For the past few decades, Jeff Sparrow has been thinking, talking and writing about some of the most important issues of our time. The aptly titled Provocations, from NewSouth Books, a small publisher punching well above its weight, is a collection of Sparrow’s essays on issues from culture to climate change; the weather and capitalism; gun control; Australia’s border policy; religion; the politics of ANZAC; how slavery shaped Australia; and many more. Sparrow does not shy away from contentious subjects, but he approaches them with shrewd intellect, emotional intelligence and journalistic integrity.
As evidenced throughout, Sparrow continues to be unapologetically radical, but he manages to avoid becoming didactic or predictable. He responds to a wide variety of reading, and speaks to a broad range of people, wrangling his thoughts with a light touch. Across his extensive interests, Sparrow allows for nuance and acknowledges subtlety, looking at opposing truths in an effort to understand them. He finds himself, as someone committed to social change, in a minority on most issues, and this is perhaps why his writing never reads as though it is preaching to the converted.
Sparrow has never been afraid to examine the underside, addressing the difficult components of a thorny moral conundrum, drawing on a deep well of understanding as to the way history and society inform each other. This is an unpretentious, generous collection that gives context and a depth of understanding to pressing issues.