Frank Lowy, A Second Life…a book review by Alan Gold

August 24, 2015 by Alan Gold
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There are two lights which shine most brilliantly out of Jill Margo’s exceptional second volume of Frank Lowy’s biography.

The first light illuminates the completion of the journey of one of Australia’s most exceptional people; we now know more about his global business success in later years making Westfield the largest retail property company in the world, more about his triumphs as Australia’s pre-eminent migrant success story, more about his close-knit family’s highs and lows, and more about the introspective wisdom he has gained as he reaches the mid-point the eighth decade of his life.


But the second light which is so illuminative in Margo’s book, Frank Lowy, A Second Life, is how the art and craft of the biography has changed so much in recent years.

Jill Margo is a superb biographer. While every writer of somebody else’s life has to be sensitive, discriminating, authoritative and able to take a universalist approach, Margo has gone beyond that in both of her books about Frank Lowy. She has approached the biographical construction of his life through her books, as though she were a novelist. This is creative non-fiction at its very best.

Margo doesn’t seek the simplistic approach of writing about a person’s life lineally from birth to school to business to philanthropy to demise. Nor does she approach her task as an historian, often sacrificing readerly interest in the service of writerly facts.

Rather, she writes as would a novelist, seeking out the most interesting narrative arc to tell the latest episode of Lowy’s life, and amplifying the most coruscating character analysis, all the while teasing her readers with page-turning interest.

While her book is replete with the most interesting and detailed particulars about Lowy, his family, his sporting involvement and naturally his business activities, Margo has approached his life as would a story-teller. And this approach makes A Second Life one of the most enjoyable biographies it’s possible to read. This is biography on steroids, as entertaining as a good novel, as informative as an encyclopaedia.

Jill Margo

Jill Margo

Reading her first work about Lowy – Pushing The Limits – followed by A Second Life, one would come away with so much more than an understanding of the texts. A reader gains vastly more than an appreciation of a young ambitious man who arrived in Australia from a devastated Europe and built a global business, while turning football on its head and creating a world-ranking international affairs think-tank.

A reader of these two tomes would gain a greater understanding of the problems of the European continent, of Australia as a migrant nation, of Aussie business and especially of our very particular society. This is history writ both large, and in minutely small detail, an intense pleasure for lovers of fact and the creative joys of the creative mind at work. Indeed, had Frank Lowy not existed, but been created by a Hollywood studio, the story of his life would have been dismissed by critics as too improbable.

Lowy has always been an intensely private, and devoted family man. And the faith and trust which he placed in Jill Margo’s hands to treat his life with passionate honesty, has been well-rewarded.

A Second Life is a masterful book about an extraordinary man, written by one of our most skilled writers.

Published by HarperCollins $49.99

Alan Gold is a novelist whose most recently published books are Bell of the Desert, The Pretender’s Lady and Bat Out Of Hell.


One Response to “Frank Lowy, A Second Life…a book review by Alan Gold”
  1. Michael Misrachi says:

    Can’t wait to see Jill Margo speak at the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival about this book – 4.30pm on Sunday 30 August at Waverley Library! You can also hear Alan Gold speak about his book at 10am.

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