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Founded in 1888, James Hardie Industries is one of Australia's oldest, richest and proudest corporations. And its fortunes were based on what proved to be one of the worst industrial poisons of the twentieth century: asbestos.

Asbestos House, the name of the grand headquarters that Hardie built itself in 1929, tells two remarkable tales. It relates the frantic financial engineering in 2001 during which Hardie cut adrift its liabilities to sufferers of asbestos-related disease, the public and political odium that followed, and the extraordinary deal that resulted. It is also the story of how the company, forgot how, even as fibro built a nation, the asbestos fibre from which it was made condemned thousands to death.

Reconstructed from hundreds of hours of interviews and thousands of pages of documentation, Asbestos House is a saga of high finance, industrial history, legal intrigue, medical breakthrough and human frailty.

Reviews

'Reads like a Greek tragedy and is as good.' Best Books of 2006, AFR Magazine

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'This is a book that should be in any library with a business section. The story is more instructive that tales of colourful villains such as Alan Bond or of corrupt corporations such as Enron ... Haigh's is a story of people who were unable, or chose not, to deal with profoundly conflicting interests. Subtle and thorough, it's a page-turner.' — Peter McLennan, Australian Book Review

PRH, PRH

'The asbestos that for 90 years was Hardie's core business eventually became a liability, and the story of how the company tried — and continues to try — to distance itself from its past makes for fascinating reading.' — Lachlan Jobbins, Australian Bookseller & Publisher

PRH, PRH

'deserves reading by anyone wanting to understand an increasingly rotten strand in modern business culture.' — Jack Waterford, Canberra Times

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'a serious, sombre and, at times, heart-rending account befitting a tragic and awful story ... At all times Haigh's research is impeccable. This is the book's great strength — it could become the reference book on all matters relating to asbestos.' — Matthew Charles, Herald Sun

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'This is a very sad story about Australia's greatest occupational health disaster ... The entire tragic set of events is well set out by the author.' — Richard Archer, Journal of Occupational Health and Safety

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'Haigh's book is much more than just an analysis of the current events involving Hardie and its responsibility to right past wrongs. It is, as it claims, an industrial history which traces the development of the asbestos industry in Australia in a broader global context with particular reference to parallel developments in the United States ... Overall, Haigh as written an important book and it will fill many significant knowledge gaps for those who have followed, and continue to follow, the Hardie saga.' — Harry Knowles, Labour History

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'This well-written and researched book should appeal to the legal mind, since it recounts how human folly on a grand scale led to an ever-increasing stream of personal damages claims and a commission of enquiry.' — Philip Burgess, Law Society Journal

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'This is a stunning and gripping account of the worst of Australian business and its ethics.' — Pittwater Life

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'Haigh's powerfully written book provides a valuable account of [Hardie's] legacy.' — Leon Gettler, The Age

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'meticulously researched and powerfully written ... This fine book should be required reading for those who wish to understand corporate capitalism and also to promote business ethics.' — Ross Fitzgerald, Weekend Australian

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'This sobering study in corporate citizenship is a must for students of modern capitalism and its inherent pitfalls. Journalist Gideon Haigh ... has interviewed the major players in this drama and has compiled a benchmark study of responsibility and big business.' — Steve Woodman, Weekend, Newcastle Herald

PRH, PRH

'Asbestos House is impeccably researched, yet written with great journalistic flourish ... Haigh gets behind the scapegoating of Hardies to present a balanced but critical view of its progressively corrupted corporate culture that enables us not to dismiss them as just a rotten apple but to look at the biased wheel of the barrow, not just of corporations, but of a range of utilitarian Australian and global institutions that slowly but surely slip into making people a means to an end.' — Gordon Preece, Zadok Perspectives

PRH, PRH

'At first glance this important book is a shameful story of intrigue, conspiracy and scandal. But it is far more than that. Its background is a social history of industrial Australia and the entrepreneurs who built it. Caught up in a dreadful medical disaster, their inherited paternalistic attitude to their employees failed to meet the challenge and they slipped into a world where defending their commercial interests took precedence over their humanity. The lessons are as relevant today as they were when the tragedy first unfolded.' — Phillip Knightley

PRH, PRH

'Asbestos House, is a scholarly and compelling corporate history ... it reflects upon all aspects of this important episode in Australian commercial and social life, while never losing sight of the human tragedy at the heart of the story,' — Mary Padbury, Blake Dawson Waldren chairman of partners

PRH, PRH

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9781921215704

    October 1, 2007

    Scribe Publications

    468 pages

    RRP $29.99

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Also by Gideon Haigh

A Scandal in Bohemia
Mystery Spinner: Text Classics
Stroke of Genius
Certain Admissions: A Beach, a Body and a Lifetime of Secrets
Ashes to Ashes
Uncertain Corridors: Writings on modern cricket
End of the Road?: Penguin Special
On Warne
The Deserted Newsroom: Penguin Special
The Office
Spheres Of Influence
The Vincibles
The Ashes 2009
Inside Out
The Racket
The Tencyclopedia
The Uncyclopedia
Bad Company: The Cult of the CEO: Quarterly Essay 10

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