 101 Days.
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. Along the way, I had to draw back from the parallel tale of the bastardries committed by poltroons Blamey and MacArthur. There's another good book there, one day, and my target audience, teenagers, didn't deserve too much reality, so I stayed with the main story, the brilliance and resilience of young Australians who were tossed in at the deep end. The 101 days count the time from when hostilities began to the AIF sweeping back into Kokoda village (2007).
It's True: You Eat Poisons Every Day.
A work for younger readers that arose from the next book. The idea was to demystify poisons for youngsters, and to make them aware of the very many poisons which are all around them. Did you know that if you eat 200 kg of potatoes in a sitting, you will die? No? Well now you know, so don't do it! (2006). Published in Chinese in 2010. Ebook link. This book is also available as a talking book.
The Killer Bean of Calabar and Other Stories.
Poisons and Poisoners.
A work for older readers and adults, a mix of social history and science history which had, by this time, become my hallmark. Poisons were feared in the past, and yet most of the medicines that we used (and use) are poisons: the difference lies only in the dose that is used. I also devoted some time to the race between poisoners and those determined to knock out the poisoners by finding ways to detect and prove their crimes. The book has also been published in the USA (as Poisons), and translated in Slovak, Polish and Russian (2004). Autralian edition ebook, US edition ebook
A history of the way rockets developed, and how they changed our world. Long before the space race, people were fascinated by rockets, and people dreamed of going into space, long before it seemed feasible. I really wanted to call this Big Bangs and Hard Starts, but the po-faced marketing people at Allen and Unwin couldn't see the merits of this. Telling the story took me into the politics of the Duke of Wellington and the habits of hairy-chested chemists with death wishes (2003). PDF ebook link
Bittersweet: The story of sugar.
This book began with a phone call from a publisher suggesting that I do a book on one of three topics. I knocked back two of the ideas for good reasons, but I had been doing some digging into the history of sugar, after spotting what appeared to be a glaring anachronism in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (it wasn't an anachronism at all).
That digging showed me that there was more to sugar than met the eye, so I traced it back to its origins in New Guinea, 9000 years ago, and traced it through Indonesia, India, Persia, the Mediterranean and beyond, and showed how sugar had changed world history (2002, Russian translation agreed to in late 2011). Kindle edition link. The (US) Library of Congress has recorded an audio version for the visually impaired.
An illustrated book for pre-readers.
Illustrated by Kim Gamble and edited by Jane Bowring, we were very pleased with this, and as you can see in the link, it drew considerable critical acclaim. Our aim was to present the complex ecology of the rainforest in a simple form which allowed the complexity to be absorbed (1999).
An illustrated book for pre-readers.
Illustrated by Kim Gamble and edited by Jane Bowring, we were very pleased with this, though it was not well-supported by the Penguin people. Our aim was to present the complex ecology of the desert in a simple form which allowed the complexity to be absorbed (1997).