It could be argued that the Australian-born Robert Hughes had to move to America (where, for many years, he served as TIME’s art critic) in order to rediscover his home country and write about it with open eyes. And if the staggering achievement that is The Fatal Shore is anything to go by, that’s exactly what happened. It’s the shocking story of the social experiment that was the “transportation system” under which England exiled 160,000 criminals Down Under for the best part of 100 years, beginning in 1788.
Nearly 200 years later, Hughes rights the wrong of his nation, which had no comprehensive account of what became known as the “hated stain,” by penning this riveting account of Australia’s penal-colony origins. The reader is submerged in the dark heart of the subject matter, in this “land of inversions where it was high summer in January [and] trees kept their leaves but shed their bark.”