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Publisher's Summary

A lively history of the 'First Fleet' which took convicts from Britain to Australia in 1787; Sydney's early years as 'an open-air prison'; and the colonisation of New South Wales. 

The story of modern Australia begins in 18th-century Britain, where people were hanged for petty offences but crime was rife and the gaols were bursting. From this situation was born the Sydney experiment, with criminals perceived to be damaging British society transported to Sydney, an 'open air prison with walls 14,000 miles thick'.  

Eleven ships were dispatched in 1781 and arrived in Australia after eight hellish months at sea. Tom Keneally describes the first four years of the 'thief colony' and how, despite the escapes, the floggings, the murders and the rebellions, it survived against the odds to create a culture which would never have been tolerated in its homeland but which, in Australia, became part of the identity of a new and audacious nation.

©2006 The Serpentine Publishing Co. (Pty) Ltd (P)2006 Tantor Media, Inc

What listeners say about The Commonwealth of Thieves 

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  • Overall
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A most vivid account of Australian settlement

Without judgement Thomas weaves the stories of the individual lives of convicts, soldiers sea captains, and free settlers, those of Benelong, Barangaroo and the Eora people with that of Arthur Philip and other British officials into a complex colorful tapestry that brings to vivid life the story of the meeting of two cultures, two nations, two world views. A subject that is often as dry as ships biscuit when presented in grade school history books comes to life under the exquisite penmanship of Keneally as he depicts events of settlement through the intertwining life stories of the many lives allowing the reader to become almost intimately acquainted with the characters through their diary entries thus giving the reader almost the sense of having lived the experience first hand as a fly-on-the-wall observer, a voyeur-to-the-events that began the story of Australia. Engaging enthralling enlightening and best of all... entertaining!!

3 people found this helpful

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history but not history

kenally writes clearly. this is a well researched and informative book. written in the style of a novel nevertheless it provides an informed view of early European settlement.

2 people found this helpful

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Full 5 star

A remarkable book on the early British settlement of Australia and the relationship of the settlers and convicted men and woman with the native Australians. The narration is particularly pleasant with Simon’s lovely voice and English. I’ll listen again one day soon because Thomas has filled the book with so much material that it is easy to miss some while musing over it.

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Wonderful.

I was worried about reading this book. I was worried about it being “ white history “ all over again so I was pleasantly surprised. T.K. Has put us in touch with the individual people. The convicts , the officers, the indigenous folk. It was sympathetic to everyone and written without judgement for or against anyone. Like excellent journalism Some of the stories really surprised me and left me wanting to know more. Like the story of Barangaroo, Benelongs wife and a fantastic woman. I’ve never read anything on early white Australian history nearly as good as this before.

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All Australians should indulge

A fascinating and accessible history of English settlement of Australia. I learnt many things. The English were cruel to many but most particularly their own people.

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Loved this book

Great story line, wonderful research, excellent narration. My heart ached for many of the men and women of 1788. I also understand from an indigenous perspective what a disruption to their world.

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I wish I’d liked this

I really truly wanted to like this. But it just didn’t give me the Keneally joy for history that I’m used to seeing in interviews. Maybe his writing style is different to his speaking style, I don’t know. And this is my first time reading one of his works. But I just really struggled all the way through this. Some might love it. But I just couldn’t sink my teeth into it the way I thought I would.

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ecxellent

What a hard time early Sydney siders had ...and what a worse time for the indigenous inhabitants ... the humanity of the struggle and the reality of cultural misunderstanding is told of with compassion and insight. Beautiful.

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The start of Brit settlement of Australia

This book should be read/listened to by all Australian high school students and by all adult Australians. It's a detailed account of the First Fleet and first years of British settlement. Keneally has done a tremendous job of researching and unearthing what happened and who was involved. It's fascinating.

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Interesting but a bit monotonous

Struggled to get through it. Very informative but found the speaking didn't vary in pitch and speed enough, so I lost track often.

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