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Extended Audio Sample A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia, by Thomas Keneally Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (303 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Thomas Keneally Narrator: Simon Vance Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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. . Download and start listening now!


Quotes & Awards

  • “Evocative, broad-ranging, and intelligently observed.”

    Mail on Sunday (London)

  • “Keneally has always had a grand talent for the telling of a tale. His rattling account of the genesis of his native city is one of his very best.”

    Times (London)

  • “Immaculately researched and historically exact…A great read and a useful scholarly resource…An account of an extraordinary event described with gusto and sympathy.”

    Guardian (London)

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Maureen | 2/3/2014

    " I wanted to know more about the founding of Australia Well, this is the book. But it only looks, in excruciating detail, at the first convict transports and their initial stabs at surviving in what we think of today as a sweet paradise but back then was inhospitable to the point of starvation Way too much detail but I suppose you do get many main actors and many mundane actions if it's real history instead of fiction "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by David R. | 1/28/2014

    " Neither terribly interesting or revealing. This is more a narrative of the tenure of Governor Arthur Phillip of New South Wales (who first led the penal colony 1786-92) than an account of early Australia per se. And that narrative is an endlessly repeating cycle of problem colonists (no surprise there), bad relations with the Eora aborigines (again, no surprise), and food shortages (ditto). Keneally doesn't take things anywhere and the book eventually peters out. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Michael T | 1/22/2014

    " Interesting read, great facts, confusing style. yes America, the criminals were sent to you before you spit the dummy, so no more "Australia was founded by criminals unless you hold up the mirror too. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by William Thomas | 1/2/2014

    " Zzzzzzzz...zzzzzz... Oh, what? No, I'm sorry Mr. Keneally, but I didn't hear a word you said after 'the'. You put me right to sleep. I know I'm not supposed to sleep in class. I'm not trying to be funny. Now wait just a minute, sir. Don't blame me for your tone and monotonous droning. I won't tolerate it. I love history, always have, always will. It's not the history to which I'm opposed- its you. Had you decided to make this introductory lesson entertaining I could have kept my eyes open. Had you written it in a scholarly manner I would have eaten it up with a spoon and most likely had arguments with you in my head about whether or not your hypothesis and conjecture were correct or warranted. You did neither of these things. Please, please, please Mr. Keneally do not interrupt me, I'm speaking. You wanted to know why this was such a tremendous bore and now I'm telling you. There is no life here. Popular histories are popular because of the life their authors breathe into them with anecdotes and amusements and all sorts of devilishly delicious factoids that can be seen a funny or irreverent or scandalous or joyful. This was nothing more than a rote account of facts. It sounded to me like an elongated chapter in a high school World History textbook. Rubbish. Just absolute rubbish. There is no information here we couldn't have gathered ourselves in a week and put into a PowerPoint presentation that would have been over in 10 minutes tops. And I could understand the lack of juicy bits had you this been a scholarly work that focused on a simple thesis and extrapolated data and present us with primary and secondary documents, but this was not the case either. Instead we get a list of names, a list of dates, a few dry anecdotal histories and a handful of facts that read like a wiki. Now I'm going to go back to napping. You may have done your research, dear man, but you don't know how to present the facts worth a damn. "

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