In 2018 I attended a school re-union: Cootamundra high school. One of my old classmates told me that her daughter, Phillipa McGuinness, had written a book, The Year Everything Changed: 2001.
Not long after I was killing time in a Melbourne shopping mall. I strayed into a bookshop. I decided to check out - not buy - this book. I had hardly started my search when an enthusiastic young salesgirl asked me if I needed help. I told her the title. "Yes, we have it," she assured me and disappeared down one of the aisles. She was soon back - disappointed. "It was there yesterday, wait... I'll check the computer." She hurried off. I followed. She looked up from the computer screen - disappointed. "I don't know..." she said. "Wait, I'll check out the back."
A few minutes later she returned - book in hand, with a smile on her face that would have sold a thousand books. How could I not buy it?
I was attracted to the title The Year Everything Changed: 2001. I had recently finished reading 1989 - The Year That Changed the World by Michael Meyer. Meyer was in Europe as the USSR was disbanding. I enjoyed his book - easy to read - interesting and informative.
McGuinness' book is more personal. She involves herself in every chapter. The first chapter recounts a personal tragedy that occurred in 2001. The next, titled "January", was built around the fact that January 2001 was the centenary of Australian federation.
Chapter three deals mainly with Don Bradman. He died in February 2001. The enigmatic Bradman. The author quoted my favourite living cricket writer, Gideon Haigh. McGuinness describes a visit she made to Cootamundra - Bradman's birthplace. She visits the house where Bradman was born - now a small local museum: a museum that is not in favour with the grandiose Bradman Museum and Foundation in Bowral. The chapter was all written in an easy to read style - interesting and informative. I knew then that I was going to enjoy The Year Everything Changed:2001.
This was the winter of 2018. Reading parts of it again now - winter of 2020 - some things have changed already, some have stayed the same. Some things have moved on and some have been locked away.
The percentage of Australians using smartphones has increased. The numerous speeches and reports on improving the lot of the indigenous population have been replaced by numerous speeches and reports telling us the same thing.
George Pell - who the author "bumped into" at a pedestrian crossing - and the child abuse saga has moved on - dramatically - while the Tampa and SIEV X incidents have been locked away as an ugly chapter of Australian history.
Of course September is the "big" chapter of 2001. It reads as a combination of unadorned facts and personal experience. As well as the author's experience of that day there are experiences of some of her friends, eye-witnesses, survivors - even John Howard. (An incidental detail: George Bush was reading The Pet Goat - not The Very Hungry Caterpillar - to a pre-school class, when informed of the attack.)
By December, McGuinness is back to concentrating on the personal. As her presence is always evident in the local and world events she describes in the previous chapters, by December I reckoned I knew her quite well. Well enough to be interested in her life.
The concluding chapter re-visited many of the subjects in the preceding chapters of the book. This chapter had me reaching for my dictionary and many of the references were of names that were new to me.
I am in awe of the amount of research McGuiness conducted to tell her story. The print may be large and the references detailed, but there are over 60 pages of references in the notes at the back of the book.
Of all the books listed in the notes, I chose to read The Looming Tower: Al-Quaeda's Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. The trashy SBS mini-series does not do the book justice.
The book traces the lead-up to 9/11 - both Islamic and American - from before the six-day war of 1967 - to an Islamic writer, Sayyid Qutb. Reading it induced me to read a biography of Mahomet.
McGuinness is a non-fiction publicher. In the next few years - maybe even the next few months - I suspect she will be besieged with manuscripts on 2020: the year of the corona-19 virus pandemic. This is set to be another year when "everything changed". I won't be rushing to read any books on this history.
My choice of the definitive history of World War II, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, came out in 1960, 15 years after the end of the war. 1989: The Year That Changed the World came out in 2009. The Looming Tower came out in 2006, re-published with a new Afterword in 2011.
I'll make do with the newspapers for at least five years before I buy a book on the 2020 pandemic, trusting that "the news is the first rough draft of history".
- The Year That Changed Everything - 2001, by Phillipa McGuinness, is published by Vintage.