Review-Barry-Jones

Barry Jones From quiz champion to global prophet

‘A Thinking Reed' by Barry Jones. 2006. Allen & Unwin. Sydney.

Jones worked as a parliamentarian for many years because he thought that good ideas should make the world a better place

Barry Jones is polymath and parliamentarian who grew up in Geelong and has just published his autobiography. Like the 19 th century philosopher, John Stuart Mill, Barry Jones worked as a Parliamentarian for many years because he thought that good ides should make the world a better place. His 560 page autobiography, with a foreword by his friend, the broadcaster Phillip Adams, is almost a collection of fifteen essays, connected by the thread of Barry Jones' life, as a ‘thinking reed' a quote from Pascal.

The book has five diamonds in it, which are the chapters when Jones was centre stage, rather than a (rather large and important) fly on the wall. As far as I can tell, they are an accurate, truthful and perceptive account of his most significant achievements. ‘Quiz Show', covers eight years, from 1960 to 1968, when he dominated Pick a Box, and his earlier appearances on the Quiz Kids and Information Please. 'Death Penalty' covers capital punishment, or ‘ritual murder', and Jones' ultimately successful campaigns to end capital punishment in Australia between 1962 and 1967.

Among OECD countries, only the USA now carries out capital punishment, some 1001 people were executed 1977 and 2005, mostly, Jones observes, in old Confederate States or States bordering them.

‘Sleepers, Wake', was almost never published after Melbourne University reviewers found the book ‘too broad in scope'. The book was published in five languages, went through four editions and 20 reprints, and sold 100 000 copies, mostly in Australia and mostly as a final year and university textbook.

When he was coming to the end of his Ministerial career, people would say, ‘We loved you in the quizzes. What are you doing these days?'

It concerns technological change, and how it can enlarge or threaten human capacity. The book has amazing breadth and was read closely by Bill Gates. It argues against overspecialisation and for service industries, and for high value added brand name goods and services. In Australia, Jones was 20 years ahead of its time.

Jones discusses his often frustrated role as Minister for Science, from 1983 to 1990, sometimes without staff, and often without power. The power of television is indicated by the fact that in Australia when he was coming to the end of his Ministerial career, attempting to change the world for the better, people would approach him in the street and say, ‘We all loved you in the quizzes. What are you doing these days?'

Jones advocacy of new technology, IT and biotech industries did, apparently, have remarkable influence in one country. Ireland did implement Jones' policies.

Since implementation, Ireland has enjoyed annual growth of 10 per cent a year over many years, and has a per capita income about twice Australia's.

The coup d' é clat is Jones' discussion on his ‘years of [intellectual] exile', 1979, when belief in government economic intervention ‘collapsed' around the work; 1989, when only ‘triumphant capitalism' was left standing as a model after communism collapsed in Europe and 2001 when ‘fear of terrorism debased democratic practice.'

It is likely that most people will not read Jones 560 page intellectual autobiography. I suggest that the five ‘diamond' chapters of 180 pages, with Adams foreword and the 17 photos of world figures that Jones has taken should be published in paperback, with the provisional title ‘From quiz champion to global prophet.' If they are core curriculum for every 18-year-old Australian (when people are most likely to be receptive to new ideas), this quality autobiography should have the readership and influence that it deserves.

  • Dr Paul Kauffman, from Ballarat, has published widely on globalisation and on Indigenous peoples and is adjunct professor at the National Institute for Governance in Canberra.