Keith Suter’s local notebook: 50 things you want to know about Australian and world issues … but were too afraid to ask

Bantam, $24.95

Keith Suter’s last book covered world issues including “the Golden Arches theory of world peace” and “Why did the United States invade Iraq?”

This local version probes to a similar depth. Suter dives straight into our water crisis, and glides through environmental and corporate ethics, population growth, and the GNP … all in the first five chapters. Rather than feeling bombarded with information, the reader should be quite comfortable, and ready to read on: it’s all pretty basic stuff, presented simply. Topics range afar.

This is a curious list. Inclusion of questions such as “Did all the early colonies have a convict past?”; “Graffiti: good or bad?” or “Why pick on sportsmen for their bad behaviour?”, although respectable topics for discussion, sit clumsily beside well-linked articles traversing environmentalism, capitalism, economics, and politics.

Using definite questions as chapter headings gives the impression that Suter will provide direct answers. He doesn’t. Instead, issues are discussed, albeit briefly.

What avoids being a prescriptive, numb book also surprises in unexpected ways. Delightful breakouts within sections offer unexpected, yet related titbits: like the fact that Aldous Huxley died from cancer under the influence of LSD, which is presented at the end of a chapter about IVF.

Suter is at his best when describing political machinations. With the barest awareness, readers should gain an insight into how their opinions are manipulated by fear, division, and spin.

Suter, a reflective member of globalisation’s cheer squad, is the consultant on social policy for the Wesley Mission and a regular commentator for Channel 7’s Sunrise and radio 2GB. An intelligent man with a gift for making complex issues seem simple, Suter seems happy to write a book of “factoids for dummies”.

Although this allows a somewhat democratic access to information, it also encourages a “smash-and-grab” approach to gathering acumen (and consequently opinions) without any consideration for a deeper knowledge of the topic. And many of Suter’s topics (population growth, business ethics, the future of democracy, education, etc.) demand that the reader at least has a desire to seek a deeper understanding. Hopefully, these notes provide an introduction to knowledge, rather than a conclusion.