'Broken Nation' bags Beaumont major book prize

23 September 2014

Powerful storytelling and deep scholarship has seen ANU historian Professor Joan Beaumont take out the 2014 NSW Premier’s Australian History Prize for her study of the First World War.

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War pays homage to multiple aspects of the war, from well-known battles at Gallipoli and in northern France, to lesser known battles in Europe and the Middle East.

It also recounts the Australian experience of war in all its complexity – from the home front as well as the battlefront – as the men and women who experienced it chose to understand and remember it.

At its core are the dramatic events, mass grief and political turmoil that make the memory of the Great War central to Australia's history.

Judges praised Broken Nation for combining deep scholarship with powerful storytelling.

“What makes this book so outstanding is the breadth of its scope,” they said.

Professor Beaumont, who is based in the Strategic and Defences Studies Centre at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, was credited for not taking orthodox understandings about the war or the home front for granted.

“This is a book that readers will find absorbing, and challenging,” said the prize’s judges.

Broken Nation was released in late 2013, ahead of the centenary of World War I being officially commemorated.

Professor Beaumont said it was essential to not only look at the famous battles and tragic losses that defined the war, but how it impacted on the nation.

“The Great War was also a war fought by the families at home. Their resilience in the face of hardship, their stoic acceptance of enormous casualty lists and their belief that their cause was just, made the war effort possible,” said Beaumont.

“In the book I also look at the wider Australian experience of war, from the ferocious debates over conscription to the disillusioning Paris peace conference and the devastating 'Spanish' flu the soldiers brought home.

“We witness the fear and courage of tens of thousands of soldiers, grapple with the strategic nightmares confronting the commanders, and come to understand the impact on Australians at home and at the front of death on an unprecedented scale.”

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, is published by Allen & Unwin. It has also been shortlisted for the 2014 Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Science (CHASS) Australia Book Prize.

Professor Beaumont will deliver the 13th annual archives lecture, 'The real war? Battles on the Australian homefront 1914-1919' , at ANU tonight