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Leviathan: The Unauthorised Biography of Sydney
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Leviathan: The Unauthorised Biography of Sydney

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  349 ratings  ·  29 reviews
An electrifying, epic history of the city of Sydney as you have never seen her before.'To peer deeply into this ghost city, the one lying beneath the surface, is to understand that Sydney has a soul and that it is a very dark place indeed.' Beneath the shining harbour, amid the towers of global greed and deep inside the bad-drugs madness of the suburban wastelands, lies Sy ...more
Paperback, 563 pages
Published August 4th 2000 by Vintage Books USA (first published 1999)
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3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  349 ratings  ·  29 reviews

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Jan 04, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a book I have had my eye on for years. Appropriately I found it in Goulds books, a Sydney institution in itself... The book could perhaps be seen as a collection of relayed opinion pieces drawing on established fact and speculation, an observation of a modern society with a focus on historical themes that are fleshed out on lengthy chapters. As a style of writing this has its place and some significant insights into contemporary sydney are captured when key people and institutions are di ...more
Andrea F J De Pace
Nov 23, 2011 rated it did not like it
This "unauthorised biography of Sydney; is actually a dark summary of all the defects which characterize a metropolis.
Although some historical facts are interesting as well as the use of the journalistic technique (simple present tense, plain structure, slang language), the lack of any bright side in Sydney past and present history is strongly suspicious and the author's opinion seems often biased.
Furthermore, the choice of not following any chronological order confounds readers without a sound
Interesting way to write history: 4 thematic essays which included some personal views, current events (of the time it was written, anyway) with linkages to origins of the issues under discussion. The issues chosen are serious and dark; refugees, crime, corruption, etc. As always, there is a never ending discussion surrounding these issues. If you are not familiar with the Australian history, you may find the book confusing as there were personages and event that are assumed the readers will kno ...more
Ryan Williams
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Unconventional biography of Sydney, Australia. Imagine The Fatal Shore rewritten in the manic, freewheeling style of Hunter S. Thompson, and you have something of this book's measure. Birmingham has dredged up nearly two centuries of history and is royally pissed off with his findings. True, some of the sentences may grate on your eardrums. ('When George Washington and crew kicked King George III's worthless royal butt out of North America they not only fathered the United States but also became ...more
Jan 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A brilliantly conceived and executed story of sydney's not so pretty past. From repeated racism to crime a compelling and heart breaking read
KM Neale
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Stone the flamin' crows, I swear I had to sit in a dark room for days after finishing this! Epic doesn't cover it - I imagine it's the result of an obsessive, hungry, tightly-wound soul. The afterword hints at the psychological cost of an enterprise like this, and reader be warned: only for those of a strong constitution. Think of it as walking through an exploding First Fleet ship - hell, all 11 ships! - and emerging physically unscathed, with nothing but your Aussie myths in tatters on the san ...more
Charissa Albertson
Oct 22, 2017 rated it did not like it
The book was well written it just couldn't keep my interest. If it were a movie, I feel like it would be all action packed with war. I just can't read a book like that.
Aug 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant - a very enjoyable popular / crime history when the author keeps out of it. I personally found it very interesting as it supports things that my folk said about growing up in Sydney.

The technique of tackling 3 different aspects of Sydney as chapters ("The Long Goodbye" - poverty, immigration and successive waves of resistance to new comers, "The Virgin's Lie" - the harsh forces of nature that affect Sydney, "Only the Strong" - the brutal nature of those have held power in Sydney)that s
n* Dalal
Sep 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: nobody really
Recommended to n* by: Dave Harris, the lovable bastard.
A sensational history of Sydney, the main thesis is: Sydney is a corrupt, bad city, with lots of crime, and no one cares about each other. Its dazzling shiny exterior hides an underbelly of grime and pain. It's capitalism run rampant, and it's killed people.

Shocking. Really. I mean, I simply can't think of other cities where money rules and people get it in the neck. Where organized crime once ruled over the police. Hmm...

Clearly, I'm thinking about New York, and that's not surprising, because
Ms Tlaskal
Finally finished this whale of a book! Walking the streets of Sydney will never feel quite the same again. The author compacts history so what was said and done at the birth of the colony is nudged up against contemporary examples of the same behaviour; suach as the attitude shown towards aboriginals; nothing much has changed between then and now. His writing slices out the extraneaous and builds a powerful dark caricature of our city which begs us to question how the city has shaped us after ou ...more
Feb 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
John Birmingham is know more as a journalist and his brings his style to a longer format biographical sketch of the city of Sydney, Australia.

