When Sleepers, Wake! was released in Australia, it immediately became influential around the world- it was read by Deng Xiaoping and Bill Gates; was published in China, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden; and led to the author being the first Australian minister invited to address a G-7 summit meeting, held in Canada in 1985.
Now its author, the polymath and former politician Barry Jones, turns his attention to what has happened since - especially to politics, health, and our climate in the digital age - and to the challenges faced by increasingly fragile democracies and public institutions.
Jones sees climate change as the greatest problem of our time, but political leaders have proved incapable of dealing with complex, long-term issues of such magnitude. The Trump phenomenon, in particular, has overturned the whole concept of critical thinking and analysis. Meanwhile, technologies such as the smartphone and the ubiquity of social media have reinforced the realm of the personal. This has weakened our sense of, or empathy with, 'the other', the remote, and the unfamiliar, and all but destroyed our sense of community, of being members of broad, inclusive groups. The COVID-19 threat, which was immediate, and personal, showed that some leaders could respond courageously, while others denied the evidence.
In the post-truth era, politicians invent 'facts' and ignore or deny the obvious, while business and the media are obsessed with marketing and consumption for the short term. What Is to Be Done is a long-awaited work from Jones on the challenges of modernity.
Barry Jones was a Labor member of the Victorian and Commonwealth parliaments, led the campaign to abolish the death penalty, and became Australia's longest-serving minister for science from 1983 to 1990. His books include Sleepers, Wake!, A Thinking Reed, Dictionary of World Biography, and The Shock of Recognition. He received a Companion of the Order of Australia, Australia's highest award, in 2014, and, at the age of 87, is a 'living national treasure'.