Publication Date: May 2020
RRP: $39.95
ISBN: 9781925835748
Format: Paperback
Size: 153mm x 234mm
Pages: 424
Category: Biography

The Fatal Lure of Politics

The Life and Thought of Vere Gordon Childe

Terry Irving

Also available as an ebook from your favourite retailer.


‘Finally, we have a definitive study of world-renowned prehistorian Gordon Childe, Australia’s most famous left-wing intellectual. Terry Irving’s extraordinary, investigative scholarship is enlightening and enthralling. This is an important book and biography at its very best.’ Verity Burgmann, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Monash University

‘Deeply researched and eloquently written, this is a compelling study of a formidable socialist thinker and his intellectual milieux. The Fatal Lure of Politics is a work of prodigious scholarship: penetrating, engaging and authoritative.’ Phillip Deery, Emeritus Professor of History, Victoria University

‘Childe the fellow socialist, not the esteemed archaeologist, is the subject of this lovingly crafted biography.’ Jon Piccini, Australian Book Review


Renowned Australian-born archaeologist and prehistorian Vere Gordon Childe (1892–1957) had a lifelong fascination with socialist politics. In his early life he was active in the Australian labour movement and wrote How Labour Governs (1923), the world’s first study of parliamentary socialism. However, he decided to pursue a life of scholarship to ‘escape the fatal lure’ of politics and Australian labour’s ‘politicalism’ – his term for its misguided emphasis on parliamentary representation.

In Britain, with the publication of The Dawn of European Civilization (1925), Childe began a career that would establish him as preeminent in his field and one of the most distinguished scholars of the mid-twentieth century. At the same time, he aimed to ‘democratise archaeology’ and involve people in its practice. What Happened in History (1942), his most popular book, sold 300,000 copies in its first 15 years.

Politics continued to lure Childe, and for forty years he was spied upon by the security services of Britain and Australia. He supported Russia’s ‘grand and hopeful experiment’ and opposed the rise of fascism. His Australian background reinforced his hatred of colonialism and imperialism. Politics was also implicated in his death. There is a direct line between Childe’s early radicalism and his final – and fatal – political act in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

The Fatal Lure of Politics is a new and radically different biography about the central place of socialist politics in Childe’s life, and his contribution to the theory of history that this politics entailed.


Terry Irving

Terry Irving, radical historian and educational radical, is Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Wollongong, Australia. His books include Radical Sydney (with Rowan Cahill), Childe and Australia (edited with Peter Gathercole and Gregory Melleuish), Class Structure in Australian History (with Raewyn Connell), and The Southern Tree of Liberty. He was editor of Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History and a founder of the Free University (Sydney).  www.terryirving.net