This book is one of the more engaging history books i've read, most due to how it tells its story. It is not a happy tale, full of murder, corruption, and bitter fights for survival but well worth reading. It also (suprisingly) has a solid class analysis. Birmingham is able to cut through the crap and see the systemic elements that shaped Sydneys history a
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Illuminating look into Sydney's underbelly + more!

It is miraculas that the city is actually seemingly quite lovely in many respects - given that the Tank Stream (fresh water supply) was fairly stuffed almost immediately and the town water supply has always been an issue!
Made me think a lot about my Sydney ancestors and how it was - eg the Balmain my grannie was born into in 1902 was a grimey place in quite a different way to the giriminess of Balmain in the mid 60's when we lived there.
The squ
Craig New
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only wish that I had discovered both this book and The Fatal Shore when I was at school. Actually, that would have been a remarkable achievement as this wasn't published until after I left school. But both books share a similar fascination and at times nearly morbid curiosity with the darker side of history, and reveal a lot about our checkered past that seems to get conveniently overlooked in the classroom. It's certainly not all gold and cheerful convict songs. Whilst Hughes uses his very ed ...more
Mar 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. It's a cultural history of Sydney (and Australia, really, since the colony began here), with plenty of humour and social commentary thrown in. Not your average history book, Birmingham brings historical figures (such as our early Governors) to life. It's structured according to themes, rather than a straight-forward chronological account of events, and this keeps it interesting I reckon. It helps to show how the past and present are connected. It's funny, gritty and v ...more
Mar 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Well written history of the darkside of Sydney. If you're looking for a history of how Sydney became the sprawling, thriving mass, you're not going to find it here. The book focuses on all the problems the city has faced, from power struggles any colony is bound to face (not to mention a penal colony at that), to man's lack of respect for the power of nature, to a corrupt police force and powerful criminal organization. Entertaining to the end, but beware it is a (dark) themed history.
Rebecca Conroy
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Just as I suspected! This utterly thrilling ride through the back alleys of sin city confirmed all the wrong reasons I continue to live in Sydney and helps me make sense of my patchy mongrel austrayaaan self, and the violence of dispossession that continues unabated today. This state is still run by blokes who are crass violent, arrogant and have a terrible design aesthetic. It couldn't hurt to have more blokes like John Birmingham around.
Feb 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, history
A blackly humorous look at Sydney (Australia), its past and the events that shaped it. Birmingham does exhaustive research into the Australian city which began as a British jail, and follows a trail of violence, racism, and corruption from then to the present. Entertaining and emotional by turns. More history books should be written this way.
Feb 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Imagine a comedian writing history! John Birmingham takes his sense of humour into this fascinating warts and all story of early Sydney town. This is a history that needed to be written, and John Birmingham has stepped up brilliantly. I'll never look at Sydney the same way again!
Excellent read.
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
pretty good, although now i can't help but think that it is a designed to be a hip version of the fatal shore.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
An astonishing book about my hometown, and ultimately peels back the skin and provides the autopsy on the scum ridden country I call my birthplace. Every Australian needs to read this book.
Chris Waterguy
Aug 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great book of disturbing and important truths.
Jul 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
A heavy read, big book, I felt it required me to pay close attention, to concentrate. But I did highly enjoy it.
Oct 27, 2007 rated it it was ok
I didn't actually finish this book, it really starts to drag near the middle.
Ben Fletcher
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this is a very dark, warts and all look at early Sydney.. loved this book!
Dec 10, 2010 rated it it was ok
i thought this would be fascinating but instead it just felt turgid and a tad to excited by it's exposure of grime
Nov 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Loved this book and its grisly details of Sydney's past & present. So interesting to see how much of today's Australia is shaped by the events of Sydney since white invasion.
Jan 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fabulous examination of Sydney's history that has created Sydney's present. (Along with the rich detail there are some great lines and words, neostupidity will enter my lexicon. )
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Every denizen of Sydney should read this. Interesting but not that well written.
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting reading for me having just moved to Sydney.
P Almond
rated it liked it
Jul 26, 2018
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John Birmingham grew up in Ipswich, Queensland and was educated at St Edmunds Christian Brother's College in Ipswich and the University of Queensland in Brisbane. His only stint of full time employment was as a researcher at the Defence Department. After this he returned to Queensland to study law but he did not complete his legal studies, choosing instead to pursue a career as a writer. He curren ...more