The flight from Perth to London takes 17 hours now, but in 1919 – when the then-unheard-of Australian aviator Ross Smith took off from Hounslow in a race to fly to Darwin – they were given 30 days. It was just after the war, commercial aviation hadn’t yet taken off and nobody had ever done the flight before. In the end, Smith, brother Keith and two crew members did it in 28 days, prompting The New York Times to call him “the foremost living aviator”. Published on the centenary of the flight, Molkentin’s absorbing and thoroughly researched biography of Smith – charting his early years on a South Australian sheep station, his time at Gallipoli and the Middle East and his transfer to the fledgling Australian Flying Corps where he learnt to fly, right up to his death in 1922 during a test flight at Brooklands – is a timely reminder of his achievements, as well as the nerve and bravado of those pioneering years.

A portrait of the unconventional marriage of the Mountbattens.

A portrait of the unconventional marriage of the Mountbattens.

The Mountbattens

Andrew Lownie

Allen&Unwin, $32.99

He was the great-grandson and godson of Queen Victoria, she was beautiful, intelligent and rolling in it. “Dickie” and Edwina Mountbatten were made for each other, as this portrait of their unconventional marriage reveals. Publicly, they were serious players in some of the most dramatic and pivotal moments in 20th-century history (especially World War II and the partition of India). Privately, they had an open marriage, Edwina the first one out of the marriage blocks a year after the wedding, enjoying numerous affairs throughout her life with socialites, actors and singers, while Dickie’s long-term lover, a friend of French novelist Colette, was apparently the model for Gigi. Lownie’s account of things is a mixture of inevitably indulgent gossip, descriptions of lavish parties, yachts and mansions, while also evaluating Mountbatten’s chequered military career and Edwina’s humanitarian work. One for royal watchers.

Allan Fels reveals the personal side of the public face.

Allan Fels reveals the personal side of the public face.

Tough Customer

Allan Fels

MUP $34.99

The trademark deadpan delivery we’re familiar with from interviews with Allan Fels during his time with the ACCC informs his summation of his post-ACCC career, but it also reveals the personal side of the public face – especially in regard to his daughter’s schizophrenia: frightening psychotic episodes, the agonising choice to use electric shock therapy, and the struggle for care and justice for people with mental illness, often against community wishes (the parishioners of one church threatening to leave if church land was used to house patients). That same concern for the underdog was evident in the 7-Eleven wages case and the reform of the Victorian taxi industry, which saw the price of a perpetual taxi licence halved. Fels is a strong believer in competition, but also emphasises the importance of preventing market place abuse of power, his ideas on community and community value constituting a kind of Mill utilitarianism.

A laid-back memoir of how Netflix came about.

A laid-back memoir of how Netflix came about.

That Will Never Work

Marc Randolph

Endeavour, $32.99

We all know Netflix now, but this laid-back memoir of how it all came about by co-founder and first CEO Marc Randolph (a distant relation of Sigmund Freud) goes back to the days when it was just an idea. The myth is that the company was born when the other co-founder copped a $40 late fee from Blockbuster, but it’s only part of a larger picture in what is a success story about timing. Netflix – originally an online DVD mailing company – would never have seen the light of day had VHS cassettes not given way to DVDs , which made posting the discs to buyers and renters feasible. Randolph takes us into the day-to-day details of setting the company up, including the story behind the trade name Netflix, one of many possibilities (some worried that the ‘’flix’’ had porn connotations), only agreed on at the last moment. What started as an idea eventually became a $150-billion business, and it’s fascinating and entertaining to watch it evolve.

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