The Fatal Shore by the famous Australian critic and writer Robert Hughes has long known to be a landmark in nonfiction writing. A friend gave me a copy and this combined with a trip to Australia and the death of the author spurred me to pick up this magnificent book. It is certainly one of the strongest historical narratives I have ever read and I suspect much of this has to do with Hughes’ way with words and narrative style. But the story of the convict colony is also populated with numerous colorful characters and an interesting setting at the end of the world. It is also the horrific the violence and misery that is depicted in the book that creates a sensation not unlike being unable to turn your eyes away from a car crash. I was hooked by the opening chapters, the first “The Harbor and the Exiles,” in particular sets the stage for the story by discussing the peculiarities of the land and the people who were already there. The aborigines had some striking customs: first of all they practiced communal sex, also they would send their women to another tribe when they came in contact with a wandering tribe and if they came back without having had sex--it meant that war was inevitable, any children that would not be able to be cared for were killed after birth. Hughes also did an admirable job of describing how different Australia and its landscape and animals were form the rest of the world in this chapter. The next chapter, “ A Horse Folded by an Acorn,” was equally captivating in the discussion of the conditions of Georgian England that led to the rise in crime that spurred interest in a convict colony outside of England. After these two chapters I was hooked. Hughes has a great narrative style in which he is able to sum up the past in colorful and succinct terms. Here’s a brief example: “John Price has remained one of the durable ogres of the Australian imagination for more than a century now.” He is also extremely adept at using his primary and secondary historical sources in a way that adds to the ebb and flow of his overall narrative. He is thorough about so many aspects of the history of the antipodes. He outlines the history of the settlements, the life of aborigines, the convicts their overseers, societal changes in England that affected the colony, and much more. There are sections throughout the book that are detailed forays into such subjects as class, religion, women convicts, minorities, free settlers, bushrangers, governmental plans, the horrific punishments, the misery--the harbingers of that misery, sexual practices/homosexuality/sodomy—hardly any aspect of life is not examined closely.