For a little while I've been meaning to write about James Button's book Speechless which I devoured in two bites.
First some housekeeping. I read it on my Ipad after downloading the epub file from the Melbourne University Press site. (you can do it too).
And the book? I will try and stay away from clichéd superlatives but forgive the lapses.
This is a book in three parts. A memoir about John Button the man, his life and work.
A year writing speeches for Kevin Rudd and part of that year discovering the public service and what it is and what it isn't.
Finally it is a meditation on a son's love of his elusive and impossible to grasp dad.
The biographical material on John Button the man is clear eyed and unsentimental but clearly loving and engaged. The John Button I knew slightly comes to life in these pages in all his complexity and even his smiling eyes and direct approach are clear and alive. As a father myself, as is James now, I would be blessed to have such writing about my life. Not that I am comparing my life to John's.
Occasionally I would run into John at the MCG where he went to see his beloved Geelong. I would be there to support the Magpies and he would twinkle a greeting as he went to his seat. I feel after reading the book I have a better picture of the man, his struggles and his private demons and angels.
As to the James with Kevin, this is not a kiss and tell book but the picture of working for a driven and boundary-less man is compelling.
After this stint James is inducted into a unit under Terry Moran, head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the person responsible for recruiting James in the first place to Canberra. Here comes the insider view of working for the public service and the dispelling of all the cliched views of this fine body of dedicated public servants who work hard to give good advice while staying in the background of public debate the whole time being excoriated for wasting money, being a waste of money and time. Campbell Newman is cutting through them, Ted Is getting rid of them and Abbott promises to. We will be all the poorer. Can you imagine Joe Hockey making economic policy by himself? A truly frighting thought.
By books end James comes back to his dad and to Melbourne where his family are to be a more present dad. John spent years away in Canberra and in the rough and tumble of the political life, while achieving a great deal for his fellow Australians, James spent a year away and came back to write a book that we all should read.